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

2024 Statehouse Snapshot: Week 12

(Photo: Several individuals who shared their experiences with the Legislature about the SOUL Family Permanency Option watched from the Senate gallery as senators moved it toward the last step in the approval process.) 

Kansas Action for Children
March 28, 2024

Want to receive this weekly recap as soon as it's released? Sign up for our emails here.

Kids’ Issues Transcend Partisanship

We’re ending the week on another legislative deadline, wherein both chambers were required to finish their work on most bills before conference committees begin next week. This created three days of full-day floor action, leading to some positive outcomes for Kansas kids.  

Wednesday started with the Senate taking up HB 2536, establishing the SOUL Family Legal Permanency Option in the state, and giving it unanimous approval. Its next stop is the Governor’s desk for her signature! When it (likely) becomes law, Kansas youth who exit foster care will now be able to have permanent, legal relationships with trusted and supportive adults of their choosing, while still being able to maintain close relationships with their family members.  

It’s not often that such impactful, transformative legislation can make its way through the legislative process looking the same as it did when it was introduced. This policy shows what’s possible when lawmakers listen to those with lived experiences and allow that to inform the process. 

Then to end the legislative activity for the week, the House came together for a true compromise on House Sub. for House Sub. for SB 96. As it originally entered the floor for debate, the bill would have recklessly overhauled the child care system, among other changes that worried us for the safety of kids in care.  

In anticipation of this vote, we opened up an action alert last Friday encouraging advocates, providers, parents, and others to urge the House to vote the bill down. After more than 1,100 Kansans contacted their representative, an amazing thing happened: the bill’s proponent offered an amendment during the House debate that showed they listened to those who know the child care system best.  

What came next was a bipartisan approach to child care legislation. (You’ll read more below about how the bill changed.) As with any compromise, it’s not a perfect bill, but we're encouraged that the lawmakers pushing the bill finally understood and modified the major things that worried the child care community. 

While these two issues were a high point for kids’ issues this week, lawmakers’ votes on other legislation demonstrate there is still room for improvement. The Legislature passed along House Sub. for SB 233 (banning gender-affirming care for minors) to the Governor’s desk at what seems to be a veto-proof majority. Coupling this with other issues that brought out so many Kansas voices, Kansas lawmakers have a lot of work to do to let bipartisanship take the lead in crafting legislation. By continuing to advocate for kids and families, it’s people like you who will move the Legislature closer to that goal. 

House Passes Major Compromise on Child Care Bill

As noted above, House Sub. for House Sub. for SB 96, amended by the House of Representatives, showed the power of Kansans’ ability to use their voices and collaborate across the political aisle.

The House’s amendment addressed the most contentious issues, including keeping the Office of Early Childhood as a standalone agency (as originally proposed by the Governor), leaving child-to-staff ratios out of law, and removing confusing commercial fire code language. 

You can read more of what’s now in the bill through our blog post here

After the amendment, the House passed the bill 107-10, showing that this was truly a result of lawmakers working across the aisle. This is a great step forward in passing legislation that meets the needs of several stakeholders. Unfortunately, it’s not a done deal yet; the Senate must still react to the House’s action on this new language. 

If the House and Senate are able to come to an agreement (and both chambers vote in favor of the agreement), the bill will then go to the Governor’s desk. 

Our Review of Medicaid Expansion Testimony; Health Bills Affecting Kids

After much activity last week on Medicaid expansion, House leadership has twice now deliberately used procedural moves on the 2023 and 2024 Medicaid expansion bills (HB 2415, HB 2556) to block House members from using their own technical maneuvers to attempt to continue the Medicaid expansion discussion this session.  

Instead of listening to the large majority of Kansans who support Medicaid expansion, leadership continues to stifle even the slightest chance of debate. They deliberately ignored the words shared by hundreds of Kansans, including those highlighted in our new blog post, sharing some of the words submitted to the expansion hearings.  

Earlier this session, we mentioned there was progress on several bills addressing responses to emergency health situations, particularly in schools and at school-sponsored events (HB 2547, HB 2487, Sub. for HB 2494, and HB 2579).  

Of those four bills, the Senate only debated and passed out HB 2547 (emergency supplies of epinephrine and albuterol in schools) this week. Advocates are hoping HB 2547 will be tweaked to restore the staff liability protection language that the Senate Health Committee removed. With this change, the bill would surely make a remarkable difference for those experiencing certain medical emergencies while on school grounds. 

For the other three bills, we’ll be watching to see if any of their contents get added to this or another health bill next week. 

House Passes Bipartisan Tax Bill, But Senate Has Already Signaled Rejecting It

Late Tuesday night, the House unanimously approved its tax package (House Sub. for SB 300) that would give economic relief to many Kansans. As with other compromise bills this week, the proposal isn’t perfect for any one person. But it does demonstrate that representatives focused on the kind of tax relief important to many Kansans – income relief for lower-income households, property tax relief, exempting Social Security from all state income taxes, and accelerating the elimination of the state sales tax on food to July 1.  

Despite the overwhelming support from the House for House Sub. for SB 300, early comments from the Senate President indicate the Senate isn’t ready to simply sign on to this new compromise. We believe the Senate and House tax committees will be assigned to work together next week to hash out a new package, which could derail the bipartisan inroads we started to see this week.  

We’ll continue to follow the progress of tax bills and negotiations closely – and will remind lawmakers of the options to include a state child tax credit and other family-friendly tax relief. 

What to Expect in Week 13

Next week, lawmakers will begin conference committees before the “First Adjournment” deadline (which is most bills’ last opportunity for legislative action for the year). If you’re not familiar, a “conference committee” is the process by which both chambers negotiate the differences between similar policies. Both chambers then give the bill an up or down vote, and they cannot amend the bill on the floor.   

Here are the issues related to Kansas kids that lawmakers are likely to (or could) work on before their April break. 

Taxes: The House and Senate showdown will begin next week. The chambers’ differences aren’t just small cracks – they're chasms. The Senate still seems stuck on implementing a flat tax, while the House has taken a bipartisan approach that could possibly even gain support from the Governor. This will be an issue to watch as the Legislature finishes up its work before April break.  

Child Care: What a week for child care. At the beginning of the week, advocates weren’t holding out much hope that a compromise would happen, but House leadership listened to hundreds of Kansans to address well-deserved concerns in the child care community. But just as with taxes, the Senate could be the harbinger of sliding backwards instead of making progress toward bipartisan legislation. We hope, though, that cooler heads prevail when the Senate negotiates its position. 

Budget: This week, the appropriations committees met to lay out the differences in their visions for the state budget. This sets up next week’s action when they’ll go through several rounds of deliberation through conference committees. If all goes well, we should see Medicaid reimbursement and a small portion of the funds the Governor proposed to mitigate the child care crisis still included in the final budget that must be sent to the Governor by end of day next Friday.