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Lawmakers returned to the Kansas Statehouse on Monday with a lengthy to-do list: seven vetoes from Gov. Laura Kelly, school funding and several high-profile bills left unresolved when they departed for spring break earlier in April.
They wrapped up many of the matters in four days. But there’s still more to be done.
On May 23, the legislature is scheduled to reconvene again — a week after oral arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court in a case over redrawing the state’s congressional maps. Lawmakers can’t conclude the session until the redistricting process wraps up.
To help guide you through the veto session, The Wichita Beacon compiled a guide to what happened in the first week, why lawmakers take a spring break, lingo unique to the Kansas Statehouse and how you can watch the session unfold.
Actions on the governor’s vetoes
The veto session’s original purpose was to allow enough time for bills to be finalized, printed and delivered to the governor, who then has 10 days to sign, veto or allow a bill to become law without a signature. The legislature would then meet to attempt to override vetoes it wanted to take up.
To override a veto, the legislature needs a two-thirds majority in both chambers to vote in favor of the override. That’s 27 of 40 in the Senate and 84 of 125 in the House. None of the bills Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed this year passed with a veto-proof margin. But lawmakers can always change their vote the second time around.
By Thursday, lawmakers voted to override one of Kelly’s vetoes but not six others. Lawmakers did not try to override two line-item vetoes, but put the text of one in a new bill.
Here’s how lawmakers handled the governor’s vetoes:
Senate Bill 58: The House failed to gather the votes necessary to override this bill, called the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” by proponents. The bill allows parents to withdraw their child from lessons or activities they find objectionable and allows parents to challenge materials in school libraries. Kelly said the legislation “would create more division in our schools and would be costly” because of the likelihood of litigation. During the regular session, the bill passed the House 67-46 and the Senate 23-15. On Tuesday, the Senate voted to override Kelly’s veto 27-12. The House voted 72-50 to override the veto, falling 12 votes short of the 84 votes necessary.
Senate Bill 160: The House fell three votes short of overriding Kelly’s veto of SB 160, which bans transgender female athletes from playing on girls’ athletic teams. Kelly said the bill is “harmful to students and their families and it’s bad for business.” During the regular session, the bill passed the House 74-39 and the Senate 25-13. On Tuesday, the Senate voted to override Kelly’s veto 28-10. On Thursday, the House failed to override the governor’s veto with a vote of 81-41, falling three votes shy of the needed supermajority. The votes this week marked the seventh time in two years that lawmakers voted on the ban.
Senate Bill 199: This bill extends the maximum amount of time a short-term limited duration health insurance policy may be renewed to 36 months. Kelly said that these plans “do not cover pre-existing conditions and do not provide consumer protections.” The Senate passed the bill during the regular session 28-11 and the House passed it 73-49. On Tuesday, the Senate voted to override Kelly’s veto 28-9. The House decided against voting to override, so the veto stands.
Senate Bill 493: This bill bans city and county governments from restricting or taxing the use of plastic bags and containers. Kelly said that waste disposal matters are historically handled by local governments. During the regular session, the Senate passed the bill 26-12 and the House passed it 74-48. The Senate voted to override Kelly’s veto 27-12. The House decided against voting to override, so the veto stands.
House Bill 2448: The legislature overrode Kelly’s veto of the bill, which requires all able-bodied adults who receive food assistance benefits to be working or in job training to remain eligible for benefits. Kelly cited the rising cost of food when she vetoed the bill. The bill passed the House 70-46 and the Senate 28-11. The House voted on Thursday to override Kelly’s veto 86-36, and the Senate voted to override 29-11.
Two bills and two line items vetoed by Kelly will not be brought up for override votes.
Senate Bill 161: This bill allows autonomous delivery robots on sidewalks and crosswalks, and spells out some regulations about how the robots could operate. Kelly said the regulations did not go far enough to ensure bystander safety in residential areas. In March, the bill passed the Senate 22-17 and passed the House 75-47. The Senate decided to not take up an override and sustained the veto.
Senate Bill 286: This bill extends the duration for a number of measures first enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including expanded telemedicine. It also increases penalties for attacking health care workers and creates the crime of interfering with hospital conduct. But Kelly said that a last-minute addition limiting patients’ ability to sue medical providers for mistakes made while providing care is what ultimately tanked the bill. The Senate initially passed this bill 24-16, and the House passed it 64-51. The Senate decided to not take up an override and sustained the veto.
The Senate will also not attempt to override line items vetoed from Senate Bill 267, the state’s budget. But one of those items was passed again in a different bill. Kelly signed SB 267, but vetoed two items within it: a section that allowed lawmakers to change their minds on enrolling in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System and a section giving Benedictine College $200,000 for its engineering program.
Kelly said that no other state employees get to change their minds on KPERS and that the funds for Benedictine College should come from a different pot of money. The full bill passed the Senate 33-5 and passed the House 104-12.
The primary intent of the veto session is to address gubernatorial vetoes and pass a budget. But lawmakers have expanded the scope of what they take up, including addressing policies that were left unresolved during the regular session. Here’s a recap of what happened before that session ended on April 1.
