Lawmakers Find Common Ground to Stop Harmful Policies from Becoming Law
Download this 2023 Session summary here.
Lawmakers started the session with clear opportunities to prioritize Kansas kids and their families. With the state budget surplus still growing, the Legislature could have fully funded special education, invested in our child care system to lessen the financial burden on providers and parents, and ensured all Kansans have the health care they need to thrive.
But once again, lawmakers set their focus on culture war issues that most Kansans aren’t concerned with while many struggle to afford housing, have enough to eat for every meal, access affordable child care, and secure health coverage. It’s frustrating to see opportunities lost when there are so many policies that they could enact to help all Kansas families.
Yet, despite the distractions and high-profile, polarizing rhetoric that took center stage, the session ended with Senators and Representatives from both sides of the aisle holding the line on a number of issues. We successfully defeated both a food assistance restriction and changes to vaccination requirements in the Senate. The House failed to override the Governor’s veto on a bill to deregulate child care, and the Senate failed to override the veto on a bill that would implement a costly and unfair flat tax system.
None of these successes would have been possible without bipartisan opposition to those damaging proposals. Through relationship-building, information sharing, and discussions centering on the impact to families, we were able to defend against harmful bills for the good of Kansas kids.
2023 Session at a Glance
Child care was a hot topic for lawmakers this year, culminating in a short-sighted proposal through Senate Sub. for HB 2344, a bill that would have made sweeping changes to child care safety standards across the state. The proposal would have also cemented those regulations into law. Through a hurried process and concerns about transparency, the bill was pushed through despite an outpouring of provider and advocate opposition.
The Kansas child care system needs improvement, but jeopardizing the safety of kids and providers is not the solution. Thankfully, the House was unable to override the Governor’s veto, so the bill failed to become law. Now it is time for advocates to get to work and help the state support child care providers in meaningful ways.
Full special education funding was a priority for many heading into the session. But while Governor Kelly proposed a five-year phase in to achieve statutory funding, lawmakers were determined to tie that increase to a number of harmful policies. Fortunately, voucher-like policies never made it to the Governor’s desk. However, this also means that special education funding was not increased this year, leaving school districts to fill in the funding gaps again.
As has become the norm for the Legislature, K-12 funding was separated from the main budget bill and tied to numerous policies, including an expansion of the low-income scholarship tax-credit program, fixes to the open enrollment program from 2022, and a calculation for school districts’ funding based on current year enrollment. Governor Kelly signed House Sub. for SB 113 with reservations, including a line-item veto of the current year funding provision to protect rural schools from funding losses due to decreasing enrollment. While a challenge of this ability is likely, education funding is complete for the 2023 Session.
The main budget bill again included a temporary fix to an eligibility error for the Children’s Health Insurance Program; updated the local health department funding formula; and increased the budget cap for the Newborn Screening Program. While these issues still require permanent solutions, all three would be unlikely to move forward due to potential attempts to add Medicaid expansion to the proposals. Even so, we remain committed to permanently resolving all three funding issues next year.
Despite a few attempts to introduce Medicaid expansion provisions, yet another session has finished without any progress on making more than 150,000 low-income Kansans eligible to access to health coverage. We know that kids’ health reflects the health and well-being of their parents, and expansion is critical to improving families’ health outcomes. We will not stop advocating for expansion, as it will positively impact thousands of Kansas families and their kids.
A slim majority of the Senate was determined to dismantle current public health and vaccine policy. We witnessed intense hearings, misinformation, bill shell games, procedural maneuvering, and middle-of-the-night floor debates. In the final hours of the 2023 session, one bill upending established quarantine procedure (HB 2285) passed by the slimmest of margins, with strong bipartisan opposition.
We welcomed the Governor’s veto of this harmful legislation but remain concerned for what may be in store in 2024. Stopping the spread of infectious diseases through current public health and vaccine policies is critical to the health of Kansas kids and communities. We remain committed to building continued bipartisan opposition to proposals that would weaken communities’ defenses against threats that have been successfully mitigated for decades.
