The session is off and running fairly quickly this year. The major tax and spend issues are still fairly muffled at this point, but expect that to crescendo up throughout the session.
The state started this session with a few million extra dollars in the coffers that were not anticipated and folks are eager to get at that money – from both sides of the ledger and the aisle. There will be fights over funding for all sorts of priorities including mental health and medicaid as well as education and KPERS.
Taxes are also going to be a hot topic. There has been a fight going on for a couple of years stemming from the federal tax cuts that mostly deals with repatriation of foreign monies and I expect it will come back this year.
Most relevant to our mission is the food sales tax. A political football for years, reducing or eliminating the tax on food sales will likely continue to be a challenge; it is just so expensive. That is not to say that there will not be progress. Recently, talk has focused on bringing back refund-ability and increasing the food sales tax rebate.
That is not nearly as good of a policy as eliminating the tax all together, but I am not sure the political will to cut spending that much or raise taxes elsewhere exists. Those are the important questions to ask legislators and candidates when discussing this issue; everyone seems to support it but nobody has the answer as to how to get it done.
This has been one of the biggest issues in recent years, but 2020 is a little different. Majority Leader Jim Denning (R)-Overland Park and Governor Kelly have come to an agreement on the issue. They have advanced SB252 and have been holding hearings. The path for the bill to get through the entire legislature and to the Governor is not yet clear, but we now have the Majority Leader hoping and of course we have the Governor and the vast majority of legislators from around the state. I am feeling fairly positive about the bill, but remember it is far from over and we need to put our foot on the gas as far as advocacy goes to get it across the finish line. Make sure you are contacting your legislators and letting them know how you feel on the topic.
The bill itself has several provisions that mostly improve the bill for consumers. There is a work referral program that I think will be helpful, especially when the economic cycle turns south. There are provisions for mental health that could be very positive. The key to this compromise is that it is a full expansion that can be implemented on January 1st of 2021, and not delayed indefinitely which several previously offered provisions would have forced.
There are potential amendments being talked about that could derail the bill, although I think most of them can be defeated one way or another. Some legislators want a work requirement as opposed to a referral program. Work requirement programs have not worked well in other states. They have had trouble passing muster at CMS, as well as in the courts. The work requirement programs that have been approved have been shown to be costly, force people out of the program, not impact employment rates, and have a negative impact on the uninsured rate.
There’s also been talk of a conscientious objections, or religious freedom amendment. These exemptions allow providers to not provide products or services or to not serve certain people. Simply put, they seem to be a right to discriminate, and I don’t think that belongs in healthcare. There may be others, but these are the most talked about right now.
In November, Kansas’ attorney general and agriculture secretary approved a court order resolving a lawsuit challenging a 50-year-old state law strictly limiting advertising of sales of raw milk to a sign located on a dairy’s premises. The consent judgement imposed an immediate injunction blocking the Kansas Department of Agriculture from enforcing the law regulating raw milk advertisement. The judge left in place state law restricting the sale of raw milk to a producer’s farm. At that time, KDA Secretary Mike Beam said the agency would urge the 2020 Legislature to amend the statute declared in violation of the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution as well as the Bill of Rights of the Kansas Constitution.
As it turns out, we have competing raw milk bills this year. SB308 is KDA’s bill that continues to allow the sale of raw milk on the farm, so long as certain labeling and advertising requirements are met. However a second bill has also been introduced. The Kansas Dairy Association supports SB300 which prohibits the sale of unpasteurized milk for human consumption. Neither bill has been scheduled for a hearing yet, but I imagine that they will be soon.
Imposter Meat Products Labeling
HB2437 is the meat labeling bill that would require plant-based, imitation meat products like “Beyond Meat” and “Impossible Foods” to be labeled as “imitation”. KFU submitted written proponent testimony in support of the legislation. The federal government has not been interested in taking action on this topic so the livestock industry has started a national campaign to do this at the state level. Several other states have already made this requirement including: MO, OK, SC, ND, MS, LA, AL, AR, KY, WY, MT, and SD. There is some litigation ongoing in some of these states. Most of the lawsuits are first amendment challenges involving the banning of use of words like “meat” on packaging. The committee questions and comments seemed as thought they largely favored the bill.
SB249 and HB2459 are companion bills addressing mental health. They would require mental health parity with physical health. Right now it is difficult to get mental healthcare and substance abuse treatment with commercial, private health insurance. If people are able to get approval, it is usually limited. These bills would mandate that private health insurance providers cover mental healthcare and substance abuse treatment. Not only would this change help the individual consumer, but there is the likelihood that it would also create additional demand for providers and lead to additional recruitment of mental health providers to the state.