2023 Statehouse Snapshot: Week 14
Kansas Action for Children
April 29, 2023
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Senate Sustains Flat Tax Veto
The costly tax package proposing a regressive one-bracket income tax structure had a dramatic ending this week, when the Senate first rejected, then attempted to reconsider its rejection, before the bill officially failed to become law.
The Senate was first up to determine whether they wanted to override or sustain the governor’s veto of House Sub. for SB 169. On Wednesday, the Senate failed to reach the two-thirds majority to override, with two Republicans and one Independent joining all Democrats to sustain the veto for a final vote of 26-14 (27 votes were needed to override).
However, on Thursday, a senator who had previously voted NO on the override attempt made a motion to reconsider the bill, which basically allows the Senate a “do over” vote. It appeared as if this senator would flip their “sustain” vote to an “override” vote and put the flat tax bill back in play, if the motion to reconsider passed.
After the motion was made, a different senator (who had previously voted for the veto override) said they had a change of heart and were concerned about how little the bill would help lower-income Kansans. As a result, they voted against the motion and the attempt to resurrect the bill failed 25-14, stopping the flat tax from becoming law.
Kansas Action for Children is thankful for the lawmakers who voted to sustain the Governor’s veto. By sustaining the veto, the state continues to ensure it can meet its obligations to fund schools, infrastructure projects, and other services that matter to Kansans. We hope legislators can work together next session to move forward with tax policies that will benefit working-class Kansans and reject tax cuts for the richest in our state.
House Sustains Veto on Loosening Child Care Safety Standards
Legislators’ recent attention on child care has focused on getting parents to work and keeping the economy running, regardless of the potential health and safety costs to Kansas kids.
While child care certainly helps parents work and be reliable employees, the focus of child care should always center on providing high-quality care and learning for our youngest Kansans. Through debate and votes on Senate Sub. for HB 2344, the importance of safety and quality were left behind in favor of increasing capacity. Thankfully, Governor Kelly recognized that while regulations need to be updated, this bill was not the way.
On Thursday, the House took up the override attempt. Despite several pieces of inaccurate assumptions being shared during the debate, including the idea that child care providers can charge anything they want, representatives stayed firm and rejected the attempt 81-42, three votes shy of the two-thirds majority needed.
Now the real work begins for providers and advocates by supporting the Early Childhood Transition Task Force, providing input and compromise during KDHE regulatory review, and continuing communication with lawmakers.
We know the root causes of the crisis cannot be solved by loosening safety standards that put kids and providers at risk. Regulations are in place to ensure kids get the best care possible. This interim, we are ready to join lawmakers and other stakeholders to find solutions that prioritize safety and bring more workers into the field.
Legislature Overrides Veto to Add Yet Another Barrier to the Food Assistance Program
At a time when inflation has made food costs higher than ever and many are struggling to make ends meet, legislative leadership failed to encourage policy that would help Kansans have enough to eat for every meal. Instead, lawmakers spent significant time and energy on legislation that their constituents neither asked for nor wanted. More than 150 Kansas organizations sent this message loud and clear through a letter to Governor Kelly asking that she veto the bill that would make it even more difficult for low-income Kansans in their 50s to access the food assistance program.
Unfortunately, the House (84-40) and Senate (28-12) voted to override the Governor’s veto on HB 2094, the product of a conference committee that packaged legislation imposing an inflexible, harsh, one-size-fits-all approach to the way older Kansans can meet work requirements with legislation adjusting the child support cooperation requirement for child care assistance.
House leadership pressured their members until they flipped enough representatives to override the veto. The next day, Senators did the same, mostly along party lines. The passage of HB 2094 will affect more than 7,000 older Kansans’ ability to access this critical nutrition assistance program, making it harder for them to ensure children, seniors, and people with disabilities in their families are cared for.
We’re saddened that thousands of Kansans will be harmed by this bill. Every added restriction to the food assistance program makes it much harder for recipients to access much-needed assistance that will help Kansans have the nutrition they need to focus their energy and resources on getting back on their feet and on the path to self-sufficiency.
Through Veto Override, Legislature Legalizes Discrimination against Transgender Community
Throughout the session, it was clear that the Kansas Legislature was intent on targeting the transgender community. Multiple bill hearings and hours of debate ended with lawmakers overriding the Governor’s veto of SB 180 on Thursday, having Kansas become the first state in the country to strictly define “man” and “woman” in state law to only include one’s sex assigned at birth, which essentially doesn’t allow the state to acknowledge the existence of transgender individuals.
This legalizes discrimination against a community that already faces extreme prejudice. Now, transgender individuals in the state will have to use public facilities (like bathrooms) that align with their sex assigned at birth. Additionally, transgender Kansans cannot change their sex on legal documents, even after transitioning.
And SB 180 wasn’t the only anti-trans bill to take hold this session. A few weeks ago, the Legislature overrode the Governor’s veto on the bill banning transgender girls and women from participating in school sports. And earlier this week, they overrode the vetoes on two other measures targeting transgender girls and women on school trips and in prisons.
Thankfully, the Senate upheld the veto on SB 26, which would have banned gender-affirming care for children.
KAC will always stand with marginalized communities, and we hold firm that every Kansan should be able to live as their authentic self. We expect the overridden measures to be challenged in court and hope our judicial system will protect our transgender neighbors.
In Final Hours of 2023 Session, Lawmakers Pass Anti-public Health and Vaccine Procedure Bill
By the barest minimum of vote margins (22-18 and 63-56), a majority of lawmakers chose in the final hours of the 2023 session to vote out HB 2285, a last-minute effort to pass “something” related to public health and vaccines.
