Kansas lawmakers concluded this year’s legislative session last Friday after a three-day flurry of veto overrides and finalizing budgets for both public schools and the state, but without passing any of the tax relief policies each party wanted at the start of the session.
Neither did Gov. Laura Kelly achieve the major priorities she laid out in January. She wanted to expand Medicaid eligibility, increase special education funding and adopt a package of tax policies that would exempt more Social Security income from state taxes, eliminate sales tax on food and menstrual products and create a tax holiday for school supplies.
Some of these proposals were passed by the Legislature but contained other provisions that Kelly opposed, prompting her to veto the bills. One example of the trade-offs Kelly had to consider: Some of her sought-after tax proposals were included in a bill she vetoed because it contained a flat-tax proposal she opposed.
In her State of the State address in January, Kelly had cautioned against taking tax-cutting measures too far: “But let me make myself clear: I will stand against any irresponsible tax proposals that erode (Kansas’ fiscal) foundation.”
Republican leadership’s priorities were often directly at odds with Kelly’s: implementing a flat 5.15% income tax rate, supporting private industry interests, and reducing the number of people who can access public-funded social services like food assistance and medical coverage.
Kelly has used her veto authority on 15 individual bills and at least a dozen line-items so far this session, including those bills that contained her legislative priorities.
Kelly, however, signed more bills than she vetoed – 75 so far. The governor also allowed one bill to become law without her signature, a bill to prohibit the state from considering the social impact of its investments and spending. A few more bills passed by the Legislature during the recently completed veto session have not yet been officially presented to her.
Here’s a rundown of bills that will become law, others that didn’t survive the session and what Kelly will be expected to address in the coming days. A full list of bills introduced this session can be found on the Kansas Legislature’s website.
State budget and financial operations
The lone bill so far that Kelly allowed to become law without her signature is House Bill 2100. It prohibits the state from considering nonfinancial factors like environmental, social or governance (ESG) criteria when granting contracts or making investments using state money, including the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.
The legislation was pushed by the oil and gas industry, who testified in support of it. Kelly wrote that she allowed HBV 2100 to become law unsigned because of concerns over unforeseen consequences for state and local governments.
Kelly did sign the first of two statewide operations budgets, House Bill 2184, which includes $220 million in state funds to match federal infrastructure grants, $142 million for a medical sciences center in Wichita (with funds coming from the American Rescue Plan Act) and $100 million for the state’s rainy day fund. It does not include funding to expand Medicaid.
Kelly vetoed 15 items from HB 2184; line-item vetoes are only permitted on appropriations bills. Lawmakers succeeded in overriding three of them, including one that allocates $2 million to support and promote anti-abortion counseling services.
The omnibus budget is the second of two budget bills passed every year, usually during the veto session, to tie up loose ends not included in the first budget. It’s written after the latest revenue estimates are published, and includes suggestions from the governor.
This year’s omnibus budget — inserted into Senate Bill 25, which was originally an insurance tax bill — gives state employees pay raises, with additional pay increases for employees of state hospitals, the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs and the state Department of Corrections. Lawmakers said they hoped the pay increase at DOC would help address staffing shortages at correctional facilities.
The omnibus budget gives another $6.5 million to the joint University of Kansas-Wichita State University health sciences facility in Wichita, and allocates $10 million for improvements in Wyandotte County ahead of the World Cup in 2026. The bill also gives $250,000 to the Quindaro ruins archeological park in Wyandotte County.
Once SB 25 is enrolled and presented to the governor, she will have 10 days to decide whether to veto the bill, sign it as-is or veto specific line items.
Kelly vetoed Senate Bill 169, a tax package that would have hastened the elimination of food sales tax and raised the amount of Social Security exempt from state income taxes to $100,000, two policies she promoted. But the deal-breaker for Kelly was the flat-tax provision. The bill would have replaced the state’s current progressive tax structure with a flat 5.15% income tax rate for everyone, regardless of income.
Critics of a flat tax say that it would benefit the wealthiest Kansans at the expense of state revenues; Kelly said the state would lose $1.3 billion over three years under the flat-tax proposal. She said that schools would be harmed by such a steep cut to state revenues, referencing the impact of extreme spending cuts enacted under former Gov. Sam Brownback.
Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, tried to override the governor’s veto of SB 169, but failed to do so twice. In the aftermath, Masterson sanctioned a fellow Republican lawmaker: after Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, voted against overriding the governor’s veto, Masterson stripped Olson of a committee leadership assignment.
Lawmakers passed a second tax bill, Senate Bill 8, short of a vetoproof majority. Kelly will have 10 days from the day she receives the bill to decide if she wants to veto it or sign it into law.
The bill includes property tax exemptions for child care centers, restaurants and health clubs that compete with nearby government services. The bill also includes $10 million worth of tax credits for adoptive parents, a $14 million break on sales taxes for telecommunications companies, and $10 million in tax credits for those who donate to anti-abortion counseling centers.
Not included in SB 8: Kelly’s proposed sales tax cuts, Republicans’ income tax rate cuts or the bipartisan Social Security income tax exemption.
