Week 1 | January 10-14, 2022
House and Senate members returned to Topeka with most committees meeting at least once to start their work. This week is the start of seeing hundreds of new bills that will be introduced in committees while House and Senate budget committees dissect the Governor’s proposed budget before crafting their own.
Unlike 2021, the setting in the capitol is largely normal, with committees meeting in person and visitors allowed to closely observe the proceedings.
Week 2 | January 17-21, 2022
Easing the burden for healthcare workers
Hospitals and nursing homes across Kansas and the nation are facing critical shortages as the deal with the challenges of COVID. This week, I was proud to support our nurses, doctors, and emergency medical professionals by supporting HB 2477. This legislation addresses the added stresses being placed on our healthcare workers due to staffing shortages. HB2477 temporarily suspends certain rules and regulations for health care providers and adult care homes so they can continue to navigate staffing issues related to COVID-19. The provisions of this measure will expire in January 2023, we will then determine whether these regulatory reforms should become permanent.
The House initially approved the bill, 115-6, with all provisions set to expire on May 15, 2022. The Senate amended the expiration date to January 20, 2023. The House agreed to those amendments, with a vote of 96-4, sending the bill to the Governor.
Foster Care - creating improvements for our most vulnerable children
When the Legislature is not in session, interim committees and task forces meet to further explore important topics. The committees and task forces issue reports to the Legislature, with recommendations for additional discussion and potential legislation to pursue.
In 2021, the Committee on Child Welfare System through House Bill 2158 was tasked with reviewing data on child maltreatment and demographic trends impacting the child welfare system; the duties, responsibilities and contributions of the state agencies, law enforcement, and the Judicial Branch which impact the system; and learning about opportunities to strengthen the child welfare system through evidence-based interventions and services for children and families.
The Committee made several recommendations after receiving testimony from various stakeholders and state agencies. These testimonies led to the Committee putting forth three legislative proposals. These recommendations and legislative proposals are part of the overall effort to make improvements to the child welfare system, which has been troubled by reports of missing children and children having inadequate stability and housing while waiting for placement.
This week, the Legislature heard from Secretary Laura Howard, who presented an update on Foster Care. This updated provided a message that the years of legislative oversight and targeted funding is beginning to make an impact. The funding support and collaboration between the Legislature, Department of Children and Families (DCF), and the Federal Families First initiative has begun producing positive results.
While there is still work to be done, the number of children entering foster care has dropped from 4,212 in Fiscal Year 2018 to 3,081 in Fiscal Year 2021. The Children and Seniors Committee learned about a number of programs that have led to better practices such as the Families First Prevention Services program provides prevention services to keep children and youth from entering foster care. It also provides out-of-home placement through approved evidence-based programs, which provide mental health, substance abuse, parent skill building, along with kinship navigation. This program was developed from the federal 2018 Family First Prevention Services Act, which gave states access to Title IV-E monies for prevention. Kansas was one of the first states to start a Families First Program.
In addition to the Families First Prevention Services program, in 2021, the Legislature also provided for a foster care report card (HB 2134). The bill required the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) and DCF collaborate to create an annual foster care report card. This report card would be submitted to the House and Senate standing committees on education by January 15 each year. The following information is to be included in the report:
● Graduation rate
● State standardized assessment scores
● Total and disaggregated number enrolled in a school district or accredited nonpublic school
● De-identified disaggregated race and ethnic data for specific data sets
● Additional data elements deemed appropriate by the KSDE and DCF
● Numbers and percentages of students in foster care who:
○ Were promoted to the next grade level
○ Were suspended (including duration)
○ Were expelled
○ Are meeting academic standards
○ Are enrolled in a preschool-aged at-risk program, preschool pilot program, or early childhood special education program
○ Participated in the Mental Health Intervention Team Pilot Program or similar mental health program
The data in the 2020-21 report will be important to improving how foster kids are educated in Kansas, ensuring accountability through measured outcomes. Governor Kelly vetoed the foster care report card, which was included in 2020 HB 2510, along with the Promise Act.
Just as we have seen staffing shortages in the health care professions, we have also seen the same challenges and stresses in teaching. This week the Legislature was provided information on how remote learning is available to schools who are dealing with a surge in COVID-19 cases. In 2021, the Legislature passed HB2134, which addressed remote learning hours and worked to keep students in the classroom environment for learning. State Statute provides local school board, administrators, and their schools the necessary flexibility to manage pandemics, natural disasters, and teacher shortages.
Schools are required to have 1,116 hours per year (or 186 days) K.S.A. 72-3115
Schools may remote learn, school or district-wide, for no more than 40 hours per year (approximately 6 days) for any reason. K.S.A. 72-5180
Schools may close buildings or the district for any period of time, for any reason (including teacher shortage); however, those lost hours must be made up, in-person, in the remaining school year.
Individual students may remote learn if approved by their local school board (and names sent to State Board) if the student cannot reasonably attend school in person due to an illness, medical condition, injury or any extraordinary circumstances (this would include quarantine). This must be applied on an individual student basis and is not required.
