22 March 2024 | Economic Security Tax and Budget Education Health Early Learning

2024 Statehouse Snapshot: Week 11

Kansas Action for Children
March 22, 2024

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Many Committees End for the Year with Frustrating Outcomes 

Today is the last day most committees can meet for the year. Sadly, several ended their 2024 work on disappointing votes and discussions on prominent issues.

The House Health Committee finally held a hearing on Medicaid expansion this week, but voted on it the next day with only 5 of 17 in favor. While most of us aren’t surprised about this outcome, it’s nonetheless disappointing to see lawmakers reject the will of 73% of Kansans who approve of expansion in favor of old myths and out-of-touch commentary.

Last week, the House Commerce Committee held a hearing on a leftover bill that would dramatically deregulate child care standards. Yesterday, the Committee worked House Sub. for SB 96 and made the dangerous bill even worse by, among other things, increasing child-to-staff ratios; taking away KDHE’s authority over regulations and cementing questionable standards into law; and placing the Governor’s proposed Office of Early Childhood under the Department of Commerce, treating Kansas kids like business commodities. That bill got sent out to the full House for a probable vote next week.

And the Welfare Reform Committee took up a homelessness bill (HB 2723), with a long, contentious, and confusing discussion. This culminated in an amendment that would make it harder for Kansas to solve its homelessness crisis. Even though the Committee tabled the bill (essentially killing it), we’re left frustrated that instead of improving something that would have supported local communities as they address Kansas’ affordable housing and shelter capacity shortage, the Committee put forward counterproductive policy that will undermine those efforts. And spoiler alert to what you’ll read below: the Senate’s version of this bill is still very much alive. 

Keeping health care out of reach for 150,000 Kansans, turning back years of progress on child care, and making it harder for struggling Kansans who don’t have homes. This is the legacy that lawmakers are leaving to mark the 2024 session.

Not all hope is lost, though. There is still time for all of us to pressure lawmakers to do the right thing within the next two weeks of the legislative session before they go on their scheduled April break. Read on to learn how you can join us and other dedicated Kansans in these policy battles.

House Commerce Moves to Weaken Child Care Safety Standards

The House Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development tackled two child care bills by amending HB 2785, which establishes the Office of Early Childhood, and House Sub. for SB 96, which overhauls child care regulations and cements them into law. Touted as a “good compromise” by Republicans, all House Sub. for SB 96 (which now contains HB 2785, as amended) does is compromise children’s safety while increasing expectations upon family child care providers and treating children like business commodities.

As a whole, the Committee ignored years of work by early childhood experts, providers, and advocates and instead have focused their energy on appeasing certain business interests, who testified in support of child care deregulations last week. Let’s be clear: Kansas kids deserve high-quality opportunities for their most formative years. This bill completely undermines that mindset.

House Sub. for SB 96 now increases the number of young children that providers can have in care per adult; lowers safety standards of care; and places the proposed Office of Early Childhood under the Department of Commerce, undermining the entire point of unifying services to improve efficiency and clarity on how to find early learning support.

Ironically, despite bill proponents’ desire to reduce regulatory burden, the bill adds commercial fire code requirements for home-based providers to now match the requirements for school districts. This could result in established home daycares being required to add safety measures like fire sprinkler systems throughout the home. Proponents keep saying they are trying to alleviate “burdensome regulations” because KDHE hasn’t worked through proposed regulatory changes quickly enough, yet they added a significant worry for 71% of the child care workforce. And now we’ve learned that the proposed regulation changes by KDHE have been approved by the Office of the Attorney General and are now scheduled for a public hearing on June 4, 2024.

Change must be informed by the child care community and early learning professionals; without their input, any impact will be minimal. We can’t let politicians ignore the Kansans who know what works best for Kansas kids. Email your representative here telling them to vote NO on this bill that risks kids’ safety.

Medicaid Expansion Finally Has a Hearing, but House Committee Quickly Votes It Down

Years of advocacy and pressure culminated in the Kansas Legislature finally holding the first public Medicaid expansion hearings in years, with an informational hearing on the Senate side and an actual bill hearing on the Governor’s expansion plan (HB 2556) in the House Committee on Health and Human Services.

Committee rooms overflowed with advocates, massive binders full of submitted testimony (more than 400 pieces of proponent written-only testimony alone, for each hearing) made appearances, and compelling verbal testimony on expansion’s widespread positive impact to our state was presented. Yet somehow, that wasn’t enough to convince a majority of the House Health Committee, as it refused to pass out the bill to the House for a proper debate by all representatives.

Some procedural maneuvers could bring this to the floor if enough lawmakers agree. Contact your state senator and representative urging them to take action.

It was distressing to watch a majority of the Committee – along party lines – refuse to support Medicaid expansion for the parents in the coverage gap, for the widespread benefits to children and their health, for improving the health of women going into pregnancy and long after pregnancy, and for the child care workforce.