Fentanyl test strips
During her address in January, Kelly asked the Legislature to pass a bill that would decriminalize the possession and use of supplies to test illicit drugs for the presence of fentanyl, a potent and often fatal synthetic opioid that is behind the recent spike in drug overdose deaths nationwide. At the time of Kelly’s address, Kansas was one of 17 states where it’s a crime to possess fentanyl test strips. Since then, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Dakota and Utah all passed laws decriminalizing the test strips.
Kansas remains in the shrinking minority of states that have not yet decriminalized fentanyl test strips. A Beacon analysis found that Kansas has adopted the fewest harm reduction policies of any state in the country, and that lawmakers’ justification for failing to adopt lifesaving measures are rooted in false beliefs about those who use drugs.
Two bills, House Bill 2390 and House Bill 2398, unanimously passed the House, but didn’t make it through the Senate with the test strip provisions intact. Senate Bill 174 is the only bill decriminalizing fentanyl test strips that will make it to Kelly’s desk, having passed both chambers on April 28. Once the bill reaches Kelly’s desk, she will have 10 days to decide whether to sign the bill or veto it.
The bill contains more than Kelly asked for, though — it would also expand the reach of law enforcement and extend the prosecutorial authority of state Attorney General Kris Kobach. It would make it a felony to flee the police, something Rep. Ford Carr, D-Wichita, said during floor debate would punish young Black men who fear violence at the hands of officers. Carr was one of nine House members to vote against the bill.
Restricting transgender access to health care and public spaces
Kelly vetoed five bills that would effectively restrict transgender Kansans in how they access public services, public spaces and gender-affirming medical care. Lawmakers overrode four of those bills, including one that some say is one of the most restrictive anti-trans bills in the country.
“By stripping away rights from Kansans and opening the state up to expensive and unnecessary lawsuits, these bills would hurt our ability to continue breaking economic records and landing new business deals,” Kelly wrote as she vetoed four of the five bills.
The one veto that stood was against Senate Bill 26, which would have revoked a physician’s medical license for providing gender-affirming medical care, including hormone therapy, to minors. It would also allow people who received gender-affirming medical care as minors to sue their providers. The effort to override Kelly’s veto fell short by a single vote in the Senate.
The following bills became law despite Kelly’s vetoes:
House Bill 2238 prohibits student athletes who were assigned male at birth from playing on girls’ athletic teams. The ban applies to public school teams and those who compete against public school teams from kindergarten through university. Questions about how the ban would be enforced — and whether that enforcement would necessitate the inspection of athletes’ genitals — dominated the discourse and debate surrounding the bill.
Senate Bill 180 defines men and women in state law based on reproductive anatomy at birth. It allows the state to mandate the separation of the sexes in settings like domestic violence shelters, prisons, rape crisis centers, public restrooms and locker rooms. It is also likely to impact which gender marker trans people will be allowed to list identification documents like driver’s licenses. It contains no enforcement instructions, nor does it delegate enforcement responsibility to any specific government agency. The constitutionality of the law is likely to be challenged, possibly setting up a yearslong court battle to determine the validity of the law, according to the attorney general’s office.
Senate Bill 228 requires incarcerated people to be divided by their gender assigned at birth while in custody. It passed both chambers the first time with a vetoproof majority.
House Bill 2138 requires that overnight accommodations for students on school-related trips be separated according to assigned sex at birth.
As has happened each of the past five years since she took office, Kelly is likely to finish out the 2023 legislative session without signing a Medicaid expansion bill. Kansas remains one of 10 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid.
Kelly asked the Republican-majority Legislature to pass a law expanding Medicaid eligibility to include the 150,000 Kansans who fall into the health care coverage gap. Ineligible for Medicaid under current state rules, but too poor to buy health care coverage on their own, those in the coverage gap are left without affordable options for health insurance.
In late March, Republicans rejected an amendment by Democrats that would have allowed the governor to expand Medicaid through executive authority. No other earnest attempts were made by Republicans to negotiate a Medicaid expansion bill this year.
Kelly admonished the Legislature in her January address to legalize medical marijuana, but most cannabis-related bills introduced this session never even got a hearing.
The one bill that did get a hearing, Senate Bill 135, was shelved by the Committee on Federal and State Affairs chair, Sen. Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee.
Other cannabis-related bills never progressed after being introduced, including House Bill 2367, which aimed to legalize recreational cannabis, and House Bill 2363, which, if enacted, would have expunged marijuana-related criminal charges.
Lawmakers passed a bill funding K-12 education, Senate Bill 113, on April 28, the last day of the legislative session. The bill allocates $6.3 billion to the Kansas Department of Education, expands a tax credit for private school costs and allows students who are home-schooled and attend private schools to participate in activities and teams at public schools.
If SB 113 were enacted, it would establish a task force to study special education funding, something advocates have said remains underfunded by the Legislature. The bill does not include any new funding for special education.
Kelly has not yet received the bill; once she does, she’ll have 10 days to decide whether to sign it into law.