Some major bills were left in conference committees during the regular session but the legislature passed them when they returned for veto session.
Education budget: Lawmakers finally passed an education budget, HB 2567, after starting conference committee negotiations in late March that occasionally became contentious. The bill funds K-12 education through fiscal year 2024, including $6.4 billion for fiscal year 2023, but does not include $30 million special education funding that Kelly requested.
The budget does include a provision that requires school districts to allow out-of-district students to enroll, and establishes the Every Child Can Read Act. A list of what is included in the budget can be found in the bill’s conference committee report brief. The bill passed the Senate 24-14 and passed the House 75-45.
Food tax: Lawmakers passed SB 2106, which gradually eliminates the state food sales tax by 2025. The state food sales tax would drop from its current rate of 6.5% to 4% on Jan. 1, 2023, from 4% to 2% on Jan. 1, 2024, and finally be fully eliminated on Jan. 1, 2025. Democrats have pushed for urgency, citing the impact of rising inflation and increasing food costs on poor Kansans, and wanted to eliminate the tax outright by July 1. Republicans favored the tiered approach.
Kelly said in a statement she would sign the bill, but encouraged lawmakers to move up the date that would bring the food tax to zero. The bill passed the Senate 39-0 and passed the House 114-3.
Sports betting: Senate Bill 84 legalizes and regulates sports wagering in Kansas. The bill directs 80% of the proceeds into a fund that is intended to attract professional sports teams to Kansas. The House passed the bill 73-49, and after lengthy debate that lasted until nearly 2 a.m. on Friday, the Senate passed the bill 21-13. The bill heads to Kelly’s desk.
Omnibus budget: Lawmakers decided to use this year’s overflowing coffers to pay down $332 million in debt and put $750 million in a rainy day fund. It also includes the $200,000 for Benedictine College’s engineering program that was cut from the budget Kelly signed earlier this month. It also includes $86 million from the American Rescue Plan Act earmarked for health care, higher education, housing and economic development projects. A list of projects funded by the omnibus budget can be found in the conference committee report. The bill passed the Senate 33-7 and passed the House 95-22.
Terms to know
If you are planning to stream the legislature from home, or want to follow along on Twitter, here are some terms you might come across.
Standing committee: Standing committees handle much of the daily business of the legislature. They are formed for each chamber separately to deal with broad policy topics, rather than individual bills. Lawmaker assignments to these committees usually last the entire session. They are generally more formal than conference committees in tenor and tone. Bills do not need to be unanimously agreed on to pass out of a standing committee. Here’s a list of standing committees.
Conference committee: These are ad hoc committees formed with members of both chambers to negotiate specific bills. The negotiated bills are presented to each chamber in a conference committee report, which must be agreed to by every member of the committee. Membership can be changed around with relative ease. Here’s a list of conference committees.
Agree to disagree: During the conference committee process, if lawmakers reach an impasse in negotiations and are unable to unanimously agree, they invoke a process called agree to disagree. That allows the conference committee to effectively exclude the dissenting votes. While proponents say it’s one way to ensure efficiency of the lawmaking process, opponents have said it is undemocratic.
Gut-and-go: This is when the text from one bill is cut and inserted into another, often unrelated, bill that has made it further through the legislative process. Proponents of gut-and-go argue that it provides an efficient way for legislation to move through the process in the limited time lawmakers have available, and without it, very little could get done. Critics of the process say the process impedes transparency and makes it difficult to follow the substance of a bill unless you are following along up-to-the-moment and know to look out for the new bill number.
Line-item veto: Per legislative procedure guidelines, the governor may veto individual items, rather than the entire bill, from appropriations bills only. The legislature can override line-item vetoes using the same process as overriding any other veto.
How to follow along
When lawmakers reconvene on May 23, they will have to address the state Supreme Court’s decision on the congressional map, as well as override any vetoes that Kelly may issue on the bills sent to her desk for the first time this week. There are a few ways to follow along from Wichita.
Most everything you need — including texts of bills, calendars and committee reports — can be found on the Kansas Legislature website. Just double-check that you’re looking at the current session, and the top of the site says 2021-2022 Legislative Sessions.
At the top of the website, both chambers indicate whether they are in session. If a chamber is adjourned, the time and date they will reconvene is listed.
To look up a specific bill, click on the blue box on the left side of the website that says “Find Bill” and enter the bill number. There is an option to search using text with the bill, but with processes like the gut-and-go, search results may be inaccurate. The latest version of the bill, notes and reports should be available for download near the top of the bill’s page.
To know which bills are at a certain point in the process, the bill reports provide a list of totals for each chamber. You can click on the hyperlinked number to find the full list of bills of that status for that chamber.
There are a few places for livestreaming committee meetings and floor proceedings. The legislature keeps a calendar view of committee meetings, along with agendas. Floor debate for both chambers, as well as conference committee and regular committee meetings, can also be streamed from the calendar view, or from the legislature’s YouTube page.
For those who are social media savvy, following the #ksleg hashtag on Twitter will give up-to-the-moment updates from many within the statehouse, as well as many without who simply like to weigh in.