In spite of this undesired outcome, we will continue to advocate for Medicaid expansion until enough minds change to do what’s right for all of Kansas – expanding Medicaid so 150,000 low-income Kansans can access health care. Stay tuned next week for a blog post from us, highlighting some of the compelling written-only testimony submitted to both hearings.

Tax Saga: Who Will Win the Tax Cut Battle?

Just days after the Senate passed its tax package, the House released their tax relief plan via HB 2844 (now housed in House Sub. for SB 300). They departed from the flat tax idea and toward a two-bracket income tax structure instead of our current three brackets, among other things. The plan (as amended by the House Tax Committee) proposes:

  • Eliminating the lowest bracket and slightly decreasing the remaining two brackets from 5.25% to 5.2% and 5.7% to 5.65%.

  • Standard deduction and personal exemption increases.

  • A four-year phase out of state income taxes on Social Security.

  • Decreases to bank/financial institution privilege taxes.

  • Increasing the property tax exemption from $40,000 to $80,000.

  • Repeals the LAVTRF (Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction Fund) and CCRS (County City Revenue Sharing) Fund, which provide local property tax relief, and instead reduces the statewide mill levy by two mills.

Amendments not accepted by the Committee included accelerating the food sales tax elimination to July 1 and fully exempting Social Security from state income taxes. A primary reason given for not adding these to the bill was to keep costs down to no more than $500 million a year.

This bill sets up a showdown between the House and Senate in the next few weeks during which a few members will negotiate their differences in their new tax packages. Some senators still seem stuck on implementing a flat tax, while House leadership has openly acknowledged there aren’t enough representatives to vote for a plan that would be inevitably vetoed by the Governor.

Will a plan come together that’s a true compromise and focuses its tax relief for low- and middle-income Kansas families? The current murky waters are likely to become clearer within the next week.

Senate Budget Committee Turns Funding for Homelessness into Attacks on Efforts for Improvements

The Senate Committee on Ways and Means held a hearing on SB 542 (an identical bill to HB 2723 in the House Committee on Welfare Reform), which would create a $40 million grant program for local governments to improve homeless shelter infrastructure. KAC and homeless service providers across the state applauded the investment in efforts to address homelessness, but had reservations about certain provisions of the bills.

On Thursday, those concerns were exacerbated by a sweeping amendment to SB 542 that, among other things:

  • Cuts the total funding in half to only $20 million;

  • Requires shelters that receive funding to check for citizenship status and intoxication;

  • Requires all cities and counties in Kansas enact and enforce bans on “unauthorized public camping, sleeping or obstructions of sidewalks”; and

  • Prohibits cities or counties from transporting a homeless individual across jurisdiction lines except in specific circumstances.

This amendment transformed the bill into policy that will make it harder to address Kansas’ homelessness crisis, undermine local control, and create significant legal and financial liability for local governments and homeless shelters, all while doing next to nothing to help. The provision requiring camping bans across the state is similar to last year’s HB 2430, which would have criminalized homelessness statewide and which drew such overwhelming opposition that its original committee did not even vote on it.

Unfortunately, the Committee voted SB 542 favorably for passage, so it could be taken up on the Senate floor any time. We encourage you to find your state senator and urge them to vote against this discriminatory, harmful, and punitive legislation.

House Debates and Passes Its Version of the Budget  

This week, the House debated and passed their budget bill, with only 6 of 13 proposed amendments passing.

Of those that failed we paid particular attention to two adding 500 more slots each for the I/DD and PD waivers. Sadly, another failed amendment would have provided free school breakfast and lunch to all school kids in Kansas for just $4.0 million a year. While there are many positive items still included in the budget, one small but successful amendment added would allow the state of Kansas to cover the costs of diagnostic mammograms for its employees. 

Not part of the budget discussion, though, was investing state dollars in our child care system. This is a support truly needed to build up the infrastructure to meet the demand that the free market can’t solve. The House also hasn’t yet heard its separate budget plan on K-12 funding; that debate is likely to be held next week.  

What to Expect in Week 12

This week was non-exempt committees’ (all but tax, appropriations, and federal and state affairs) last opportunities to meet and pass out bills. This is in anticipation of next week’s expected all-day floor action in both chambers along with conference committee negotiations starting this week and continuing into the week following.

As a reminder, conference committees give the House and Senate opportunities for three members each to negotiate their differences between similar legislation. In these negotiations, six legislators agree to adjust the bill as they see fit – take pieces out, put other passed/unpassed legislation in, or change the terms of current provisions. This process means that several bills that make it to this point are unlikely to end up as they started.

The public should expect to hear about prominent issues morphing from one version to the next very quickly, including:

  • State budget plans, including K-12 and special education funding

  • Tax cuts – the questions are how much and for whom

  • Child care regulations

  • Homelessness