The regular session of the Kansas Legislature is ending.
“First adjournment” is April 9th. This week we will be on the ground for three days and then return next Tuesday April 6th for up to four days. We’re going to be working on a series of last-minute bills and conference committee reports, which are bills that highlighted the differences between the House and the Senate. We will then adjourn until May 3rd for what is likely to be a relatively short closing or veto meeting.
That session was incredibly busy, especially on the part of the Senate. We have made tremendous progress on a number of bills, some of which have already been signed by the governor. The legislation can change several times before it is finally voted on. Therefore, for the purposes of this report, I will focus on legislation that has reached, or is about to reach, the governor’s desk.
Kansas Emergency Management Act
In a two-party 31-8 vote, the Kansas Senate passed SB 40, which contains critical reforms to the Kansas Emergency Management Act. The law was also passed by an overwhelming majority in parliament. Last week, Governor Kelly signed the law.
The bill contains a number of provisions that are important for upholding the freedom and freedom of Kansans, including:
- An end to all COVID-19-related statewide mandates, including the mask mandate, on March 31.
- Proper control and balancing of any order issued by the governor.
- A clause prohibiting the governor from closing down businesses, civil organizations and churches.
- Protection for 2nd modification rights.
- Establishing strong litigation rights for Kansans who have been violated by an order.
- Ensuring the money stays with elected officials at the state and local levels.
- Maintaining local control over schools.
Senator Kellie Warren, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, led negotiations on the conference committee to achieve an end product. I attended this conference committee and tried to ensure that it contained the provisions necessary to open up the state.
After the vote, I gave the following explanation of vote:
Since this pandemic began, we have seen an escalating and ongoing suspension and curtailment of many constitutional rights. True scientific evidence has been overlooked in favor of public health edicts that have postponed several times during this pandemic, in part due to the whims of unelected officials. In June last year we passed the 2016 HB, an important step forward in providing checks and balances and restrictions on the governor’s power in relation to emergencies. SB 40 is doing more checks and balances, ensuring due process, ensuring money stays with elected officials, preventing the governor from closing businesses and churches, and ending current mandates on March 31st. Do I wish the bill would go on? Absolutely! I believe the state government’s primary responsibility is to protect the freedom of the people, and I don’t think any government entity should be able to impose the bans, restrictions, and mask mandates that we saw last year. At least this calculation represents a step forward to get us back to normal, but I believe there will be more work to be done. I agree with “YES”.
The bill is already working as the due process provisions in the bill resulted in several large Kansas counties and cities dropping their mask mandates and other restrictions – including Sedgwick, Miami, Harvey and Reno.
While Johnson County decided Thursday to enact its own local health ordinance that included a mask mandate, I was pleased to see that the mask mandate no longer applies to churches. It will be nice to see smiling faces at Easter!
I will note that Governor Kelly has signaled that she will issue a new nationwide mask mandate that will take effect April 1st.
Under the provisions of SB 40, lawmakers can repeal any executive order, and lawmakers state that if Kelly executes her plan, they will. That could happen this week. Even if this is not the case, the districts can reject the regulation or accept a less restrictive mandate.
Energy Choice Act
I carried the Kansas Energy Choice Act to get through the Senate. It was originally passed by the Senate in February and, after a few small changes in the House of Representatives, passed again last week by 30-10 votes, with all Republicans and one Democrat voting in support.
The bill ensures that natural gas and propane remain a viable energy choice for Kansans as a movement is underway to restrict these forms of energy. Here is a statement I made when I originally presented the invoice:
“Freedom of energy choice is being undermined in many regions of the country and governments are trying to restrict or ban the use of natural gas. This poses a growing threat to the 870,000 Kansas households that use and rely on natural gas to heat their homes and water, cook meals for their families, and serve many other purposes. Natural gas is the cheapest form of energy and its constant availability is essential for people on lower and fixed incomes. We cannot allow the movement against this critical energy source to gain a foothold in Kansas. “
Back to School Act
This week the Kansas legislature passed a slightly modified version of the Back to School Act. The bill will require Kansas public schools to offer a full-time in-person study option beginning March 31, which will cover the remainder of the current school year.
Every single Democrat in both chambers who voted voted against the bill. In a confusing phrase, however, the governor stated shortly after that she would sign the legislation, a positive development for children and parents in Kansas who have been calling for a full-time option for the person for months. Many school districts have resumed face-to-face learning since the legislation was introduced, and now all will be open from March 31st. That’s good news!
Property tax reform
The Republicans made property tax reform a priority at this meeting and passed SB 13 in the first week, which among other things ensures critical transparency at the local level. In the past, local governments didn’t even have to vote when they relied on an increase in property valuation to raise taxes for ever larger budgets. This bill requires that they do so and notify all residents of the property tax increase.
Last year the governor vetoed this legislation, but I am pleased to announce that it signed SB 13. This is good news for Kansans.
In a unanimous vote, the Senate passed HB 2071, which would change the definition of the stalking crime to intentionally conduct a behavioral course on a specific child under the age of 14. The crime would occur if a reasonable person – in the circumstances of the target child or an immediate family member of such a child – was out of fear for the safety of a child.
The penalty for the new determination would be a severity of 7 for a first conviction and a severity of 4 for a second or subsequent conviction.
The Johnson County District Attorney testified that the bill fills a loophole identified in a recent widespread case in Johnson County. Law enforcement also strongly supported the legislation.
The bill was also passed unanimously, and although it will be subordinate to a conference committee, it is expected to be on the governor’s desk soon.
Here is a “forecast” for invoices we may be working on in the final days of the session:
- On Monday we will be voting on HCR 5015, which urges the US Congress to reject HR1, which would forever change our electoral laws and our country as it was founded. While lawmakers do not have the right to vote on a federal matter, we would like to express our concern about the dangers that HR 1 brings. I will vote for HCR 5015.
- This week we will end a judicial committee hearing that will set up a cash pool to help businesses shut down during the pandemic using unencumbered federal dollars from the latest round of stimulus funds. From the start of this pandemic, I have warned that the pandemic would cause significant and far-reaching economic damage. And it’s only fair that we are helping these companies and workers with some kind of refund.
- I supported the passage of the Act on Fairness in Women’s Sports, which merely ensures that sports teams or sports intended for women are reserved for biological women only. The bill is necessary to ensure a level playing field for biological women so that they can participate fairly in athletics because of the clear physiological advantages that biological men have over biological women. The bill was passed by the Senate without any problems, but is awaiting action in the House of Representatives.
I just scratched the surface with all the major laws we passed and thought about this session.
Some of the classic cars tell me that this session was different from any they can remember. The pandemic has created situations no one could have imagined, and we have tried to respond to state overshoots at both the state and federal levels. Distortions in our economy and loss of freedom need to be addressed, and that work will carry over to the 2022 session.