Kelly vetoed House Bill 2236, which would give parents authority to remove their child from lessons and classroom activities that go against parents’ beliefs. Kelly cited the expense of possible future lawsuits as one reason for her veto. The House did not have enough votes to override the veto.
Kelly also vetoed House Bill 2304, which would allow schools to teach firearm education classes using specific curricula identified in the bill. The veto override attempt failed by one vote in the House.
Kelly signed two bills that aim to address the teacher shortage by training new educators and bringing in experienced ones. Senate Bill 66, which recognizes some out-of-state teacher licenses, would allow teachers from other states to more easily relocate to teach in Kansas.
Senate Bill 123 adds elementary and secondary education as fields of study eligible for scholarships under the Kansas Promise program. SB 123 also creates the Adult Learner Grant Act, which would give $3,000 per semester to some full-time students age 25 and older who are enrolled in high-wage, high-demand or critical-needs fields of study like nursing, engineering, education, data analytics and information technology.
What else did Laura Kelly veto?
A list of bills vetoed by the governor is on the Legislature’s website. A list of the governor’s statements accompanying each veto can be found at the top of the Enrolled version of the bill on its page, or in one of Kelly’s public statements.
Four more bills were overridden by the Legislature and will become law even with the governor’s veto:
House Bill 2094: Further restricts food assistance eligibility by adding further requirements for employment and child support compliance for nondisabled adults age 50-59. Kelly vetoed the bill on April 24, and the Legislature overrode the governor’s veto on April 27.
House Bill 2264: Requires abortion providers to give false information to abortion patients that a medication abortion may be reversed after it has begun, despite medical experts asserting the reversal theory is not only untrue, but possibly harmful to patients. Kelly vetoed the bill on April 19, and the Legislature overrode the veto on April 27.
House Bill 2313: Requires physicians to provide emergency care to a fetus that survives an attempted abortion. Kelly said that the procedure described in the bill does not exist in Kansas — state law currently bans abortions after 21 weeks gestation, and births at 22 weeks have a near zero chance of viability, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Kelly vetoed HB 2313 on April 14 and lawmakers overrode the veto on April 26.
House Bill 2350: Creates the state-level crime of human smuggling. Kelly wrote in her veto message that the law is overly broad and could apply to first responders transporting people for medical care. Human smuggling is prosecuted as a crime under federal law. Kelly vetoed the bill on April 24 and the Legislature overrode her veto on April 27.
The Legislature attempted to override three additional vetoes but ultimately fell short of the necessary votes: House Bill 2325 would have prevented abortion providers from buying liability insurance from the state’s Health Care Stabilization Fund, House Bill 2344 would have loosened regulations on child care providers, and Senate Bill 209 would have eliminated the current three-day grace period for advance ballots to arrive to elections offices by mail.
Last-minute bills sent to Kelly
A number of other bills passed in the final days of the session will await action by the governor once they are delivered to her desk. Since the Legislature has fully adjourned until January, if Kelly vetoes any of the bills passed at the end of the session, the only way the Legislature could override them is if a special session of the Legislature is called.
Two bills sent to Kelly divided the Legislature:
House Bill 2060 would expand eligibility for a medical school loan assistance program to include those completing a residency in obstetrics and gynecology, provided the resident does not perform abortions. If they do, the OB/GYN resident will be required to repay the loan assistance they received with interest.
House Bill 2285 would forbid local and state public health officials from mandating public health measures like those enacted to stop the spread of COVID-19. If enacted, officials would no longer be able to restrict public gatherings, give isolation orders to people who were exposed to infectious disease or require children to be vaccinated to attend school or day care. The bill didn’t get enough votes for a vetoproof majority in either chamber.
Other bills signed by Kelly
A complete list of bills that will become law can be found on the Legislature’s website. Listed here are a selection of bills that may be of interest to our readers.
House Bill 2024: Creates the Rep. Gail Finney Memorial Foster Care Bill of Rights, named after the late Wichita lawmaker, which codifies the rights of foster youth, foster parents and families of foster youth.
House Bill 2053: Creates a state-funded presidential primary election, which will take place on March 19, 2024.
House Bill 2127: Eliminates the statute of limitations for sexual assault crimes against children and allows more time for victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue for damages relating to their abuse.
House Bill 2216: Removes mandatory imprisonment for driving with a suspended license, for first-time offenders.
House Bill 2269: Raises the minimum age to purchase cigarette and tobacco products to 21.
House Bill 2288: Recognizes some out-of-state licenses for licensed professional counselors, which would allow for more mental health professionals to practice in Kansas, both in person and through telehealth platforms.
Senate Bill 3: Designates Silvisaurus condrayi as the state’s official land fossil. The bill was proposed by Joel Condray’s sixth grade students from Challenger Intermediate School in Goddard, west of Wichita.
Senate Bill 229: Creates the Legislative Compensation Commission, which will have the authority to establish pay rates for lawmakers starting in 2025. The bill also ties the pay rate of the executive branch, including governor, attorney general and state treasurer, to the pay of members of the U.S. Congress.
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