2023 Statehouse Snapshot: Week 7
(Representative Heather Meyer speaks against HB 2141 during the House's bill debate on February 22.)
Kansas Action for Children
February 27, 2023
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Turnaround Deadline Includes Late Nights and Difficult Bills
In anticipation of the Turnaround deadline, which is today, lawmakers gathered in their respective chambers for all day floor action on Wednesday and Thursday before officially adjourning for a break. They’ll be back in the Statehouse on Wednesday, March 1, to resume the legislative session.
Both chambers’ schedules were packed full of bills (some beneficial, but many more harmful to Kansas kids) to debate and vote on. This week’s events impacted the status of many bills and resulted in a long list of bills that can’t move forward this session.
Sadly, there was much partisan rhetoric that took center stage the last few days, with attacks on transgender children, parents who need help paying for groceries, and crucial public health policies.
There were some bright spots, though, and for that, we remain hopeful that Kansas kids and families will see some good come from the Legislature this year. We remain committed to ensuring every Kansas family has access to what they need to live a happy, healthy life. We thank you for your commitment to that effort as well.
Food Assistance Restriction Passed Out of House
The House of Representatives passed HB 2141 with a vote of 76-46. This bill would make it harder for non-custodial parents to support their children by making food assistance eligibility contingent on cooperation with and ability to pay child support. While some Representatives argued that this bill would help Kansas children and increase their stability, that is simply not the case. There are many reasons parents may decide not to go through formal child support processes, especially parents with incomes low enough to qualify for the food assistance program. Many non-custodial parents also have other children currently living in their household, and taking away their access to enough groceries will directly harm those children.
We are grateful for the representatives who voted no and stood with Kansas families.
Another bill we were expecting to see debated by the House (HB 2140) would make work requirements even stricter for 50-59 year olds on food assistance. However, legislative leadership decided to skip the bill and “bless” it, meaning it is still eligible for floor action even after the Turnaround deadline. The bill could make an appearance on the House floor yet this session; we’ll keep you updated if and when that happens, and if there are any opportunities for you to take action.
Big Week for Tax Bills in Senate Chamber
Last night, the Senate passed out tax bills that, in total, will cost the state over $1 billion a year. The two of most concern focus on the establishment of a flat tax and an exemption of all social security and retirement income.
The Senate passed out SB 169, the flat tax bill, with a vote of 22-17. While we are disappointed the legislation advanced in the Senate, we are hopeful the House will reject this short-sighted legislation that will tilt the tax code in favor of the highest-income Kansans while costing the state more than $500 million every year.
Social Security and Retirement
The Senate voted 36-3 to move forward with SB 33. What started as a $120 million/year bill to exempt all social security income from state taxation ballooned during floor action into a roughly $450 million/year cost as several amendments were added, including exempting all retirement income from state taxation (which would add an additional $260+ million/year cost).
Currently, Kansas has a targeted policy that limits the exemption of Social Security income to lower-income seniors. Other proposals this year have been introduced to “smooth” the income cliff for social security.
Kansas seniors are a vital part of the state population, and it is important they are economically secure and feel supported by the state. However, exempting all Social Security and retirement income would primarily benefit the wealthiest Kansas seniors while decreasing state funding for programs that benefit seniors and other Kansans. This legislation will not curb migration among seniors, bolster economic growth, or help Kansas seniors most in need. Instead, it will decrease revenue needed to help lower-income seniors and the programs that assist them.
Other key tax legislation the Senate approved include:
- SB 248: Eliminating the food sales tax, including both state and local tax, by January 2024.
- SB 96: Establishing an income, privilege, and premium tax credit for contributions to eligible charitable organizations operating “crisis pregnancy centers” or residential maternity facilities.
- SB 37: Expanding the transferability of income, privilege, and premium tax credits issued under the Kansas housing investor tax credit act.
Senate Passes Bill Limiting Local Health Official Control over Infectious Diseases
The Senate passed SB 6 with a vote of 22-18. This bill would take away the ability of public health officials to quickly respond to the spread of dangerous infectious diseases, including measles or Ebola. We thank the 18 senators who voted against this harmful bill. The House must now stop this bill in its tracks and not let it move any further in the legislative process.
Then, late last night, the Senate decided to “bless” the anti-vaccine bill, SB 20, meaning it will still remain eligible to move forward. This bill would negatively impact vaccine requirements at businesses, child care, K-12 schools, and colleges/universities. We expect a hearing on this bill to come soon.
In good news, the Senate blessed SB 139, which increases the newborn screening program’s budget cap, among other changes. We hope it will finally get a hearing in the next few weeks.
Earlier this week, the House Social Services Budget held a hearing on HB 2330, to make changes to the local health department funding formula; we provided written testimony in support. Unfortunately, this bill won’t move forward in 2023.
Finally, the House unanimously passed two important bills (HB 2390; HB 2398) that could begin to help address the fentanyl poisoning crisis that is killing far too many Kansans, including teenagers. We hope the Senate will take up these proposals with urgency in the coming weeks.
Public Dollars to Private Schools
The Senate passed SB 83 at a vote of 22-16 late Thursday evening, but not without strong opposition from several Senators. The chamber spent almost two hours debating the bill and the 10 amendments that were offered. The bill raises the income qualification from 185% to 250% of the Federal Poverty Level, but an amendment that passed took that to 400%, which is a household income of nearly $100,000 a year for a family of three! Despite this change, the chamber refused to remove “low-income” from the title of the scholarship. The taxpayer contribution limit was lowered, and the proposed 100% tax credit was reduced to 75%. We urge the House to reject this effort to shift Kansas tax dollars into non-public schools.
While there were no early learning bills we were watching this week, the Early Learning Caucus has had a robust session so far, receiving information on the state of early learning in Kansas, the Governor’s Early Childhood Transition Task Force, and child care challenges and opportunities. We are also looking forward to almost 200 child care and early education advocates arriving in the Capitol next Wednesday, March 1, to help promote early success for all kids!
Bill Eliminating Fines and Fees on Justice-Involved Youth Dies in House
After years of coalition and relationship building that resulted in legislation to eliminate fines and fees imposed on youth in the juvenile justice system finally passing the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice, House leadership refused to allow HB 2073 on the floor for debate and a vote by the full chamber. This makes the bill dead for the session, along with HB 2113, which would have prohibited denial of petition for expungement due to the juvenile’s inability to pay outstanding costs, fees or fines.
As noted in the testimony we wrote to the committee, fines and fees unjustly punish poor children and families and disproportionately impact Black and brown youth who are more likely to be involved in the justice system than their white peers due to systemic bias. We are disappointed that trusted data, proof of success in other states, bipartisan support, and most importantly, the powerful testimonies from impacted Kansas youth were so readily dismissed in the choices made by House leadership to let the bill go unheard.
KAC, as a member of the Debt Free Justice Coalition, will continue to advocate for this important change and is ready to renew the push alongside other advocates in 2024.
What to Expect in Week 8
Lawmakers will return to the Statehouse on Wednesday to restart their legislative work after a short break. KAC will provide testimony on two bills next week.
- On Wednesday in Senate Tax, we will present testimony in support of SB 164, which would provide an income tax credit for workers in the child care field.
- On Thursday in the House Committee on Welfare Reform, we will submit opponent testimony on HB 2430, which would further destabilize people experiencing homelessness.