A single vote protected Kansas from going back to the days of underfunded education, crumbling roads, and cuts to vital services. A bipartisan group of Senators preserved the state’s graduated income tax structure by sustaining the Governor’s veto on House Sub. for SB 169. The proposed flat tax would have exacerbated wealth inequality in our state income tax system and tilted the tax code further in favor of the wealthiest Kansans. For now, the state can meet its obligations to fully fund schools, infrastructure projects, and other services that matter to all Kansas families.
Some items would have benefited working Kansans, including fast-tracking the state-level elimination of sales tax on groceries, changes to the standard deduction, and addressing the social security income tax cliff. But those more reasonable aspects of the bill were deprioritized by lawmakers and haphazardly bundled with the flat income tax proposal.
All in all, little tax policy was passed this session. The Governor also vetoed SB 8, a tax bill that included a dozen components, after the session concluded. We hope legislators can work together next year to move forward with tax policies that will benefit working Kansans and reject tax cuts for the richest in our state.
While the $17.1 billion budget for FY 2024 did not include as much progressive tax policy as the robust state coffers could have allowed, lawmakers agreed on a long overdue pay plan that raises salaries for all full-time state employees to within 10 percent of market pay. With an estimated cost of $120 million, this should help alleviate hiring and retention problems across state agencies. Other notable appropriations included $13.5 million to improve student access to mental and behavioral health services, $600 million to the state’s rainy day fund, and $50 million in state grants to help communities pay matching funds for federal infrastructure grants.
Legislative leadership created the new House “Welfare Reform Committee,” which KAC monitored closely. Instead of increasing access to family support programs, the Committee focused on adding barriers to the Kansas food assistance program.
One of those bills (HB 2141) would have added a requirement that non-custodial parents “cooperate” with child support to receive food assistance. With harmful, inaccurate rhetoric, the bill passed the House. The bill failed on the Senate floor thanks to a bipartisan group of lawmakers understanding how the bill would harm low-income children by worsening their parents’ financial hardship.
Another product of the Committee was HB 2140, which would expand the punitive, inflexible mandatory employment and training requirement the Legislature passed last year to now include low-income Kansans in their 50s, despite evidence that this kind of one-size-fits-all approach does not increase financial security and typically results in the removal of eligible people from the program.
That bill was ultimately paired with HB 2179, which would solve a federal compliance issue in the child care assistance program, and then placed into HB 2094. At the last minute, lawmakers added $511,288 of state money to pay for this ineffective and harsh barrier that is likely to kick hundreds of struggling Kansans off the food assistance program. The final legislation (which will become law July 1, 2023, because the Legislature overrode the Governor’s veto) will make it even harder for those already experiencing food insecurity to have enough to eat for every meal.
KAC is thankful at least one of these harmful bills was unsuccessful, but we still have much work to do to build support for family assistance programs.
2023 Bill Breakdown
Overall, KAC monitored dozens of bills during the 2023 session across a variety of issues. There were many proposals we fully supported, but they were not advanced through the legislative process.
KAC staff work diligently throughout the session building relationships with lawmakers, presenting testimony on key issues, and researching policy solutions. A sincere thank you to those who amplified our work.
|Pieces of testimony from KAC|
|Pieces of partner testimony coordinated on 15 bills|
|Percentage of lawmakers KAC staff met with during 2023 Session|
|Number of people who participated in KAC action opportunities|
Where Do We Go Next?
This year, several policies almost passed that would have harmed Kansas kids and their families. Now the work begins to continue building relationships with lawmakers, researching policy solutions, and coordinating with other advocates to ensure every kid has the opportunity to thrive.
An important piece of that puzzle is bolstering support for parents, because we all know kids can’t raise themselves. All families need enough to eat for every meal, access to health coverage, reliable and affordable child care so parents can get to work, and the ability to achieve financial success.
We know Kansas can make progress, but we can’t do it without support from the Legislature. We’ll be meeting with lawmakers over the summer and fall to build support for policies they should prioritize in 2024. Before next year, we encourage you to reach out to your senator and representative to discuss the children’s issues that matter to you.