Throughout session, we’ve shared about several bills that would have harmed public health through recommending (not requiring) quarantines and trying to implement giant loopholes for vaccine requirements. Several measures passed the Senate but never received hearings in the House.
When lawmakers returned this week, yet another last-minute conference committee was formed between the Senate Health and House Federal and State Affairs committees, and they threw together HB 2285, which includes the contents of SB 314 (prohibiting the KDHE Secretary from ever requiring the COVID vaccine for children in schools and child care) and a slightly amended version of SB 6 (recommending, not requiring, quarantining for any disease).
The floor debates (Senate video and House video) were quite eye-opening and alarming, even as a bipartisan group of senators and representatives shared the dangers of what this legislation would do. We are dismayed at this bill passing and will rely on the Governor’s veto to keep it from becoming law. Changing Kansas public health law in a way that will make the spread of diseases like measles impossible to mitigate and altering routine vaccine procedure jeopardizes not only kids’ health, but also the health of all Kansans.
This session has seen a number of measures that would roll back decades of vaccine policy. While there can’t be any more action this session, we remain concerned about what could already be in the works for 2024. We’ll be working this interim to strengthen support for current vaccine and public health procedures.
K-12 Funding Finally Passes...with Some Funding for Non-public Schools
Lawmakers began discussions on the K-12 budget early in the session, but waited until the very last day to pass a final bill. Waiting this long forces lawmakers to vote for legislation that combines harmful policy with crucial school funding. There is no time for more debate, no time to fix a bill, and no time to express objection to any of the numerous policies injected into a funding bill.
House Sub. for SB 113 combines 11 different policy pieces with the Kansas Department of Education (KSDE) budget, leaving lawmakers in a difficult situation. For those who objected to the policy, they only had this bill as their option to fund K-12 public schools.
Base special education funding of $520 million was inserted into the bill after lawmakers were unable to pass their voucher plan. This does not include the Governor’s request for annual increases of $72 million, leaving districts to fill the funding gap like they have been doing for years already.
While we outlined the details of the policies in the K-12 funding bill last week, a major change was made to gain votes. The “parent portal” piece of the legislation, requiring school districts to create a new section on their websites for all district approved curriculum, was removed. This change apparently made it more palatable for lawmakers as the bill passed the House 83-37 and the Senate 23-16. The bill is now on its way to the Governor.
Final Budget Passes before Session Adjournment
The concluding vote in each chamber on the final night of the session was the passage of the omnibus budget bill (SB 25), authorizing all remaining appropriations approved for the upcoming fiscal year. The final budget for FY 2024, which also includes appropriations passed in the HB 2184 mega budget bill, totals $17.1 billion, with $4.9 billion from the State General Fund (SGF), and as in recent years, does not contain K-12 funding.
The omnibus bill additions include:
- $1.5 million SGF for senior nutrition services through Meals on Wheels (adding to another $1.5 million in HB 2184);
- $13.5 million SGF to improve student access to mental and behavioral health services through the KSDE Mental Health Intervention Pilot;
- $50.0 million SGF in grants to help Kansas communities pay matching funds for federal infrastructure grants; and
- $120 million (including $46 million SGF) for a long overdue pay plan that will raise salaries for all full-time state employees to within 10 percent of market pay, mitigating ongoing concerns about hiring and retention problems across most state agencies.
Earlier in the week, both bodies also managed to override some of the Governor’s line-item vetoes to HB 2184. Among these was a diversion of funds to the Attorney General’s Office from the Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund for a youth suicide prevention project. Another was the creation of a program to provide state funding to unlicensed and unregulated “crisis pregnancy centers,” which have been widely criticized for disseminating misinformation to pregnant women.
Republican lawmakers also forced through the contents of HB 2325 (for which the Governor’s veto had been sustained) as a budget proviso. During FY 2024, this proviso will leave facilities providing legal abortion services ineligible to purchase professional liability insurance from the state’s Health Care Stabilization Fund and instead allow “crisis pregnancy centers” to do so by disingenuously classifying them as “health care providers.”
Despite some positive provisions in the whole budget, lawmakers again wasted the opportunity to utilize the highest budget surplus in the state’s history to make bold, equitable, and transformative decisions for the benefit of all Kansans. The April Consensus Revenue Estimate, released April 20, raised the FY 2023 revenue forecast by $128.2 million above the last estimate, for an expected total of $9.8 billion, and by $109.3 million for total of $10.2 billion in FY 2024. If revenues stay on track (as they already have), Kansas will have surpluses this year and next of $1.9 billion and $3.0 billion, respectively, as well as a solid rainy day fund of $1.6 billion by the end of FY 2024. The money is obviously there, but the political will and basic consideration to pass clean, practical bills appears to be lacking.
For everyday Kansas families working hard to meet rising housing, child care, and health care costs, hearing constant calls to “cut government spending” coupled with persistent efforts to financially benefit the wealthiest residents and businesses is frustrating. Even so, we will continue to show up and advocate for a sound state fiscal policy that is not only sustainable but one that works for Kansas children and families, especially the most vulnerable.
The 2023 Session is officially finished. Thank you to everyone who took time out of their days to communicate with their lawmakers on so many bills, stay informed, share information with their networks, and much more. While we are leaving the session with some very disappointing legislation becoming law, we have also been successful in defeating a number of measures that would have harmed Kansas kids and families. And we made progress on several of our issues, securing additional funding for children’s priorities.
Our weekly Statehouse Snapshot series will be paused until the 2024 Session begins, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be communicating with you! You can expect our legislative wrap-up later in May and monthly newsletters for the rest of the year.
Forward and onward, friends!