Rahjes Report - January 25, 2021

It has been an on again off again start to the 2021 session.  Last week the “Value Them Both” constitutional amendment is one step closer to letting the people of Kansas decide.  On Friday, the House passed the Constitutional Amendment with the required two-thirds majority vote.  If approved by Kansas Senate, Kansas voters will have the opportunity in the August 2022 election to vote on whether they believe the state should be able to regulate abortion procedures and prohibit taxpayer dollars from being used to pay for abortions. The Senate is scheduled to take up the amendment this week.

You might recall the amendment came about as a result a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling, known as the Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt decision. Due to this ruling, current law – such as parental consent for minors, 24-hour waiting periods and even simple safety standards for abortion clinics – are left open to litigation and very likely to be overturned. The “Value Them Both” amendment will allow Kansas voters the opportunity to weigh in and determine whether Kansas will continue to be a pro-life state.

Also last week, the House overwhelmingly passed SB 14 on a bipartisan vote of 119-3. SB 14 is the Legislature’s response to keeping Kansas safely open through the COVID-19 pandemic. Modeled after last year’s 2020 Special Session HB 2016, SB 14 continues the state of disaster emergency until March 31, 2021, and protects the checks and balances the 2020 Legislature put in place. This includes protecting the Kansas’ ability to continue receiving federal disaster resources and prohibiting the Governor from being able to shutdown Kansas businesses. 

SB 14 also protects temporary licensure for certain health care providers, access to tele-medicine and business immunity from unwarranted COVID-19 claims so that health care providers and small business owners can continue to care for their patients and safely operate through the duration of the pandemic.

The bill passed the Senate earlier the week (on a bipartisan vote of 34-1), which means SB 14 now goes to the Governor’s desk for consideration.

The Legislature’s health committees received an update from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) on the state’s distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. Media reports had indicated as of December 31, “Kansas had the lowest vaccination rate among states. The CDC said Monday that the state is now up to 2,650 shots per 100,000 residents and that 25 states have lower vaccination rates, including Missouri, where the rate is 2,445 per 100,000 residents.”

House Leadership requested vaccination plan details and numbers back in November at a State Finance Council meeting and again in December. On January 20, the day after the health committee meeting, the governor released a vaccine dashboard with data on doses given, doses distributed, and the percentage of Kansans vaccinated. The committee also learned that the KansasVaccine.gov website will eventually be capable of providing information on where the general public can go to receive vaccines in their area and which vaccination phase the state is in. To date, the Find My Vaccine dashboard is not available on the website.

Information on the 5 vaccination phases was made available by the governor earlier in January, altering a previous vaccination plan she touted. The governor announced on January 21, that Kansas was moving into Phase 2, when seniors age 65 and older, high contact critical workers, and those in congregate settings will begin receiving the vaccine.

Unfortunately, there is more work to be done on getting information coordinated on vaccine distribution, especially as the number of individuals eligible to receive vaccines grows in Phase 2. Counties are already seeing problems with getting enough vaccines to meet the demand.  The January 21st KDHE vaccine update indicates there are 1 million Kansans eligible in Phase 2, but the next shipment of vaccines from the federal government will only total about 40,000 doses. It is up to each county to decide how to allocate the vaccines.

The health committees have scheduled another meeting this week to continue to seek the answers Kansans need about vaccines from KDHE.

Because of COVID, we are not encouraging visitors to come to Topeka but 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.rahjes@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, who is my assistant during the session.

It is my honor to be your representative.