THE 2021 KANSAS LEGISLATIVE SESSION AND THE WORK AHEAD
Kansas Action for Children
June 1, 2021
We knew the 2021 legislative session was going to be challenging.
Last year’s session had been cut short by COVID-19. A new crop of lawmakers was arriving in Topeka following the fall elections. Politics at both the national and state levels had somehow grown even more polarized. Making good policy for children and families seemed far from lawmakers’ minds.
Even so, we at Kansas Action for Children were still surprised by the tone this year. Overall, the session felt vindictive, petty, and fundamentally short-sighted.
Not all the news was bad, and some progress was made. We supported important bills. But so much was left undone, and the session ended before those bills became law. Thankfully, the Kansas Legislature works on a two-year schedule. Measures introduced this session can still come up next year.
So as we survey what happened this session, we’re also going to highlight what didn’t happen. And what lawmakers need to take up in January of 2022.
EARLY LEARNING – PROGRESS MADE
LEARNING ABOUT LEARNING: KAC continued to support the bipartisan, bicameral Early Learning Caucus at the statehouse. State lawmakers join to hear about the great work being done in the early learning field and what our state can do to make high-quality early learning affordable and accessible for all Kansas families. Among other speakers, the caucus heard from the 2020 National Teacher of the Year, Kansas’ own Tabatha Rosproy. Tabatha was the first early childhood educator ever to receive the prize.
EXPLAINING FEDERAL RELIEF: Throughout the past year, we advocated for federal relief in the child care sector. We worked with national and state partners to spread the word about funds in the various stimulus packages, culminating in this spring’s American Rescue Plan. A total of $50 billion dollars will go toward U.S. early learning programs, and that money can help pay for personnel, facilities, and COVID-related costs. The sector lost 1 in 6 jobs during the pandemic. With this support, providers across Kansas will have access to funding they need to stay open or re-open — so the rest of our economy can, too.
EARLY LEARNING – UNFINISHED BUSINESS
ACCESS TO CRITICAL SUPPORTS: House Bill 2371 removes a requirement that parents seek child support enforcement before they can access child care assistance or food assistance. It also eliminates the work requirement from those programs for parents enrolled in an educational program. KAC and fellow proponents submitted nearly 40 pieces of testimony. The bill was supported by a bipartisan majority in committee – but the full House didn’t take a vote. These simple changes would support our fellow Kansans as we all recover from the pandemic, and the House must take up the bill next year.
EXPANDING CHILD CARE TAX CREDIT: As the pandemic has brought into plain view, child care is a necessity for the day-to-day operation of a household, and state support is needed to ensure it is available and affordable for working families. House Bill 2414 would expand eligibility for the state's existing employer child care tax credit without increasing the burden on the state budget. It supports employers who want to ensure their employees have access to child care but aren’t big enough to afford that benefit on their own. Nearly 20 organizations and individuals offered testimony supporting the bill, and it was backed by both House and Senate tax committees. Unfortunately, it wasn’t taken up by either chamber before the session ended. They know what they need to do next.
HEALTH – PROGRESS MADE
ANTI-VACCINE EFFORTS DEFEATED: KAC was one of 29 individuals and organizations testifying against SB 212, an anti-vaccine bill, in the Senate Health Committee. Currently, trained medical professionals collaborate to update the list of required vaccines for Kansas schools and child care facilities. But SB 212 changed the process so only the Legislature has a say. The bill also was amended to prohibit employers from requiring vaccines, even in health care settings. The committee passed the bill, and the child vaccination part of its contents were introduced on the floor as an amendment. But our work paid off and the attempt failed, 17-18 in the Senate.
BUDGETS BOOSTED: We supported both the Kansas Association of Local Health Departments’ request for increased aid to local health departments (amounts haven’t increased since 1992) and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s ask for a permanent increase to the newborn screening program’s budget cap. During budget negotiations, both issues were addressed through provisos, a temporary one-year fix. The minimum provided to each local health department was increased from $7,000 to $12,000. The maximum amount allowed for the newborn screening program was increased from $2.5 million to $5 million. The legislature must make this funding permanent in 2022.
HEALTH – UNFINISHED BUSINESS
EXPANSION REMAINS ELUSIVE: Medicaid expansion has always been the right thing to do in Kansas, for moral, financial, and practical reasons. Yet again this session a Medicaid expansion bill was introduced, and yet again the bill did not receive a hearing. Both the House and Senate saw expansion amendments offered on the floor, and both attempts failed. At KAC, we’ve been particularly concerned that the legislature continues deny Medicaid expansion because an increasing number of Kansas kids remain uninsured — an estimated 43,000 in 2019. While most of these kids may already qualify for Medicaid or CHIP, expanding Medicaid is critical to reversing the trend. Studies show that when parents qualify and sign up for insurance programs, like Medicaid, it is more likely they will enroll their kids as well. The American Rescue Plan adds up to $450 million in incentives to expand – more than enough to cover the cost. We can’t afford to delay.
TRACKING MATERNAL MORTALITY: Racial disparities in maternal deaths persist not only in Kansas, but also throughout the United States. Action is needed to identify and address the many factors, including systemic racism, that lead to more Black moms than white moms dying in pregnancy, childbirth and in the year after having a baby. SB 42 and HB 2108 make important changes to the way our state reviews cases in which Black moms have died. These bills didn’t get a hearing in the session, and the issue hasn’t gone away.
FISCAL POLICY – PROGRESS MADE
TAX CALAMITY AVERTED: For the fourth session in a row, KAC worked to stop tax bills that threatened to undo the progress we’ve made since tax reform passed in 2017. This session, we watched SB 22 balloon from a $175 million package in the first year when it was passed out of committee to $500 million by the time the bill was passed out of the Senate. The bill included the usual tax breaks for big business and higher-income Kansans, but it was inflated by multiple amendments that made it shockingly expensive and financially irresponsible. KAC raised the alarm about SB 22, and it ended up not being taken up by the House.
POSITIVE TAX TWEAKS: SB 50 included a provision to raise revenue. It requires online marketplace facilitators (think Etsy or Amazon) to collect and remit relevant taxes. While we are concerned it still favors out-of-state sellers, the measure is a step in the right direction.
FISCAL POLICY – UNFINISHED BUSINESS
MAKING TAXES FAIRER: Right now, there are three individual income tax brackets in Kansas. The top bracket applies to incomes of $30,000 and up for single filers and $60,000 and up for married filers. This means a single filer preschool teacher, who makes an average annual salary of $31,650, is taxed at the same rate (5.7 percent) as someone making a million dollars a year. That’s not right, and the Legislature should create of a fourth tax bracket for Kansas’ highest-income residents. The state could raise hundreds of millions of dollars to protect essential programs and accelerate our economic recovery.
RESTORING A CRITICAL CREDIT: Before 2013, Kansas had a refundable food sales tax credit, meaning filers whose credit amount exceeded their tax liability received the difference in their refunds. Nonrefundable credits are less helpful for low-income Kansans, who often do not owe enough in taxes to benefit. The shift to nonrefundable credits dramatically decreased the number of filers using the credit. KAC testified in favor of HB 2091, which would have reinstated the refundability of the credit and helped thousands. Despite only favorable testimony, the bill didn’t even get a vote in the committee.
ONE MORE THING
We don’t want to wallow in missed opportunities. As you can see, Kansas Action for Children supported good policy and helped lead the charge against bad policy in the 2021 session. But there is so much left to accomplish, and so much good that our Legislature can do for Kansas kids and families. We’ve mapped out the path ahead.
Let’s get it done together. Will you join us in holding our elected leaders accountable to making better choices in 2022?