13 February 2023 | Economic Security Tax and Budget Health Education

2023 Statehouse Snapshot: Week 5

(Erin Melton, Food Security Policy Advisor, testifies in opposition to HB 2141. Photo taken from a screenshot of the Kansas Legislature's Youtube channel.)

Kansas Action for Children
February 10, 2023

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Welfare Reform Committee Hears Two Bills Restricting Access to Food Assistance

The House Committee on Welfare Reform held its first bill hearings of the session – HB 2140 on Tuesday and HB 2141 on Thursday.

HB 2140 would add barriers to the food assistance program for low-income Kansans in their 50s. The bill had only a single proponent — a lobbyist representing a Florida-based conservative think tank — and 12 opponents, including KAC, AARP, DCF, social service providers, and public health advocates. KAC testified opposing this bill and explained how its implementation would harm children and the people who care for them.

HB 2141 is a harmful, punitive bill that would impose a one-size-fits-all approach to child support for low-income families in Kansas and would disqualify non-custodial parents from the food assistance program for any month they miss, or only partially pay, child support or in which they have any arrearages. There was the same single proponent while 10 opponents, including KAC, social service agencies, DCF, and attorneys familiar with the child support process, who shared how making it harder for a parent to get enough to eat will only make it less likely that they will be able to keep up with child support payments.

Additionally, if a non-custodial parent has one or more children in their current household, disqualifying the parent from food assistance will decrease the entire household’s benefit amount, meaning there is less money to feed the same number of people. The hearing’s question and answer portions made it clear that the committee did not yet understand all the systems and how Kansas families would be affected. KAC's testimony can be viewed here.

We encourage you to tell the committee members why family support programs are so critical for Kansans who need temporary help to get back on their feet and why further restrictions would be harmful.

Flat Tax Fights on the Horizon

Next week, the Legislature will hold several hearings on flat tax bills. The specifics of the two bills being heard vary, but both flat tax proposals would decrease tax revenue while giving away large tax cuts to high-income Kansans. The House Taxation Committee has a two-day hearing on HB 2061, with Tuesday, February 14, focusing on the personal income tax portion of the bill and Wednesday, February 15, focusing on the corporate income tax portion of the bill. The Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee has a hearing on SB 169 on Wednesday, February 15.

We are concerned these bills, one of which would cost the state $1.5 billion per year in tax cuts primarily benefiting the wealthiest Kansans, would make it harder for the state to meet its current needs and limit the possibilities of future investments (like addressing the IDD waiver waiting list, fully funding special education, building a stronger infrastructure and state water plan, and many other important needs).

It's never too early to contact your lawmaker and let them know you oppose large tax giveaways to high-income Kansans, which would make it harder for the state to make needed investments that would benefit the majority of people in this state. Find your lawmaker here.

Childhood Vaccinations Celebrated on House Floor; Medicaid Expansion Removed from KDHE’s Budget

The House chamber celebrated the positive and life-saving effects of childhood vaccines on Wednesday. Several representatives (who are all doctors or nurses) shared a few words to recognize the 1.5 million deaths that have been avoided since 1994 directly due to societal vaccination. Lawmakers also recognized the ongoing work of the Immunize Kansas Coalition and the Kansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics to improve statewide vaccination rates and keep Kansans safe from vaccine-preventable diseases.

This week, we weighed in on the KDHE budget (Senate testimony; House testimony). We shared our support for funding requests for local health departments, as well as for budget provisos that may be needed to continue to temporarily address funding issues with the Newborn Screening Program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) if active bills aren’t passed. We also shared why we support Medicaid expansion. Unfortunately, the House Committee on Social Services Budget voted to remove the Medicaid expansion funding from the agency’s budget. The Senate Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Services’ KDHE budget deliberations will begin Monday.

Finally, on Thursday, we provided information to the House Committee on Health and Human Services about HB 2050, which fixes the income eligibility issue with CHIP (our remarks). We will testify in support of the identical bill, SB 45, on Monday in the Senate Committee on Public Health and Welfare. We continue to hope lawmakers will pass a permanent solution to this unintentional error by the end of the session.

Private School Voucher Debate Heats Up

Vouchers for private schools is taking center stage in the education committees. The House Committee on K-12 Education Budget first discussed HB 2218, regarding “Education Savings Accounts” for students in private schools. After more than two hours of testimony and questioning, the Committee passed the bill out with a bouquet of balloon amendments; the votes fell along party lines.

The House Education Committee held a hearing on HB 2236, a modified “Parents’ Bill of Rights.” The 2022 version was criticized as too specific and dangerous, and this year’s bill is criticized as too broad, but still dangerous. Chairperson Thomas invited folks from both sides to help him find the middle ground. The Committee also held a roundtable discussion with school board members from across the state. In a productive, friendly conversation, the groups identified ways that different levels of elected officials can work together to support public schools and help meet the unique needs of each student.

Art Gutierrez, from the Emporia School District, discussed staffing shortages by saying, “I feel like education's always offered the lowest pay and we've counted on people to come and work with us to work with our kids because they love kids and they love learning, but now it's really a struggle.”

We were expecting the House Committee on Welfare Reform to hold a hearing on HB 2179 on Thursday, but with testimony and questions on HB 2141 taking up the full meeting time, it was postponed. This bill would remove child support cooperation as a requirement for a family to receive child care assistance. With this change, more children will be able to access high quality care in our state.

What to Expect in Week 6

Lawmakers will be racing against the clock in the next few weeks in anticipation for “Turnaround Day” on February 24, which will be the last day to consider many bills in their originating chamber. KAC will provide testimony on several bills:

  • On Monday in the House Committee on Education, we will submit testimony in opposition to HB 2238, which would prohibit female transgender students from participating in school sports.
  • On Monday in the Senate Committee on Public Health and Welfare, we will present testimony in support of SB 45, the bill to fix the income eligibility in the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
  • On Tuesday in the House Committee on Taxation, we will present testimony in opposition to the individual income tax portion of HB 2061, which would create a 5% flat tax for most Kansas filers and give half of the tax breaks to the wealthiest 20% of Kansans.
  • On Wednesday, we’ll testify in opposition to two flat tax bills:
    • The corporate income tax portion of HB 2061 in the House Committee on Taxation.
    • SB 169, which would create a 4.75% flat tax and create taxes on filers making $5,225 to $15,000, in the Senate Committee on Assessment and Taxation.
  • On Thursday in the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs, we will submit testimony in support of HB 2044, which would add hair textures and protective hairstyles to the definition of “race” in the Kansas Act Against Discrimination.

This week, the Welfare Reform Committee postponed HB 2179. The Committee will hear from DCF on the three bills they have heard so far — HB 2140, HB 2141, and potentially HB 2179 if the hearing gets rescheduled. We expect they will debate and vote on the bills Thursday.