A free email newsletter breaking down the issues that affect Wichitans the most.
Delivered every Tuesday and Thursday morning
Update: Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed Senate Bill 160, which bans female transgender students from athletics, on April 18. On April 25, Wyandotte County District Judge Bill Klapper ruled that a map setting new boundaries for the state’s four congressional districts is unconstitutional.
Long hours, late nights and short tempers marked the chaotic end of the regular session of the Kansas Legislature on April 1. But despite an exhausting final stretch – both chambers adjourned well after 1 a.m. the next morning – weary lawmakers failed to get through all the items on their agenda.
Lawmakers postponed many major policy items and plan to address them during a veto session that starts on April 25. Among the unfinished business that awaits the legislature upon their return: food sales tax, sports betting, and finalizing the education budget, which will make up a large portion of the state’s more than $21 billion annual budget.
Here’s a rundown of some of the bills that lawmakers considered during the 2022 regular session.
Throughout the story, we link to the legislature’s page for the bills. Some of the links appear to open a different bill than what we describe. The Kansas Legislature uses a process informally called “gut and go” in which legislators in committee negotiations strip the original language from one bill and place it in another, sometimes unrelated, bill. To see the most recent language, open the full text of the bill, or the Conference Committee Report Briefs, which should briefly describe the editing history of the bill.
The legislature proposed four redrawn electoral maps using population data from the 2020 census — one each for U.S. House districts, state Senate districts, state House districts and districts for the state Board of Education. These maps will impact politics in Kansas for the next decade.
The legislature passed the proposed map outlining Kansas’ four congressional districts, called Ad Astra 2, along party lines. Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed it, then both chambers voted to override the veto. Three lawsuits have so far been filed against the state, alleging that the Ad Astra 2 map – which splits Douglas, Jackson, Pawnee and Wyandotte counties – illegally divides communities to favor Republicans and divides Black and brown areas. The consolidated trial over the map began April 4 and is likely to be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
The three remaining maps are Liberty 3 for the state Senate, Free State 3F for the state House and Apple 7 for the state Board of Education. They were sent to the governor’s desk in a single bill; Kelly hasn’t taken any action on the legislation. The new maps may be challenged in court whether Kelly signs them or not.
The so-called “Parents Bill of Rights” passed both chambers shy of a veto-proof majority. The bill requires boards of education to develop policies allowing parents to inspect classroom instructional materials and, if parents find those materials objectionable, to withdraw their child from those lessons or activities. SB 58 also mandates that school boards create policies allowing for parents to challenge — and even remove — materials in school libraries.
A bill banning transgender women from joining a women’s team in any school-affiliated athletic program from kindergarten through college passed both chambers, again short of a veto-proof majority. The bill does not ban transgender men from participating on teams designated for men. Kelly vetoed a similar bill last year.
Most proposed changes to education policy this session are listed in the omnibus education budget bill. The measure failed to progress beyond conference committee negotiations and will be taken up again in the veto session. Beyond appropriating $6.4 billion to fund the Kansas State Department of Education in fiscal year 2023, the bill contains 17 policy proposals collected from other legislation. Those proposals include a requirement that school boards establish a process for students to transfer between school systems if space allows, eligibility definitions for Kansas Promise Scholarship recipients and authorization that course credit be awarded for grades 6 through 12 for approved out-of-classroom activities, such as apprenticeships or work-study.
Courts, law enforcement, criminal justice
A ban on so-called “sanctuary cities” — which are municipal governments that do not cooperate with federal authorities investigating undocumented immigrants — passed both chambers with veto-proof majorities. The bill was requested by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican running to unseat Kelly, a Democrat. Schmidt was reacting to an ordinance passed in Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, that creates a municipal identification card for undocumented people so they may access public services. Under the ordinance, the information collected while issuing these IDs would not be shared with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Kelly has not taken action on the bill.
Several bills relating to court procedure, victim policies, evidence collection and crime definitions passed both chambers with unanimous or near-unanimous support:
- HB 2574 increases the financial and medical benefits that victims of violent crime can receive from the state;
- HB 2607 clarifies existing case law for filing habeas corpus motions, in which an incarcerated person can request the court review whether their imprisonment is legal, and requires the attorney general be notified earlier of the anticipated release of someone convicted of sexually violent crimes;
- HB2231 distinguishes pyramid schemes from multilevel marketing, which Kelly signed on April 7;
- HB 2228 requires all sexual assault evidence kits be submitted to an accredited forensic labaratory within 30 days of collection, and also includes provisions defining conditions when evidence from children in cases of physical, mental, emotional or sexual abuse can be collected;
- SB 300 adds identity theft and identity fraud to the list of crimes that could fall under the umbrella of organized crime and racketeering; and
- SB 367 details the process by which property seized by law enforcement — namely guns and drugs designated as controlled substances by the DEA — may either be returned to the owner or, if the property seized is owned illegally, destroyed.
