10 April 2023 | Economic Security Tax and Budget Early Learning Education Health

2023 Statehouse Snapshot: Week 13

Kansas Action for Children
April 7, 2023

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Conference Committees and Late Night Votes: Lawmakers Adjourn at 4:30 a.m. after Considering Several Harmful Policies

This week, small groups of Senators and Representatives met in “conference committees” to work up final versions of bill packages. After many back-and-forth conference committees throughout the week and an 18+ hour “First Adjournment” day, the Legislature passed (and rejected) several policies that would impact Kansas kids and their families. Unfortunately, almost everything we were keeping close watch on would harm kids, either through creating a budget shortfall and threatening funding to vital programs (like K-12 schools), loosening health and safety requirements, or making it more difficult for low-income Kansans to access assistance.

Sadly, the later it got into the evening and early morning hours after midnight, the policies the Legislature considered became more harmful. As we are just within reach of the end of the 2023 Session, we look back and see so many opportunities to help kids and families; yet the majority of lawmakers decided to move forward with legislation that ignores the needs of most Kansans in the state.

The Legislature could have put our budget surplus toward investing in child care. Instead, they passed a bill to loosen child care safety standards so providers can take on more kids for hardly, if any, more pay.

The Legislature could have passed a clean bill to give low- and middle-income Kansans tax relief so they could more easily make ends meet. Instead, they passed a massive tax bill that gives most of us hardly any extra dollars in our pockets but gives the wealthy large tax breaks they do not need.

The Legislature could have permanently increased funding for the Newborn Screening Program and fixed a Children’s Health Insurance Program eligibility error in Kansas law. Instead, the Senate spent weeks trying to rush through a giant loophole for vaccine requirements and other vaccination procedural changes.

We are frustrated at the lost opportunities, but grateful for those of you who have reached out to your lawmakers and asked them to oppose harmful bills. We know it has made a difference. In the next two weeks, the Governor will have the opportunity to veto several of the below policies that passed, and we’ll continue to need your help contacting lawmakers and telling them to hold firm on or flip to opposing the bills.

PASSED: Loosening of Child Care Safety Standards

After only one conference committee meeting that simply outlined the bill, the House plowed forward with the child care regulation changes in Senate Sub. for HB 2344. KAC has discussed the details of this bill for weeks and has remained firm in our opposition.

Touting the benefits of supposed increased access and affordability, the majority of representatives refused to acknowledge that the process was done without substantial provider input.

Opponents of the bill highlighted that the safety of Kansas kids is too important to rush through a decision when the House did not even have a true committee hearing or the chance at offering amendments to the legislation. We can all agree there are things the Legislature can do to solve the child care crisis, but this bill is not the answer. Lawmakers must work with the child care community to find the best solutions – like raising provider pay, decreasing barriers to entering the field, and more.

Unfortunately, a majority of representatives chose to focus on the economic benefits instead of kids’ safety. With a vote of 77-46, Senate Sub. for HB 2344 is heading to the Governor for a decision about the future of child care in Kansas. We urge Gov. Kelly to veto the bill and opposing lawmakers to stand firm against loosening child care safety standards.

PASSED: Costly and Unfair Flat Tax Plan

Last night, the Kansas Legislature passed House Sub. for SB 169, a tax package that includes a regressive and costly flat tax. The bill includes a 5.15% flat tax rate, in addition to other tax policy changes related to social security taxation, privilege tax, corporate tax, property tax, the standard deduction, and the food sales tax. The House chamber voted 85-38 in support of the bill, breaking nearly party line with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition. This is a change from the first time the House Chamber voted on the bill, when Democrats were split in their support and opposition. The Senate Chamber voted 24-13 in support of the bill (with three Republican senators not voting due to absence).

The bill was a compromise between the Senate and House positions that was reached in conference committee. The components of the bill that would benefit high-income Kansans got better for the top 20%, while the components that would benefit low- and middle-income Kansans that previously motivated House Democrats to vote for the package were watered down.

We continue to stand against any flat tax proposal and urge Gov. Kelly to veto House Sub. for SB 169. This flat tax proposal will cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars while giving the majority of tax cuts to the wealthiest in the state. It will make it harder for the Legislature to prioritize investing in items that matter to every Kansan, like well-funded schools (including special education), high-quality child care, sound infrastructure, and more.

Kansas can’t afford to have an unfair tax system that works to the advantage of the highest-income Kansans. Top-heavy tax cuts don’t make our state strong. Safe communities, quality schools, good jobs, and great health care are what keep folks in Kansas and our state thriving.

PASSED: Food Assistance Restriction

The Senate (26-12) and then the House (80-42) passed the conference committee report on HB 2094. Originally an insurance bill, the House Committee on Welfare Reform and Senate Committee on Public Health and Welfare “conferenced” on the bill Wednesday and inserted the contents of HB 2140 and HB 2179, neither of which were even heard by a Senate committee.

The House committee chair tried to also insert the contents of HB 2141 despite the Senate rejecting it last week, but fortunately, the Senate conferees refused that maneuver. The provisions of HB 2179 do make progress for families harmed by the state’s requirement to cooperate with child support services in order to receive child care assistance, but it doesn’t go far enough to actually solve the problem because that requirement is still in place.