Schools may exceed the 40-hour remote learning limitation upon application by school district to State Board for a disaster – conditions resulting from widespread or severe property damage. Waivers may be requested for property damage (K.S.A. 20 Supp. 72-3117). Waivers do not require hours to be made up by schools. Note: waiver statute reverted back to pre-pandemic criteria (closures related to pandemic do not qualify for waivers or extended application for remote learning).
Students may opt for virtual school, asynchronous instruction, from 133 different schools if distance/on-line learning is preferred.
Schools may choose to remote learn anytime, for any reason, but will receive virtual learning state aid adjustment of $5,000.
Every ten years our nation conducts a census of all Americans. States have two years after that to redraw their congressional and state legislative maps to make the districts as compact and equal in population as possible. That process is called redistricting.
Kansas retained its four congressional seats but changes in where Kansans are living means the boundaries of those districts have to be redrawn. For example, the First Congressional District in western Kansas no longer has enough people, while the Third District in Johnson and Wyandotte Counties now has too many to comply with the law.
The redistricting process started almost two years ago when non-partisan Legislative Research staff went through training on redistricting, began working with the federal census takers to review preliminary trends in population, and selecting a computer system to help in the drawing of maps.
The House Redistricting Committee held over 20 town hall meetings across the state in 2021 to listen to the public about their communities, which neighboring areas they felt that had the most in common with, and what they liked and didn’t like about their current districts. We are now at the place where maps are drawn, heard and debated.
Congressional maps are governed by federal law and they must have nearly zero deviation in population from one district to another. Because of these very strict tolerances and the history of activist groups suing in federal courts over these maps, the committee started with the congressional maps. State legislative maps will go through the process next. By Kansas law the Attorney General is to take the state maps to the Kansas Supreme Court for a judicial review of the districts to ensure fair and equal treatment for all Kansans.
Our process has been long, open, transparent, and fair. Last week the committee issued a deadline for maps to be submitted for consideration. At the deadline there were four maps submitted. The maps were all given names; Ad Astra, Bluestem, Sunflower and Buffalo Two. The House Committee held hearings on all four maps on Friday, January 21st.
Week 3 | January 24-28, 2022
Two bills, one in the House and the Senate, were introduced this week. SB347 passed out of the Senate Thursday, with a couple of amendments, by a vote of 32-7. The House Commerce Committee will hear the bill on Monday, January 31. The Committee is planning on discussing and acting on the bill on Tuesday, February 1.
The bill, requested by the Commerce Department, was developed to provide additional state incentives for potential large economic development projects. The bill, the Attracting Powerful Economic Expansion (APEX) Act, would provide for tax and other incentives for projects in specified industries, or for national corporate headquarters with capital investment requirements of at least $1,000,000,000. This would include a refundable tax credit for a portion of the investment, reimbursement of certain payroll costs and training costs, retention of certain payroll withholding taxes, a sales tax exemption for project construction and a property tax incentive for projects located in a foreign trade zone.
This week the House took action to approve new congressional maps as required by the U.S. Constitution. The debate took four and half hours with numerous amendments offered. I was proud to support the work of our Redistricting Committee. They put in over a year of effort, seeking public input, reviewing the law, and debating and passing out a fair map.
I believe it is my job to stand up for you and to stand against those who would try to bully us. Democrats proved in the debate that this was all about politics. After writing an opinion piece in the Kansas City Star where they said Wyandotte and Johnson Counties should not be divided, they proceeded to offer amendment after amendment where that was exactly what was done. They know that this is really a math problem. Districts have to be equal, and those that have lost population have to get bigger to take in more people and those that have gained people have to get smaller in size to meet the Constitutional standard.
I believe in sticking to our principles and that includes following the rule of law when it comes to redistricting. The most important factor cited by courts is to draw districts nearly equal in population. The map I supported has zero difference in population across all four Kansas congressional districts. The map is now on the Governor’s desk awaiting her signature or veto. No matter which path she chooses you, I will continue to stand for you and support the result of our fair, transparent, and deliberate process and oppose any action to overturn the will of the people of Kansas.
Week 4 | January 31 – February 4, 2022
This week session saw an unexpected turn as the snowstorm shut down the Legislature on Wednesday. The Senate opted to stay closed for the rest of the week while the House returned on Thursday for a handful of committee meetings. Monday and Tuesday saw plenty of action and new bills continue to flood in the doors.
This week, the House Committee on Commerce, Labor, and Economic Development heard SB 347, the APEX Act. APEX would ensure that companies make a minimum investment in Kansas of $1 billion over a five-year-period and in exchange, would grant tax incentives to those companies. The Department of Commerce has announced that Kansas is one of two finalists for a $4 billion, 3 million square foot advanced manufacturing facility that would employ 4,000 people and create 16,000 temporary jobs during construction. SB 347 retools the current Kansas tax incentives in an effort to win this megaproject, as well as attract others in the future.
Republicans are working to incorporate accountability and safeguards into the bill, so that this economic development initiative is not designed solely for one company but is instead designed to drive economic development across the board. The tax giveaways to attract APEX projects should help all Kansas companies – not just one - with a measured corporate tax reduction. Finally, the property tax component of the bill must be addressed to ensure local control so that economic development incentives offered by the state do not place an added tax burden on local residents and local business owners.
