By SEAN GATEWOOD
This session was a much shorter session. Usually Sine Die is simply a ceremony that half of the members don’t even show up to. This year was different. There were several veto overrides and failed attempts as well as a protest. As always I have enjoyed being your eyes at the statehouse. Thank you.
As you may recall, last year there was an 11th hour fight over taxes. On the federal level the President and Congress passed a tax cut that raised the standard deduction before the 2018 session. By doing this, fewer people will be itemizing their taxes. The Kansas tax system was “coupled” with that system but had a lower itemized deduction than the new federal system. There was an effort that was supported by many across the political spectrum to do this. The issue that derailed and ultimately ended up failing to move this policy was one to adjust how and if Kansas taxes money being “repatriated” or brought back into the country by large multinational corporations that had previously parked earned money in foreign entities to avoid taxes. When that was inserted and there were no ways to take it out of the bill the Senate still passed it but the House failed to come up with the required votes for passage and the whole thing failed. It is unknown how many people will not be able to itemize their deductions in the state and how much it will cost them. Last year that attempt failed so this year legislative leadership attempted it again. Governor Kelly vetoed the measure. So they reduced the size of the tax cut and added in a 1% cut to food sales tax, it passed but was once again vetoed by the Governor and that veto was sustained at Sine Die.
You will hear rhetoric about how the Governor opposed the reduction in food sales tax. I believe this to be untrue. Many members of the legislature and the Governor support a reduction or elimination of the food sales tax. The problem is twofold. One, there has to be enough money to properly fund the government. The second, and bigger problem for legislators seems to be which taxes they prioritize. The priority in the bills that came before the legislature over the last couple of years was given to large companies, not individuals or the food sales tax. When members ask about this issue they need to be prepared to ask not only does the legislator support a reduction but how will they fund it and where in their priority list does it fall and what are they willing to do to accomplish the goal. Simply supporting it is not enough.
This was the biggest heart breaker of the year. The vast majority of the Kansas legislature are expansion supporters, so is the Governor so it would make sense that we would pass a Medicaid expansion bill this year right? Wrong.
The Majority party elects leaders (Speaker of the House, Senate President, Majority leaders in each chamber) those folks determine which committee a bill gets sent to and if a bill will come up for debate on the floor of each chamber. They also select the majority party members of each committee and its Chairman and Vice Chair. The Chairman gets to decide which bills will get hearings and debated in each committee. More Democrats won office last year but they did so mostly by defeating more moderate Republicans and the House swung more conservative, particularly the majority party. Previously the Majority leader in the House was Don Hineman, a more moderate Republican but he was replaced by Dan Hawkins, the leading opponent to expansion.
Because Medicaid expansion was due to be such a big issue the committees that would deal with expansion were stacked with more conservative Republicans and Chairman that oppose expansion. The Majority Leaders oppose expansion so even if we could get a bill out of committee neither of the Majority Leaders would let it up for a debate and to go even further they would not let anything that was even close to germane to it up for debate. In short 6 people were able to stop the will of the full legislature, the Governor and the people of Kansas’ will.
There were attempts made at circumventing those few people, we successfully overturned the rules chair and were able to debate the issue and pass it out of the House. That procedural vote had not been successful in at least 2 decades! The Senate was able to get 23 members to vote against leaders and show their support for debating the bill, but the move fell flat as 27/40 members are needed to be able to debate the issue. Finally, House members held the budget bill until the Senate took a vote but that broke down fairly quickly.
There was some sort of understanding that there would be an interim on the topic to prepare for next year and vote on it in January. Now, that appears to have broken down and it is uncertain what will happen. We think there will be some sort of action on the topic over the interim. My guess is that there will be a bill next year because the politics of this are becoming toxic for certain members and leadership. If I were to guess their proposal will have barriers and things that the state would struggle with administering in the proposal. We will need to be engaged and vigilant but I think we can make a good bill happen next year. Stay tuned.