And this pairing is not a good deal for Kansas families. HB 2140 would add yet another restriction for low-income Kansans in their 50s who need temporary food assistance to make ends meet and who already face significant work requirements. Bill supporters misleadingly touted the success of a similar restriction the Legislature passed last year for 18-49 year olds without dependents. In the first few months after its implementation, the policy led to 225 people being kicked off the program. It is not a “success” when hungry Kansans are suddenly without the temporary help they need to have enough to eat for every meal. Unfortunately, harmful rhetoric of “welfare” was used over and over when discussing these bills, and a representative had to remind the body that these programs are assistance, not welfare.

We hope that legislators realize that this legislation is bad for Kansas families and will sustain a veto if the Governor decides to utilize that power.

PASSED: State Budget – Except K-12 Funding

After several rounds of deliberation in conference committee, the appropriations committees came to an agreement on the initial FY 2024 budget on Wednesday, with the full chambers passing Sub. for HB 2184 on Thursday night. The $16.8 billion budget (including $4.8 billion from the State General Fund) includes:

  • Enhanced state matching funding to draw down additional federal Child Care and Development Fund dollars to improve access to child care for low-income families.
  • A temporary one-year fix for the income eligibility issue with the Children’s Health Insurance Program, good through June 30, 2024.
  • A temporary two-year fix to raise the funding cap for the Newborn Screening Program, good through June 30, 2025.
  • Increased funding to local health departments to account for inflation and meet increased demand for services and capacity.
  • Transfer of $600 million into the state’s almost $1 billion rainy day fund.

Lawmakers also authorized the use of more than $50 million in unspent federal pandemic relief funds for various infrastructure projects across the state, including the expansion of an inpatient mental health facility in south central Kansas.

Not included was Medicaid expansion, which was removed from the Governor’s recommended budget and never discussed in any public hearings. State employee pay increases were also left out, which lawmakers say they will address before the end of the session.

K-12 education, which was split off from the larger budget and placed into House Sub. for SB 113, remains undecided as the education conference committee was unable to reach an agreement. The bill remains in conference for continued negotiations on proposed reductions in state aid to public schools and non-appropriations policy provisions detrimental to public education, among other items bundled together.

When lawmakers return, the appropriations committees will be presented with the April Consensus Revenue Estimate, which forecasts revenues for the upcoming fiscal year and helps guide the formulation of the omnibus budget, which is the comprehensive bill to authorize all expenditures contained in legislation passed by the Legislature.

FAILED: Negative Changes to Vaccine Requirements

By Wednesday, it seemed that the Legislature would ignore several bills dealing with dangerous changes to vaccinations and public health. However, on Thursday, over the course of a few hours, a conference committee made up of the Senate Health and House Federal and State Affairs committee leadership crafted a new bill package targeting vaccination requirements and procedures. They threw together a dangerous bundle of policies, using Senate Sub. for HB 2390 (which already included the contents of SB 6) as its starting point and then added the contents of SB 314 and parts of SB 315 (the language to remove the meningitis requirement for student housing at colleges and universities was excluded).

Shortly after 3 a.m. on Friday morning, the Senate failed (19-18) to pass it out (21 votes are needed to pass). Watch the floor debate unfold, including a powerful defense by Sen. O’Shea of why vaccinations and public health protections matter so much for the health and well-being of Kansas kids.

Together, the bill package would have severely weakened vaccination requirements and limited the ability of health officials to quarantine those with serious infectious diseases and rapidly respond during infectious disease outbreaks. This proposal could very well now be dead, but, unfortunately, these proposals have kept making it back to the Senate floor. And, we know all too well that things are never fully dead in the Kansas Statehouse for the year until Sine Die. We will keep watching for any new developments.

FAILED: Public Dollars for Non-Public Schools

Vouchers, education savings accounts (ESA), scholarship tax credits, awards, and grants — House Sub. for SB 83 has contained all of these different methods for using taxpayer dollars for non-public schools. Conference committee week saw another set of major changes to this bill, moving away from the ESA program the House inserted to an expansion of the Kansas Education Enrichment Program (KEEP).

The latest version of the bill (funding through one-time American Rescue Plan Act dollars (ARPA) and State General Fund money) allowed a one-time $1,000 award for students attending public schools to use for approved educational services while non-public students could receive an annual grant equal to 95% of the state BASE aid, roughly $5,000 from kindergarten through 12th grade. Both require that the family income of a student is below 250% of the federal poverty line, which is roughly $75,000 for a family of four.

Sensing little appetite in the Statehouse for shifting tax dollars to non-public schools, the conference committee included a one-time increase to special education funding to the bill in the hope to make it more palatable for members of both chambers. However, to ensure that the Legislature was not held responsible for the maintenance of effort on this increase, the committee decided to again use one-time ARPA funds.

All of these changes were for naught as the House only gained one vote from the previous attempt, passing with a slim margin of 65-58. The Senate, however, could not get the bill over the finish line. It failed in the chamber on a 17-20 vote.

Every kid in the state deserves a quality, fulfilling education. When we support public schools, we support every Kansas kid — no matter their ability or zip code.

What to Expect in Week 14

The Legislature will take a two-week break and then come back to Topeka on April 24 to start up “Veto Session,” which is when lawmakers will finish their 2023 legislative business and attempt to override any legislation that the Governor may veto. We urge lawmakers to continue to hold firm in opposition to policies that will harm Kansas kids and their families – like the flat tax, loosening of child care safety standards, and a food assistance restriction.

We will have a much clearer picture on what is in store for Veto Session right before they come back from break.

Get day-to-day updates on what bills KAC is monitoring during the 2023 Session here.