House Republicans proposed HB 2561 to utilize some of the state’s budget surplus to stabilize the KPERS retirement fund, ensuring it will be there for our teachers, our firefighters, and other public employees when they need it. The plan would appropriate $1 billion to the KPERS Trust Fund, which would:
Bring KPERS above the 80 percent funded level, a goal in ensuring the stability of retirement systems.
Lower future costs for taxpayers by reducing the amount needed for the state’s share of employer contributions, saving the taxpayers $82 million in Fiscal Year 2023 and $429 million over the next five years
Fully fund 2017 and 2019 payments, paying off layering payments, and eliminating the annual $25.8 million payments on delayed employer contributions
HB 2561 will be heard in the House Insurance and Pensions Committee on February 9.
The Governor vetoed the Congressional map, Ad Astra 2, that the legislature passed. This map would divide Douglas County into the first and second districts; divide Wyandotte county into the first and second districts; divide Pawnee county into the first and fourth districts and adds Franklin and Anderson to Johnson and all of Miami counties to the third. The Governor has indicated that she does not want Wyandotte and Johnson split into separate Congressional districts. However, population growth in those two counties make it legally impossible for Wyandotte and Johnson to be wholly contained in one Congressional district.
The House and Senate will now attempt an override of her veto or revisit the map. The House and Senate District maps will be worked on in the next couple of weeks.
Next week promises to offer dozens of committee meetings with packed agendas making up for the snow days and preparing for Turnaround deadlines. With the calendar officially turned to February, each week grows more intense. Most bills must be passed by the February 24 Turnaround deadline, essentially meaning committees have just two weeks to hold hearings and recommend bills.
This week saw the first meetings of the SPARK Advisory Panels. There are four panels made up of legislators, industry, and community members that will advise the SPARK Executive Committee on how to allocate the remaining Federal coronavirus relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The panels are assigned to make recommendations on: Connectivity; Economic Revitalization; Efficiency and Modernization; and Health and Education.
Membership of the panels can be found here. The panel meetings are broadcast on the Legislature’s You Tube Channel. Background on SPARK, including meeting materials for both SPARK Executive Committee and Advisory Panels is located here.
Current SPARK funding opportunity
Building a Stronger Economy (BASE) Grant. The SPARK Executive Committee approved funds to support infrastructure development and advance economic development opportunities. A total of $100 million from federal COVID-19 relief funding has been made available for eligible projects. A 25% match is required form the applicant. Those eligible to apply include county and local governments, economic development organizations, and local chambers of commerce. An informational webinar was held on February 2 and can be viewed here. The submission deadline is February 28.
SPARK Advisory Panels will be considering funding investment ideas that have been submitted. The deadline for submitting ideas to the panels is February 16. Ideas can be submitted at the Office of Recovery’s site.
Week 5 | February 7-11, 2022
Last week, the Governor vetoed the Congressional map, Ad Astra 2, SB 355. This week, the Legislature overrode the veto with a House vote of 85-37. The Congressional map will now undergo court review to ensure that the map is drawn fairly and does not disenfranchise any voting populations.
The House approved SB 347, the APEX Act that was heard on in the House Committee on Commerce, Labor, and Economic Development last week.
During the House’s debate, an amendment providing for oversight by the State Finance Council was adopted. The House approved SB 347, with a vote of 80-41. The Senate concurred with the House amendments, sending the bill to the Governor. On Thursday, prior to the Governor signing SB 347, House Republican leadership reiterated their intent to require budget accountability from the Governor when an APEX plan is executed.
The House passed HCR 5023, with a vote of 114-2. HCR 5023 denounces the price gouging and market manipulation that occurred following the February 2021 cold snap. The resolution states the intent of the Legislature to support both state and federal investigations into the extraordinary price increases that resulted and hit Kansans and their communities hard. The resolution acknowledges the work of Attorney General Derek Schmidt for his efforts at investigating profiteering. A key component of the resolution is advocating for the protection of ratepayers should any corrective action be assigned. The adopted resolution will be sent to the chairperson of the Federal Energy Commission and the Attorney General.
The House Insurance and Pensions Committee has begun its work on HB 2561, which utilizes some of the state’s budget surplus to stabilize the KPERS retirement fund, ensuring it will be there for our teachers, our firefighters, and other public employees when they need it.
Proponent testimony was provided by Attorney General Derek Schmidt and the Committee’s Chairman, Rep. Steven Johnson. The Attorney General noted that HB 2561 is a fiscally responsible approach in contrast to the Governor’s previous re-amortizing proposals, which would have left taxpayers burdened with more than $4 billion in added debt service. HB 2561 reduces debt and the unfunded liability and frees up more than $70 million annually to sustain funding for core services or make future tax relief possible.
Neutral testimony from Budget Director Adam Proffitt showed that the Governor only wants to fund $253.8 million to make up for Fiscal Year 2017 and Fiscal Year 2019 layering payments.