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Kansas Session Roundup

Kansas underwent a change in leadership at the top when Gov. Kathleen Sebelius joined the Obama administration as Secretary of Health and Human Services and was replaced by her lieutenant governor, Mark Parkinson, a former chair of the state Republican party before switching parties to serve under Sebelius.

Stimulus and Budget: The state faced a $1 billion deficit, and although lawmakers painstakingly put together a budget, ultimately the state's coffers fell short by $126 million due to decreased tax revenues. Parkinson has the authority to balance the budget and make whatever cuts are necessary.  Kansas is on schedule to receive nearly $2 billion of stimulus funds including over $488 million for schools, $350M for highway and road projects, $57M for home weatherization, $27M for transportation, $18M for water safety, and $15M for energy.  Key policies enacted included:

  • Unemployment Benefits:  Under HB 2374, Kansas made several changes to unemployment insurance eligibility: using an alternate wage base period, codifying a long-time practice of allowing benefits to those seeking part-time work; and providing up to 26 additional weeks of benefits for individuals participating in approved training programs. The changes to UI benefits resulted in Kansas receiving $69 million in federal UI funds.  The economy was so bad that even some businesses backed off opposing the bill, which passed without opposition in the Senate.
  • Health Care: HB 2052 amended the Kansas COBRA to incorporate provisions and requirements of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 so that employers of eligible terminated employees must provide additional notice of the right to elect COBRA coverage.  The Recovery Act includes a sixty-five percent premium subsidies for COBRA coverage. An additional 8000 children in Kansas are eligible to receive SCHIP benefits, which were increased to 250% of the federal poverty level through HB 2354
  • Education: Despite a promise by the Kansas board of Regents to maintain a tuition freeze if budget cuts went no further than 7 percent, the legislature cut education funding by 12 percent. Now, the new tuition increases come on top of cuts last legislative session. However, SB 225 was enacted, which allows working families to save for their childrens' education through the K.I.D.S. matching program. The legislature also passed and enacted a new financial literacy program in the schools (SB 84).
  • HB 2172 was vetoed and would have reduced taxes on sales of new motor vehicles, and land used for agriculture. HB 2365 was the main tax bill, and it increased revenue by waiving penalties to get delinquent taxpayers to pay up about $35 million in back taxes and decrease other tax credits 10 percent for two tax years to save $9.2 million in the next fiscal year.
  • To protect taxpayers from fraud, SB 44 created a civil cause of action for perpetrating a specified fraudulent claim on the state government or affected political subdivision under the Kansas False Claims Act.

Environment and Energy: The newly appointed Governor Parkinson surprised people by approving the building of a new coal plant, despite Governor Sebelius' previous veto of HB 2369. Just days after her resignation, Parkinson announced the deal with the energy company. The bill also decreased the state's ability to enforce rules and regulations more stringent than federal law, includes a renewable energy standard, and allows individuals to use net metering. Small aviation companies and solar and wind power businesses can access up to $5 million in state-backed bonds for expansion under SB 108.

Agriculture:  Before leaving for Washington D.C., Gov. Sebelius vetoed HB 2121, which would have modified pesticide and fertilizer fees and dairy-inspection and dairy-related fees and would have limited the ability of dairies to indicate they did not use hormones on cows that made them produce more milk.

Criminal Justice and Legal System:

  • HB 2267 extends the Governor’s Task Force on Racial Profiling sunset date to July 1, 2011.
  • A number of public safety laws were passed including one requiring cell phone companies to ping cell phones owned by missing persons in order to find them quicker.
  • A $10 surcharge on court fees was implemented through June 2010 to shore up budget woes (SB 66).

Workers' Rights:  SB 160 increased the state minimum wage from a nationwide low of $2.65 hourly to the federal standard of $7.25 an hour, affecting some 20,000 Kansans not covered by the federal minimum wage.

Abortion: SB 238 mandates that doctors meet with a woman at least 30 minutes before an abortion to answer questions and that they must post a sign saying women cannot be forced to have an abortion. Women can see sonograms and get information on counseling for medically challenging pregnancies. Governor Sebelius vetoed SB 218 which would have prevented post-viability abortions and allowed for criminal prosecution of doctors who were trying to save women's lives.

Missed Opportunities:

  • SB 206 would have prohibited insurance companies from using a persons credit score when assessing premiums. The bill is designed to prevent insurance companies from further penalizing citizens who have suffered some temporary financial strain or difficulties.
  • A bill that would have tied workers' compensation caps to the cost of living in the Midwest passed the House but not the Senate.
  • Parkinson vetoed SB 171 which would have made it easier for overseas and military voters to register, request ballots, and cast ballots. It also would implement some safeguards for absentee ballots.

Bad Legislation Blocked:

  • Civil Rights: SB 179 which would have made it harder to file racial profiling complaints, failed to pass.
  • Sovereignty Resolution: Concurrent Resolution 1609, which calls on the federal government to stop penalizing states or withholding funds if they don't comply with federal mandates, failed.
  • Parkinson vetoed SB 51 that would make it more difficult for cities to annex surrounding areas.

Resources:
Kansas Sierra Club - Kansas Legislative Network News
Raise the Wage Kansas
Kansas Action for Children - 2009 Session in Review