Rahjes Report - April 5, 2021

Hello from Topeka. Hope you had a great Easter celebration with family and friends.

First Adjournment is scheduled for Friday then we will be off for the remainder of April and back for the “veto” session beginning on May 2nd. We were on the floor last week passing both house and senate bills and this week we will have a number of conference committees; these are made up of select members of the house and senate to work out differences in bills and then both houses need to pass the bills for them to go on to the Governor for either signage or veto.  Here are some of the things that happened last week:

Protecting Local Control on Masks

On March 24th, the Governor announced her intent to issue another statewide mask mandate by Executive Order despite a decline in new COVID cases. The House responded quickly with passage of House Resolution 6015 on a vote of 84-39. The resolution urges the Legislative Coordinating Council (LCC) to revoke an Executive Order that mandates masks if the order is issued when the Legislature is adjourned. On April 1, less than a day after the Legislature adjourned for the Easter holiday, Governor Kelly issued EO 21-14, a new statewide mask mandate.

Senate Bill 40, which the Governor recently signed into law, grants the Legislature the authority to revoke Executive Orders while they are in session. However, when the Legislature is adjourned, that authority is granted to the LCC. The LCC met April 1 to review the 13 new executive orders issued by the Governor. The members of LCC voted 5-2 to revoke the order calling for a statewide mask mandate.

What’s this mean? Revoking the order will allow our local elected officials to continue to decide what’s best for our communities rather than forcing a one-size-fits-all approach across the state. Data shows the local approach has proven successful. In November, the Governor issued her last statewide mask mandate saying there was a “worrying spike” in cases. At that time, Kansas had 5,217 new cases and a 7-day average of 2,430 new cases. Recent numbers showed Kansas with only 36 new cases and a 7-day average of 216 cases.

Kansans have banded together for over a year to successfully reduce the spread of COVID – and they’ve done so during a time when most counties had opted out of the Governor’s mask mandate. With cases dropping and no data to support the need for another statewide mandate, the best approach has proven to be local control.

House Advances Full Funding for Schools, Support for At-Risk Learners

This past week the House debated House Bill 2119 regarding K-12 education. The bill contains full funding for our schools in compliance with the Kansas Supreme Court’s Gannon ruling and is identical to the school funding levels contained in the Governor’s Budget Report. The bill also contains funding for the School Safety and Security Grants and expansion of the Mental Health Intervention Team Pilot Program, both which were allotted by the Governor.

Additionally, HB 2119 creates more options for at-risk students and their families by creating Educational Savings Accounts and broadening the state’s existing Tax Credit Scholarship Program. These policy provisions are targeted at helping at-risk learners – no matter where they live - access added opportunities so they can bridge academic achievement gaps.

HB 2119 now goes to the Senate for consideration in the budget conference process.

This K-12 budget bill does little for our school districts in the 110th legislative district, but I did support it as it provided full funding that was in the Governor’s budget. The conference committee will work on an agreement as the house and senate versions are quite a bit different.  

I have received a few emails and calls about HB 2119 and would be glad to discuss it and explain why I voted the way I did.  In the legislative process there is back and forth and much of the time the first version of a bill is no where near what the final bill is.  

Tax Cuts for Families, Small Businesses Heads to Governor’s Desk

In 2017, the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was signed into law, which provided tax rel ief to American families and businesses. While this legislation brought American workers bigger paychecks, enhanced economic opportunity, and yielded historic job growth, Kansans experienced an unintended tax increase. Kansas is a “rolling conformity” state, so federal tax changes are adopted automatically, which resulted in an unintended tax increase. Senate Bill 50 provides Kansans with the tax relief that was intended by the federal Act. This week, the Legislature sent this bill to the Governor’s desk.

In addition to remedying the unintended tax increase, the bill also:

•             Increases the stand ard deductions for all Kansans.

•             Allows individuals and small businesses the option to itemize on their state tax returns regardless of whether they itemize on their federal tax return.

•             Levels the playing field for Kansas brick-and-mortar businesses by requiring online retailers who are located out-of-state to remit sales tax to the state on purchases ordered for delivery to Kansas.

•             Protects victims of identity theft from owing Kansas income tax on unemployment compensation that was fraudulently obtained by another individual.

Many states across the country have had to change their tax codes similarly in the wake of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Texas, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut are among the states – like Kansas – that realized their laws needed to be changed so taxpayers would not be penalized because of federal changes in tax policy.

Governor Kelly has previously used her veto power to prevent tax relief for Kansans - HB 2033 (2020) and SB 22 (2019). With Senate Bill 50, the governor has a new opportunity to bring our state in line with other states, giving taxpayers in Kansas access to the same tax benefits as taxpayers in other states.

This is another bill where the house and senate versions are quite a bit different, but many parts of this bill have been discussed for three sessions.

House Advances Budget

The House advanced its budget bill, House Bill 2397, this week. The bill includes:

•             Reducing the size of government, with a 2 percent across-the-board cut.

•             Rejecting the Governor’s policy recommendation for reamortizing KPERS. The Governor’s budget would create $4.6 billion in debt in exchange for $158 million to finance her budget.

•             Restoring cuts to critical programs, including $42.2 million for the Evidence-Based Juvenile Programs. These programs help keep Kansas children out of incarceration and in the community receiving services from programs with proven results. The Governor’s recommendation was to make cuts to these programs.

•             Restoring funding for a provider reimbursement rate increase for those who care for some of our most vulnerable citizens, those on the Medicaid Home and Community Based Services Intellectual/Developmental Disability (HCBS I/DD) waiver. The Governor cut this item.

•             Increasing funding support to nursing home facilities, continuing the rate increase that was put in place due to the COVID pandemic.

•             Helping keep Kansas courts open and funded by replacing lost fee fund revenue, which was not received during closures resulting from the COVID pandemic.

•             Providing additional funds for the Board of Regents, including funding for deferred maintenance, refunding classes previously offered as in-person, and continuing support for technical education.

•             Supporting Kansas seniors with increased funding for the Kansas Senior Care Act.

•             Prioritizing mental health services, with additional funding for the Community Mental Health Center grants.

•             Fully financing the funding needs of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The Governor did not allocate the additional $19 million needed for the program.

The budget now goes t   o the Senate for its consideration and will likely be in Conference Committee next week to reconcile the House and Senate budget bills. It will be interesting to see what the final version is.  We will get a better idea when the consensus revenue numbers are released later this month.

Extending Telemedicine Practices, Business & Healthcare Liability Protections

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, out-of-state physicians were authorized to help treat Kansans via telemedicine through the issuance of an emergency license to practice medicine. On Tuesday, the legislature passed House Bill 283, effectively extending that authorization to practice via telemedicine by one year, expiring on March 31, 2022.

The bill also extends immunity to liability related to COVID-19 for Kansas businesses and healthcare providers through March 31, 2022, given that they have taken reasonable steps to prevent the sprea d of COVID.

Had the Legislature not acted on this bill, these provisions would have expired on March 31.

If you would like to contact me: my office is still located in Room: 149-S.  My phone number is (785) 296- 7463 and email is: ken.rahje@house.ks.gov and you can always try my cell number at (785) 302-8416.   When you call or write you might hear from Terry Bernatis, my assistant during the session. 

It is my honor to be your representative.