2023 Statehouse Snapshot: Week 12
Sen. Gossage (far left, bright blue jacket) stands for questions from Sen. Pettey (right, orange jacket) on HB 2141 on Tuesday evening. The next day, the bill failed to receive enough votes to pass the Senate.
Kansas Action for Children
March 31, 2023
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Food Assistance Restriction Rejected by Senate, Another Advanced by the House
Advocates and Kansas families got a win this week when the Senate narrowly rejected HB 2141, which would have required compliance with child support for non-custodial parents to receive food assistance. After a fierce debate Tuesday night and several explanations of “NO” votes Wednesday afternoon, 20 Senators were convinced that it would have been a harmful policy and rejected it.
Senators speaking in opposition to the bill noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is set to publish study results next March that explore the effectiveness of child support cooperation requirements in the SNAP program. Senators also emphasized that this would target only the lowest-income families, and taking away the ability of parents to access food will harm the children who supporters said the bill was intended to help. KAC applauds the Senate for doing what is right for Kansas families and voting this bill down!
A different bill adding yet another barrier to food assistance, however, remains in play. HB 2140 passed the House chamber Tuesday night after a long debate on Medicaid expansion. An amendment was introduced to delete language listed in the statute that restricts the authority to expand Medicaid by the Legislature only. Several lawmakers passionately shared how expansion would benefit Kansans, including kids and families. Unfortunately, a germaneness challenge appeared 45 minutes into the debate, and somehow the amendment was ruled not relevant.
When lawmakers returned to discussing HB 2140, there was then little discussion, and it passed the chamber 82-42. The Senate has not yet referred the bill to a committee, and it could end up in a conference committee report next week. KAC continues to oppose this unnecessary, inflexible, and restrictive legislation.
Immediately following action on HB 2140 was HB 2179, which would adjust how Kansas enforces the state’s child support cooperation requirement for the child care assistance program. The bill would ensure that eligible families must have 12 months of assistance before they can be disqualified because of not cooperating with child support enforcement. There was a brief procedural motion and debate on the House floor to return the bill to its original form, which would have completely removed the state’s requirement to cooperate with child support to receive child care assistance. KAC and other advocates know that the original bill is the best policy for Kansas families, but the House voted down that motion and subsequently passed the amended bill unanimously. Though this amended bill does not go far enough, it is a step in the right direction, and we hope to see it passed through the Senate chamber as a clean bill.
Major Changes to Vaccination Policy Passes the Senate
A majority of the Senate chose on Wednesday to pass two bills that would open the door to further lowering childhood vaccination rates in Kansas and start our state down the path of eliminating all childhood vaccine requirements.
SB 315 (22-18) would create an additional philosophical exemption to basically any vaccine requirement. Additionally alarming is that SB 315 would also repeal the meningitis vaccine requirement for living in college and university student housing.
SB 314 (24-16) would prohibit KDHE from ever requiring the COVID-19 vaccination. This would be a change in regulation authority and set a dangerous precedent of making the Legislature the primary authority on vaccinations.
We remain deeply concerned at the multiple attempts to weaken current vaccine policy and procedures. Vaccines are a foundational part of kids’ health and infectious disease prevention in our communities; these changes risk increased disease outbreaks.
Also, for the second time this session, a majority of Senators chose to yet again tie the hands of public health officials during future infectious disease outbreaks by passing out Senate Sub. for HB 2390 (23-16). When the bill left the House, it included several steps to address the fentanyl overdose crisis. Now, that important language is gone and anti-quarantine language (SB 6) is in its place.
We hope the House continues to refuse to entertain any of these dangerous anti-public health policies during conference committee discussions next week. If Kansas continues down this path, Kansas kids will be seriously harmed and even die.
House Passes Its Flat Tax Proposal
The House passed House Sub. for SB 169 (94-30), the tax bill package that includes implementing a flat tax. There were two floor amendments dealing with property tax and 529 accounts that were included.
We anticipate the Senate will non-concur with the bill and send it to conference committee, where changes could be made to drastically increase the cost and scope of the bill. KAC will continue to urge lawmakers to vote against any flat tax proposal because it is a regressive and costly change.
While last week’s changes to House Sub. for SB 169 reduced the overall cost, this bill is still an expensive and top-heavy tax cut that would dismantle Kansas’ three-tier income tax, making it more difficult for the state to generate revenue needed to sustain current programs and services, let alone make future investments. Lawmakers have a choice with our current surplus—address unmet needs like shortening the IDD waiver, fully funding special education, and investing in child care. Or they can pass an expensive tax cut that could make it impossible to address these priorities. We urge lawmakers to focus spending on items that will strengthen our state.
