Kansas lawmakers are floating more than a dozen proposals to change how higher education is handled in the state.
Among the sponsored bills are proposals that would make it easier to evade vaccine requirements, require colleges to provide platforms for a wide variety of viewpoints, and make community college and medical school more affordable for students in high-demand areas.
Other bills would offer in-state tuition rates to some refugees and veterans, prevent transgender women from playing on women’s sports teams and require public schools to display the national motto.
Not all bills are created equal. To become law, a proposal would need to be approved by both houses and the governor — unless the Republican legislature has the votes necessary to override a veto by the Democratic governor.
Of the 560 bills introduced in the legislature in 2022, 114 were passed by both chambers. Of those, 100 became law. Typically bills sponsored by a committee are more likely to get a hearing and advance through the legislature. Most proposed bills do not get a hearing, and being referred to a committee does not guarantee a hearing.
Affording college and professional school in Kansas
After offering free community college to students in certain high-demand fields through the Kansas Promise Scholarship, the Kansas Legislature is once again considering changes to the program.
House Bill 2132, sponsored by the Committee on Appropriations, would add transportation to the list of acceptable fields of study. But it would also cap the amount awarded to private community college students, basing it on the average students would pay for a similar program at a public school.
A committee hearing for the bill is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 7.
Other bills affect how Kansas colleges and universities determine who is eligible for discounted tuition based on residency.
Under Senate Bill 109, sponsored by the Committee on Education, any refugee or special immigrant visa holder who hasn’t established residency in a state other than Kansas could pay resident tuition. A special immigrant visa holder means someone who has been granted temporary protected status or humanitarian parole.
Senate Bill 123, sponsored by Sens. Jeff Pittman, a Democrat from Leavenworth, and Virgil Peck, a Republican from Havana, would allow veterans and their spouses to pay resident tuition if the veteran was stationed in Kansas for at least 11 months.
Both bills have been referred to the Committee on Education.
Senate and House committees are both sponsoring bills that would help medical students afford school.
Senate Bill 98 would expand a program that currently provides loans to primary care and psychiatry students that can be forgiven if they practice in underserved areas of the state. The bill would provide a fund for OBGYNs, but specifies that they will have to pay back the money if they perform an abortion outside of a medical emergency.
House Bill 2260 would expand the medical student loan program at the University of Kansas to a greater number of students and ensure that they are still eligible for the program even if they switch between approved residency programs. It has a hearing scheduled with the Health and Human Services Committee at 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 6.
Protected and required speech at Kansas colleges and universities
House Bill 2152, sponsored by the Committee on Federal and State Affairs, would require all public schools and colleges with available funding to display the national motto, “In God we trust,” in a prominent location. The displays would be donated or funded by donations and would include images of the U.S. and Kansas flags.
House Bill 2157, sponsored by Rep. Randy Garber, a Republican from Sabetha, would require public Kansas colleges and universities to promote “intellectual diversity on campus.”
Each school would create an office of public policy events to schedule debates, forums and lectures that include a wide variety of viewpoints. The events would generally be open to the public and recordings would be available online.
Garber also filed House Bill 2158 to require Kansas colleges and universities to develop policies protecting students’ and faculty members’ freedom of speech, including allowing protests that don’t infringe on others’ rights to express themselves.
The proposal also says the campus should be open to any speakers invited by students, student groups or faculty members. The university can’t charge those groups additional security fees based on the content of the presenter’s speech.
Both of Garber’s bills were referred to the House Committee on Education.
Transgender athletes at Kansas colleges and universities
House Bill 2238, a proposal sponsored by the House Committee on Education, would prohibit many schools from allowing transgender women to play on women’s sports teams.
The bill applies to sports teams of any kind sponsored by public schools of all levels, from elementary through college, and to private schools that compete against public schools.
It requires schools to designate all of their teams male, female or coed and to ensure that female teams are not open to people of the male sex — defined by “reproductive potential or capacity, such as sex chromosomes, naturally occurring sex hormones, gonads and nonambiguous internal and external genitalia present at birth, without regard to an individual’s psychological, chosen or subjective experience.”
Students can sue in cases of violations of the law or retaliation for reporting violations.
The proposal was referred to the Committee on Education.
Last year, a similar bill won approval from the legislature. Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed the proposal and the legislature failed to override her veto.
Vaccines for student health care workers
Senate Bill 20, sponsored by Sens. Mark Steffen of Hutchinson and Mike Thompson of Johnson County, both Republicans, would make it easier to receive an exemption from vaccine requirements.
Currently, employers can’t impose a COVID-19 requirement without offering exemptions for health issues and religious beliefs, and they can’t investigate whether claimed religious beliefs are sincere.
The bill would expand that law to include all vaccines and to include high school and college students who deliver health care for course credit.
It was referred to the committee on Public Health and Welfare.
Miranda Moore contributed to this report.
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