2023 Statehouse Snapshot: Week 11
John Wilson, President & CEO, provided impromptu opponent testimony on Tuesday during the Senate Health Committee's "informational briefing" on SB 282, which would loosen several child care safety standards.(Screenshot taken from the Legislature's YouTube stream.)
Kansas Action for Children
March 24, 2023
Want to receive this weekly recap as soon as it's released? Sign up for our emails here.
Lawmakers Advance Proposals Loosening Child Care Safety Standards
Lawmakers in the House and Senate hastily advanced bills that would jeopardize child care safety standards. These proposals move child care regulations into Kansas law, which would prevent state officials from being nimble and responsive to changing state regulations to match federal requirements, research, practices, and evolving needs of child care professionals.
We are grateful for lawmakers’ intent of addressing the child care crisis, but the Legislature must take care to examine other solutions so we can have a multi-pronged approach, like addressing barriers to professionals entering the child care field while also ensuring kids and providers are kept safe.
A few weeks ago, hundreds of opponents contacted members of the Senate Commerce Committee to express their concerns about SB 282 and urge a NO vote. Despite this, the bill was passed after a bundle of amendments were pushed through. In a move to fast track this bad bill, the Committee placed the contents of SB 282 into an unrelated House bill that became Senate Sub. for HB 2344. It was voted out of committee and was heard on the floor only two days later. The bill narrowly passed the Senate 21-17 late this week, showing that there are some bipartisan concerns about the bill’s impact.
In a last-minute change to the agenda, the House Committee on Health and Human Services held an “informational briefing” on SB 282 — the bill from above, which, at that point in time, hadn’t even been debated by the Senate. It quickly became apparent that this briefing was being run as a bill hearing, except that only proponents were identified to provide testimony.
When the chair indicated that there were no opponents or neutral conferees, KAC’s President & CEO John Wilson raised concerns from the audience about the process and was the only one in the room able to provide opponent testimony. In the same maneuver used by the Senate, the Committee then voted to gut SB 96 and place the language from SB 282 into it. The Committee quickly passed House Sub. for SB 96.
Policies involving our littlest Kansans shouldn’t be rushed through the legislative process. We are disheartened by the processes used to expedite these bills. Representatives should vote NO on this proposal, especially because it hasn’t been properly vetted.
Early Childhood Transition Task Force
Next Friday, the Early Childhood Transition Task Force will hold its first public meeting. The Task Force was established by Governor Kelly to comprehensively review Kansas’s early child care and education system and develop a plan for a new cabinet-level state agency focused solely on supporting the state’s youngest kids.
The Task Force will work over the remainder of the year to develop recommendations for the Governor prior to 2024. The first meeting will focus on the current programming landscape in Kansas and how various state agencies collaborate to deliver services. The meeting is open to the public and will be held from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on March 31 in Room 346-S at the Statehouse.
Senate Health Packs Full Schedule for Last Week of Meetings
Over five one-hour meetings this week, the Senate Committee on Public Health and Welfare held hearings on 11 bills, and worked and passed out around 15 bills! Procedures and rules were skipped over and seemed to be ignored or forgotten. Conferees had as little as 30 seconds to provide testimony, and there was little time or even no time at all to ask questions of conferees on very complex bills.
We are deeply concerned that several complex policies received very little vetting by the Committee. Here’s an overview of some of the legislation discussed this week.
What happened with two vaccine-related bills, especially SB 315, perfectly illustrates this rushed activity.
SB 314 (banning KDHE from ever requiring the COVID-19 vaccine for kids) had a very brief hearing on Wednesday, and KAC provided verbal testimony against the bill because we are concerned the bill could be amended to apply to all vaccination requirements in state law. SB 314 was passed out of Committee and is waiting for a floor vote to be scheduled.
SB 315 is a complex change in vaccination policy that would weaken current exemptions language for child care and school vaccination requirements. After a contentious and rushed hearing on Tuesday that drew media headlines, the Committee worked the bill on Thursday, first removing the business-related changes. An attempt to keep the requirements for the meningitis vaccine for living in college and university housing failed. The Committee then voted 3-4, with the bill failing to advance to the full Senate. Then on Friday morning, the Committee somehow maneuvered around procedural rules and reconsidered SB 315, passing it out 4-4 with the Chair breaking the tie. We remain strongly opposed to this bill and urge you to contact your Senator to vote NO if this bill comes to the Senate floor.