Budget, taxes, revenue
The proposed $21.9 billion state budget includes a 5% raise for most state employees. The budget does not include Medicaid expansion, which some Democrat lawmakers wanted to see, nor does it include language restricting the governor from renegotiating KanCare contracts in 2023, which some Republicans favored. The budget passed both chambers and is awaiting Kelly’s signature.
House Bill 2239 is the omnibus tax bill that passed with wide, veto-proof margins by both chambers and is awaiting Kelly’s signature. The bill contains 29 different tax provisions for property, income and sales taxes, and is estimated to cut taxes — and state revenues — by $90.9 million in fiscal year 2023, $99.8 million in fiscal 2024 and $119.6 million in fiscal 2025.
Senate Bill 421 would authorize the transfer of more $1.125 billion to the state employees’ pension fund over the next two years. It is currently underfunded by about $5 billion. Of the $1.125 billion transferred to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System more than $250 million would go toward employer contributions that were promised, but never paid, in 2017 and 2019. The bill’s conference committee report passed the House and would have to be passed by the Senate during the veto session before heading to the governor’s desk.
Bills aimed at broadening the scope of practice of nonphysician medical professionals passed the legislature this session:
- SB 200 allows pharmacists to treat the flu, strep throat and urinary tract infections;
- HB 2279 allows advanced practice registered nurses, or APRNs, to prescribe medicine without physician supervision, and requires APRNs to maintain their own liability insurance; and
- SB 440 allows occupational therapists to provide some services to patients without a referral from a health care provider, and requires occupational therapists to obtain professional liability insurance. Kelly signed the bill on April 1.
Other bills passed by lawmakers outlined licensing and training requirements for health care workers:
- SB 453 requires unlicensed nursing home aides who work directly with patients to complete 40 hours of certified nurse aide training; and
- HB 2477 temporarily eases regulatory restrictions around renewing, issuing and honoring some medical licenses to meet medical personnel needs due to COVID-19. Kelly signed the bill in January, which is the same authorization passed since 2020 when the pandemic began.
Lawmakers passed a bill roughly along party lines that would extend the maximum amount of time a short-term limited duration health insurance policy may be renewed, up to 36 months. The language is substantively similar to a rule developed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in 2018. Short-term limited duration policies are exempt from Affordable Care Act regulations, so the policies do not provide comprehensive coverage, and allow for the insurance company to exclude or charge higher rates to policyholders with preexisting conditions. Kelly vetoed a similar bill last year.
A bill aimed at increasing transparency in the prescription drug industry by changing how insurers are regulated passed both chambers with near unanimous support. The bill requires pharmacy benefits managers to undergo a more robust licensing process than what is currently required. Currently, pharmacy benefit managers only need to register with the state. Licensure would open the managers up to disciplinary action for failing to follow licensing regulations. Kelly hasn’t taken action on the bill.
The legislature reconvenes on April 25 to reconsider any bills that Kelly vetoes. Lawmakers will also likely address some major policy items that were left unfinished during the regular session.
The state’s education funding needs to be finalized as negotiations on certain policy points, including whether to allow out-of-state students to receive Kansas Promise Scholarships, failed to progress before the legislature adjourned.
Despite extensive negotiations, neither chamber voted on a bill that would gradually repeal the food sales tax over the next three years through a step-down approach, slower than the immediate elimination plan pushed by Kelly. Here’s what repealing the food tax could mean for Wichitans and other Kansans.
A bill that would allow sports betting nearly failed the House after a last-minute addition would funnel 80% of revenues into a fund aimed at attracting professional sports teams to come to Kansas. After passing the House with narrow margins, the bill has not yet been voted on by the Senate.
A bill that would restrict the use of ballot boxes by county elections officials passed the Senate without a veto-proof majority. The House has not yet considered the proposal. It would limit the number of ballot boxes used by county elections officials to collect completed advance ballots. County elections officials would be required to monitor the ballot box continuously either through on-site employees or video surveillance, and voters could only use the boxes during the same operating hours as the county elections office.
(Top photo courtesy Tony Webster. View more of his work.)