23 February 2024 | Economic Security Tax and Budget Education Health Early Learning

Statehouse Snapshot 2024: Week 7

Kansas Action for Children
February 23, 2024

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

Turnaround Deadline Passes with Little Fanfare, but a Few Bills Relating to Children’s Issues Move Forward

While Turnaround week usually ends in the early morning hours after long debates on controversial issues, this year’s halfway point ended during typical work hours and without many long-winded speeches.  

At the beginning of session, we had hopes that the Legislature could make early progress on child care investments, removing a few barriers to family support programs, hearing Medicaid expansion in committees, and giving meaningful tax relief to families. Sadly, we haven’t seen much progress on those goals yet.   

The House passed a few positive bills, though. The SOUL Family Legal Permanency Option, HB 2536, passed 112-8. This unique, transformative policy would allow young people who exit foster care to have permanent, legal relationships with trusted and supportive adults, while still allowing them to maintain close relationships with birth family members. We’re thrilled it passed with such a showing of support, and hope to see the Senate move the bill quickly. 

The House also passed HB 2547 at a vote of 116-4. This bill would allow school nurses to stock supplies of and administer albuterol and epinephrine, two lifesaving medications for those experiencing an allergic reaction or having a severe asthma attack. This is particularly important in rural areas of the state where emergency services may take longer to arrive. 

There are about six more weeks of the 2024 session scheduled for lawmakers to make progress on key legislation that will help kids and families. We’ll keep elevating the issues decisionmakers should prioritize before they’re done with their work for the year.  

Flat Tax Veto Sustained by House; Child Tax Credit Heard by House Committee 

On Tuesday morning, the House took up the veto override attempt on HB 2284, the large tax package that included the flat tax plan. Even though the House had previously passed the bill with vote totals pointing to a supermajority level of support (several Representatives were absent that day who were expected to vote in favor), some previous “yes” votes turned to no, and the Governor’s veto was sustained.  

Now that HB 2284 is officially behind us, lawmakers can focus on better tax plans that provide meaningful tax relief to Kansas families, especially to those who need support the most.  

By the end of the day Tuesday, lawmakers were presented with two avenues for tax cuts. The House Tax Committee held a hearing on our state child tax credit bill (HB 2687). KAC, along with several organizational partners, testified to how sending extra tax savings to families with minor children would help many make ends meet. Particularly, families could better afford groceries, child care, and health care.  

The Senate Tax Committee, on the other hand, is again attempting to resurrect the same flat tax plan the House had rejected just hours before by gutting SB 377 (the Governor’s tax plan) and placing nearly identical contents of HB 2284. The most notable change was easing the Social Security cliff instead of exempting Social Security income altogether.  

This year, the Governor has held firm on her resolve to reject any legislation that would implement a single-income tax bracket and threatened to bring the Legislature back for a special session if they leave without passing tax relief that primarily targets low- and middle-income households. With these circumstances in play, it’d be wise for lawmakers to put aside the political games and get to work. 

Senate Pushes Nonsense while House Passes Several Bills Improving Health Policy

The health policy choices between the two chambers was stark this week. The House chose to promote life-saving policies in crisis situations, while the Senate chose to make it easier for infectious diseases to spread – diseases that can be catastrophic or even deadly to children and other vulnerable populations.  

At a vote of 23-17, the Senate passed SB 391, which would eliminate quarantine laws and restrict the ability of state health officials to collaborate to stop the spread of infectious diseases. Leadership is also allowing SB 390, a dangerous anti-vaccination and anti-public health bill, to move forward even though a key legislative deadline has passed.  

This is the fourth year in a row the Senate has attempted to weaken or eliminate existing public health laws. Why is our Senate so invested in removing time-tested tools to stop the spread of diseases, just as measles cases continue to increase in the United States?  

Meanwhile, the House chose to pass health policies that would improve the health of kids. HB 2547 and Sub. for HB 2494 would provide our schools with more tools during health emergencies (like allergy, respiratory, and cardiac events). Representatives also passed legislation to permanently establish a school mental health program that has changed and saved lives during its many years as a successful pilot project (HB 2669) and a Good Samaritan law related to drug overdoses (HB 2487).  