Farm Bureau Health Plans
The Governor proposed to reamortizing the unfunded liability that The Kansas Farm Bureau successfully lobbied the legislature to allow it to have its own health plans that are not overseen by the Department of Insurance to sell to its members. According to the Farm Bureau these plans are to be modeled after the program that it runs in Tennessee. The plans are problematic for a few reasons not the least of which is the fact that this is a monopoly for the Farm Bureau. Nobody can compete with them for this market because the bill was very specific to the Farm Bureau being able to run these plans and nobody else. Second is the lack of regulation of the plans. There is no regulation on the fiscal solvency of the plans, provider networks, paying out claims or anything else. Last, they are built on being able to cherry-pick the young and healthy people out of the marketplace and thereby raise rates for everyone else. This is bad and unfair health policy.
The cycle of litigation has been around for a very long time at this point and we all hope it is coming to an end. There was additional money appropriated in SB16 to make up for miscalculations in inflation over the last few years. The hope is that this satisfies the courts and the schools although some of the plaintiff schools are signaling that they are not satisfied. This bill also extended the $20,000 homestead exemption and extended the 20 mil statewide levy.
This was the quietest year for ag that I have experienced since I have served as your lobbyist. There were several briefs from the various councils but no real action, and almost no bills or even hearings occurred within the ag committees. There was a hemp bill that passed but made few substantive changes, mostly simply brought Kansas in to line with the hemp provisions in the federal farm bill.
The Kansas Corporation Commission will be commissioning a study of Kansas’ utility rates since the passage of SB69. This study is suppose to examine why Kansas’ rates are high and make recommendations for bringing them in line. It will likely cost ratepayers about $1million so we all hope solutions are found.
Various Energy/Climate Issues
The Legislature passed a special fee for hybrid and all electric cars of $50 and $100 respectively. This is a minor amount of money for the highway fund and a clear economic disincentive for energy sustainability.
The Legislature failed to act on the solar surcharge being charged to ratepayers. Just last year the LCC allowed utilities to charge a surcharge to customers who have generation capacity. The legislature has not acted to circumvent the LCC with these fees. These charges remove almost all incentive to generate clean power yourself.
Office of Rural Revitalization & Committee on Rural Revitalization
Rural revitalization became something of a buzzword during this session. I will start with the legislature. Representative Don Hineman (R-Dighton) cares deeply about rural Kansas and was awarded the Chair of the newly created Rural Revitalization Committee. This committee held informational briefings for most of the session on a variety of subjects that have negatively impacted rural life. Housing, the lack of Medicaid expansion, general healthcare, ambulance services, depopulation, and a variety of other issues that affect rural life. My hope is that this committee, after studying these issues will return next year with some ideas on how to address these problems and put forth some legislation.
The Governors office also seems interested in rural revitalization. Lt. Gov Lynn Rogers has created, within his office the Office of Rural Revitalization and has been touring the state. During session he made stops all over the state and I had the privilege of attending a few of those meetings myself. One of his biggest priorities is expanding Medicaid but that is not the only policy priority. He is once again touring the state and talking to folks about rural issues and I strongly encourage members to attend if possible.
The state government in Kansas is in poor condition. Prisons are overcrowded and there are riots occurring fairly regularly, the foster care system is a mess because we do not support families that are on the cusp. Medicaid eligibility is still not functioning to get people assistance with their disability or help for seniors so they can continue living in the community. There are critical shortages of inspectors for restaurants and hotels, among others. Every section of state government seems to be well short of the capacity it needs to perform its basic functions. We should keep this condition in mind as we advocate in the future.
Rules and Regulations
Governor Colyer ordered this website be created and all agencies post public meetings on it. The state should be better at engaging stakeholders and letting them know about upcoming opportunities to provide feedback. As of right now they really only let you know passively with consistency…This website has upcoming meetings on hemp and other topics based on the state agency. I encourage members to watch this website and attend these on topics of interest: publicsquare.ks.gov/calendars/agency