A bright spot in tax policy this week was SB 147, which would increase the amount of the Kansas adoption tax credit. The bill was amended on the Senate floor to also increase the child and dependent care expense credit from 25 percent to 50 percent of the federally allowed credit. This will help families offset the costs associated with child care.
State Budget Bill Passed by House
The House chamber passed its own version of the budget, House Sub. for SB 42, with surprisingly few amendment attempts during the two-hour debate. Changes on the floor include the creation of an online portal showing all federal grants awarded to state agencies and institutions, and a restriction on increasing state employee position counts.
Though not yet announced, this bill and the Senate’s version, Sub. for SB 155, will go to conference committee where they will attempt to compromise on a long list of differences, some of which include Medicaid-related health and senior care costs. As a reminder, both sides have rejected all attempts to expand Medicaid again this session.
The path for the K-12 budget remains confusing as the Senate’s school funding plan is included with all other agencies in its state budget bill, whereas the House version separated K-12 funding into its own bill (House Sub. for SB 113) and now includes non-appropriations policy provisions like non-public students participating in public school sports and creation of a “parent portal.”
Bill Adding Funding for Non-public Schools Becomes Even Less Appealing in Conference Committee
House Sub. for SB 83, a large Education Savings Accounts bill allocating public dollars for non-public schools, saw a conference committee meet twice during the week. Both meetings were short, only addressing one or two items at a time. On Monday, the Senate proposed removing two provisions that were previously added to attract floor votes. The first required funds to be used for licensed teacher raises and the second allowed 1A and 2A schools to use enrollment for up to four previous years to calculate funding.
With these two sections removed, lawmakers from rural areas who represent smaller schools should have a harder time justifying support for the bill. On Wednesday, the Senate proposed to insert the original content of SB 83, a tax credit for contributions to a scholarship fund for low-income students, back into the bill. The House team rejected this idea.
These first two conference committee meetings demonstrated the wide gap between the two chambers. Moving towards a compromise for House Sub. for SB 83 seems like it will be difficult.
What to Expect in Week 13
Next week, lawmakers will begin conference committees before the “First Adjournment” deadline (which is most bills’ last opportunity for legislative action for the year). If you’re not familiar, a “conference committee” is the process by which both chambers negotiate the differences between similar policies. Both chambers then give the bill an up or down vote, and they cannot amend the bill on the floor.
Here are the issues related to Kansas kids that lawmakers are likely to (or could) work on before their April break.
Flat Tax: There are major differences between the House and Senate versions of the “flat tax” proposals. The House’s flat tax rate is at 5.25%, but is packaged with several other tax changes, while the Senate’s flat tax rate is 4.75%. Where the conference committee ends up is anybody’s guess, but regardless, KAC still remains opposed to this structurally regressive tax policy.
Loosening Child Care Safety Standards: After rushed action last week, the changes to child care regulations in Senate Sub. for HB 2344 were not taken up by the House, setting up a conference committee in the coming week. Members of the Senate Commerce and House Health and Human Services Committees will work together to find a position on which both chambers can agree. This could be a difficult situation because the House has no official position on the bill. As lawmakers get together, we will have a better picture of what path Senate Sub. for HB 2344 has moving forward.
Changes to Family Support Programs: Two House bills – HB 2140 (food assistance restriction) and HB 2179 (adjusting the child support cooperation requirement for child care subsidies) – passed the House this week, and typically, they would be sent to a Senate committee, which would hear and vote on the bills before being considered by the full Senate. However, since committee meetings are now over for the year, a Senate committee would need to be granted extra meeting time for the bills to go through a normal legislative process. That is unlikely, so lawmakers now have two options: add them to something in conference committee or wait until next year to be taken up by the Senate committee. Either could happen at this point, and we’ll keep a close eye on what lawmakers might attempt.
Vaccinations: Two vaccination-related bills passed the Senate, but the House hasn’t passed similar legislation. Similar to the two bills that would make changes to family support programs (above), the bills will have to wait until next year to get taken up by a House committee or representatives could accept the two bills being added to another bill in conference committee. We hope representatives will hold the line on any changes to vaccination policy and regulation procedure.
The conference committee process moves quickly and can change a bill from good to bad in minutes. Follow along with lawmakers’ actions via Twitter @kansasaction for updates throughout the week.