Our chambers are making deliberately different choices for kids’ health policy, and we’ll be watching closely as those choices continue the rest of the session.  

There’s still no official word on when we’ll see actual hearings on Medicaid expansion scheduled — a policy that would help more than 150,000 low-income Kansans access health care. If you are passionate about this issue, sign up for the expansion rally at the Statehouse on March 6 hosted by the Alliance for a Healthy Kansas. 

Several Welfare Reform Bills Dead for the Year 

Neither the House nor the Senate took up any of the economic security bills KAC has been closely monitoring this session. We anxiously waited to hear whether legislative leadership would “bless” some of those bills, a process wherein they approve them to move forward despite today’s Turnaround deadline. This morning, both chambers announced their lists of those leadership-approved bills, and there were a few economic security wins in those announcements. 

Of the bills left off of the “blessed” list and no longer eligible for legislative action: 

  • HB 2674, which would prohibit Kansas’ implementation of Summer EBT;  
  • HB 2673, which would require the Department for Children and Families to request a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ban purchases of soft drinks and candy with Kansas food assistance; and  
  • HB 2430, a bill that would effectively criminalize homelessness and was carried over from the 2023 Session. 

Unless there is some sneaky procedural maneuver underway, these bills have been defeated. Of course, nothing is truly dead until Sine Die (when lawmakers adjourn for the year), but we are cautiously optimistic we won’t see these bills make any forward progress. 

Unfortunately, two harmful bills were approved by leadership to move forward: HB 2627, which reorganizes the statute that determines eligibility for family support programs, and SB 488, which would expand the authority of the Office of the Inspector General to investigate the Kansas food and cash assistance programs for fraud. SB 488 is particularly unnecessary, as it would waste Kansas funds on duplicative efforts and create privacy issues for people who access family support programs. It’s telling of the Legislature’s priorities that they’re focused on making it harder for struggling families to make ends meet instead of easier.  

Committees Begin to Strip Child Care Funding from Agency Budgets

Early in the legislative session, Gov. Kelly proposed investing $56.4 million in state funds for early childhood. This historic request included $30 million for accelerator grants, $15 million for sustainability grants for family child care providers, $5 million toward a pilot program in Northwest Kansas to establish a public-private partnership for child care tuition, and $2.6 million for the Child Care and Development Fund, which provides child care assistance payments. 

Accelerator and sustainability grants have been used in recent years to increase new building construction and retain the existing workforce by allowing providers to address rising costs in their businesses without having to pass the increases onto the families they serve. 

Sadly, some committees have stripped much of the Governor’s proposed investments in child care from the agency budgets for the Department for Children and Families, Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, and Kansas State Department of Education. 

Specifically, the Senate Committee on Education removed the $30 million accelerator grant and $5 million Northwest Kansas pilot program requests, and the House Committee on Social Services Budget removed the $15 million sustainability grant proposal.  

However, the House Committee on K-12 Budget kept the $30 million for accelerator grants and $5 million for the Northwest Kansas pilot program.  

The Senate Committee on Ways and Means and House Committee on Appropriations will consider the four agency budget requests next week, where members will decide to keep or reject any of the proposals the Governor requested. We’ll continue to monitor the progress of the budget requests and inform lawmakers of their benefit to the early childhood system in Kansas. 

What to Expect in Week 8

After a planned break on Monday and Tuesday, lawmakers will return on Wednesday to restart their legislative work. Now, anything moving forward will be bills having passed its first chamber; exempt bills from the budget, tax, or federal and state affairs committees; or non-exempt bills approved by legislative leadership (known as being “blessed”).  

Some of the notable “blessed” bills we’re watching include: 

  • SB 488, which would unnecessarily expand the powers of the Office of the Inspector General to investigate “fraud” among Kansans enrolled in the food and cash assistance programs. 
  • SB 489, establishing the Nursery Programs for Incarcerated Moms Act. 
  • SB 390, which would weaken vaccination requirements. 
  • HB 2627, which would reorganize the Kansas statute dealing with family support program eligibility requirements. Currently just a technical reorganization, a single amendment could drastically change the purpose of the bill – for better or for worse. 

As committees begin meeting again starting Wednesday, we’ll get a better sense of what lawmakers plan to prioritize for the last half of the 2024 session.