2023 Statehouse Snapshot: Week 6
(Emily Fetsch, Director of Fiscal Policy, testifies in opposition to SB 169. Photo taken from a screenshot of the Kansas Legislature's Youtube stream.)
Kansas Action for Children
February 17, 2023
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'Flat Tax' Is Flat Wrong for Majority of Kansans
It was Flat Tax Week at the Statehouse, where lawmakers held three bill hearings on flat tax proposals. The House Taxation Committee had a two-day hearing on HB 2061, while the Senate Assessment & Taxation Committee heard SB 169. We testified in opposition to both flat tax proposals, raising concerns about how the bills would provide the biggest tax cuts to Kansans with the most financial resources and reduce needed revenue to the state as a result.
Even with our current tax structure, the wealthiest Kansans pay a significantly smaller percentage of their earnings on taxes than other income groups. For instance, while the lowest 20 percent Kansas income range residents have an effective total tax rate (combining income, property, and sales taxes) of 10.7 percent, the top 1 percent has an effective tax rate of just 7.4 percent.
It is essential that Kansas continue to have (and improve) its graduated income tax structure to ensure every Kansan pays their fair share according to their means. Any proposal to “flatten” the income tax tilts the overall tax structure even more in favor of the richest Kansans, while low- and middle-income families will continue to have a higher percentage of their household income going toward their taxes than the top 1 percent of Kansas tax filers.
We will continue to monitor these bills to see if they are worked and passed out of the committees. As we mentioned last week, it's never too early to contact your lawmaker and let them know you oppose large tax giveaways to the highest-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.
Committee Votes in Favor of Two Bills Further Restricting Access to Food Assistance
Yesterday the House Committee on Welfare Reform amended and passed out HB 2140 and HB 2141.
The amendment to HB 2140 keeps the legislation from violating federal law, but it would have the same effect as before of making it harder for Kansans in their 50s without dependents to afford enough groceries. It would also subject them to an inflexible work requirement or be forced into training programs they likely do not need. These Kansans are already subject to 30-hour work requirements and already have voluntary access to employment in training, which makes this bill completely unnecessary.
The amendment to HB 2141, which would add child support cooperation for non-custodial parents as an eligibility requirement for food assistance, only made the bill’s implementation more confusing. We know that child support cooperation requirements are not effective as a tool to increase child support payments to children and can actually decrease parents’ ability to support their kids. It was clear during the meeting that the Committee does not have full understanding of how this bill’s implementation would impact the Department for Children and Families or the Kansans who need food assistance to have enough to eat for every meal.
Both bills will increase administrative cost and complexity for DCF and will add even more barriers to food assistance for Kansans going hungry. We know supporting kids means helping their parents make ends meet. These bills are counterproductive to that goal.
Medicaid Expansion Ditched in House Budget Bill, but Kept in Senate Version – For Now
House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means subcommittees have been meeting over the past three weeks to review and deliberate proposed FY 2024 budgets for the state's hundred-plus agencies. While some budgets have been passed to the larger committees with no or minimal changes, others haven’t been as lucky. Notably, the Department of Health and Environment - Health budget saw the proposal for Medicaid expansion with its $21 million state funding stripped by the House Social Services Budget Committee, a decision affirmed by the full House Appropriations Committee.
During discussions in Friday's Appropriations meeting, some lawmakers questioned the full cost of current funding proposals to patch service and coverage holes in the state's KanCare program compared to the expected cost and benefits of expansion. Ironically, one of these items is a $20 million state funding request to rural hospitals to compensate for the care of uninsured patients.
On the Senate side, the Health and Human Services subcommittee and the full Senate Ways and Means Committee decided to keep the expansion provision – for now – without any discussion. Barring any changes before the respective chambers' budget bills are passed, the opposing House and Senate positions will be deliberated during conference committee later in the session.
Federal incentives for states to expand Medicaid would save Kansas an estimated $92 million in FY 2024 and provide coverage for more than 150,000 uninsured Kansas. It would also improve services for patients and better compensation for participating health care providers.
Despite 8 out of 10 Kansans supporting Medicaid expansion and the clear need for it shown in such budget requests, the vocalized foregone conclusion by some lawmakers is that expansion will never happen – all without ever allowing the public an opportunity to formally weigh in.
If it’s true that a budget reflects the values we hold and deem worthy of our collective investment, it seems like ensuring access to health care for all Kansas children and families is of little importance to some lawmakers.
Senate Health Committee Prioritizes Partisan Attacks Instead of Policy that Would Help Kids
Policy is all about choices. And it’s telling this week what certain lawmakers chose to prioritize (or not) to improve kids’ health in our state.
SB 45 – the Senate’s CHIP fix bill – received a very short hearing on Monday (six minutes total!) in the Senate Committee on Public Health and Welfare. We provided verbal testimony in support of this bill, and several partners submitted written-only proponent testimony.
Unfortunately, even though there were no opponents, and this same bill passed out of the same committee last year, the Committee apparently doesn’t intend to work the bill. We are disappointed in this decision; we will continue to explore other options to permanently fix this 15-year error.
The Senate Health Committee also chose not to discuss policies that would help improve kids’ and families’ health, like bills focused on Medicaid expansion (SB 225); newborn screening program (SB 139); and the maternal mortality review committee (SB 118).
Instead, the Committee held hearings on anti-public health changes (SB 6); legislation targeting the transgender community and medical professionals (SB 12/SB 233); and putting into statute a binary definition of gender at birth (SB 180). All these bills may be worked early next week.
It’s frustrating to see these kinds of choices get made, but we continue conversations in the Statehouse and hope you continue them in your communities about important policies that actually improve kids’ health in Kansas.
The House Committee on Health and Human Services discussed and passed out HB 2390, which would decriminalize testing strips for fentanyl and two date rape drugs, as well as establish an overdose review board, similar to the child death and maternal mortality review boards. Too many kids are dying, poisoned by laced pills, and this bill is an important step forward to address this crisis. We will continue to monitor the bill’s progress.
Anti-trans Bill Draws Nearly 100 Opponents for Hearing
This week of bill hearings kicked off in the House Education Committee with HB 2238, the so-called “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” a bill that would limit the options for transgender girls playing sports from kindergarten through college. KAC, along with almost 100 other individuals and organizations provided testimony in opposition to this discriminatory legislation.
Despite the demonstrated passion of opponents (and only six pieces of proponent testimony), the Committee approved the bill just two days later. For the third year in a row, a version of this legislation is headed to the House floor to be debated by the entire body. This attempt at legal discrimination and bullying received stiff opposition from committee members with arguments on the legal and financial ramifications. In our testimony, we shared the importance of belonging for every Kansas child. Bills like HB 2238 create even more difficulty for all children to be their true selves.
What to Expect in Week 7
As we near the halfway point in the 2023 Session, lawmakers must take big actions next week before the Turnaround deadline on February 24. This will be the last day lawmakers can consider any non-exempt* committee bills if they aren’t already on the calendar. After this date, any remaining bills not on the calendar for floor discussion will require leadership approval to move forward, essentially pushing many bills to the next legislative session for consideration.
With two more days for non-exempt committees to meet on their original slate of bills, a few hearings will take place on Tuesday that KAC will weigh in on.
In the House Committee on Social Services Budget, we’ll submit testimony in support of HB 2330, which would increase state funding to local health departments.
In the House Committee on Child Welfare and Foster care, we’ll submit testimony in support of HB 2407, which would change parental consent for student surveys from an opt-in to an opt-out process.
*Exempt committees include budget, tax, and federal and state affairs; all others are non-exempt.
Get day-to-day updates on what bills KAC is monitoring during the 2023 Session here.