The Senate Health Committee heard and took action on HB 2141, which would add yet another barrier to the food assistance program by making it harder for low-income parents to support their children. Similar to the House Committee hearing, there were 10 organizations and individuals opposing the bill and just two proponents, one of whom was the Chair of the House Welfare Reform Committee. After testimony and a brief Q&A period, the Committee immediately began action on the bill. There was one technical amendment to change the bill’s title—a change that makes this bill eligible for conference committee—and it passed out of committee to the full Senate.
After a delay in hearing SB 234, the Committee rescheduled the hearing for this morning. The bill could impact the ability of Kansans to be referred to and access critical services like child care. There is still much uncertainty around the implications and unintended consequences of the legislation, which is why we submitted opponent testimony. The Committee did not work the bill, but it’s possible it could still be added to another bill in a conference committee or as an amendment on the Senate floor. However, we are cautiously optimistic that SB 234 will be paused at least until next session.
House Tax Guts Senate’s Flat Tax Bill with Its Own Proposal
The House Taxation Committee worked SB 169, the Senate’s 4.75% flat tax proposal. The Committee immediately removed the contents of the Senate bill and inserted the contents of HB 2457, the House Taxation Committee chair’s tax package proposal that includes a flat tax, as well as many other components.
In a very thoughtful manner, the Committee evaluated the components (and related costs) of the bill, along with the costs of other bills that have already passed out of the Committee. The goal was to amend HB 2457 to ensure the Committee only has a total of roughly $500 million in tax cuts.
To meet this target, House Sub. for SB 169 was sent to the full House with three major changes to the initial language in HB 2457:
- Social security: The full exemption in the original bill was amended to instead end the fiscal cliff by smoothing out the exemption of social security from $75,000 to $100,000.
- Flat tax: The flat tax rate was amended to be raised from 4.95% to 5.25%, with an exemption for the lowest-income filers.
- Corporate tax: The start date for the reduction in corporate tax components was postponed until 2024.
The bill also continues to have components eliminating the state-sales tax on groceries earlier than last year’s plan, raising the standard deduction, and increasing the property tax exemption of the 20-mill levy for public schools.
While we appreciate the House Tax Committee's efforts to cut down the cost of the bill and the deliberate way they approached their work, we remain concerned about spending half a billion dollars a year going into a potential recession. We continue to be opposed to flat tax proposals as they would make the state’s overall tax structure more in favor of the wealthiest in the state.
House Sub. for SB 169 will likely head to the House floor for a full vote next week. If the bill passes, since it has already been voted on by the Senate of the Whole (granted with different contents), it will head to conference committee.
Funding for Public Schools Tied to Diverting Public Dollars to Non-public Schools
The budget focus this week was on K-12 Education in House Sub. for SB 113, which passed the House by majority vote. As was the intent when it was separated from the rest of the House budget in the House Committee on Appropriations, the bill bundled together the K-12 budget with several policy items, some of which never had public hearings and most of which are detrimental to Kansas students, teachers, and families.
Floor amendments to include much-needed special education funding and protect funding for at-risk students were among those that failed after “concern” about the cost, despite millions of dollars being diverted to non-public schools. The bill also neglected to equitably address teacher salaries, instead allowing wealthier districts to raise taxes for teacher pay, which will inevitably leave less wealthy districts under-resourced. To add insult to injury, the bill also stripped a mere $1.9 million intended for teacher professional development, as well as $1.3 million in Children’s Initiatives Fund money for the Parents as Teachers program, which supports early childhood education through parent education.
The House Committee on Appropriations also passed its budget (minus K-12 Education), and House Sub. for SB 42 will be on the House floor next week for debate and a vote. Amendments to expand Medicaid, fund special education, and increase state employee pay are expected but likely to fail.
What to Expect in Week 12
Now that committee meetings are finished for the year, both chambers will spend all of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday on the floor debating and voting on bills that have been passed out to the full Senate or House. We’re likely to see action on several policies KAC has kept a close eye on, including attempts at adding even more restrictions to the food assistance program, eroding vaccine requirements, loosening of child care safety standards, costly tax cuts, and the state budget.
There is a lot of work for the Legislature to get done during the first three days next week so that conference committees can be appointed and negotiate differences between the Senate and House positions for similar legislation in Week 13. At the end of Week 13, lawmakers will come up to the “First Adjournment” deadline, which mostly concludes their work for the year, save for attempts to override any vetoes Governor Kelly may have used her pen on.
Thanks for following along with us so far this session. We’re nearing the finish line, but there are many different routes the Legislature may choose. Please watch out for action alerts we are likely to send early next week on legislation that will impact Kansas kids. Your actions will help give Kansas kids the opportunity to grow up healthy and thrive!