Capitol Update: Gallagher trying to raise awareness of connection between reduction in TANF, increase in child abuse and neglect cases

Photo via Rep. Gallagher on Facebook.

Each legislative session, we provide the Shawnee Mission area’s elected officials with the chance to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, Rep. Linda Gallagher and Sen. Jim Denning were scheduled to send updates this week. (Sen. Denning has not replied to any of our invitations to participate in Capitol Update). Here’s Rep. Gallagher’s filing:

The Legislature was back in session on Wednesday and Thursday this week after the “Turnaround” break Feb. 23-27. Feb. 22 was the “Turnaround” deadline, meaning bills must be heard and passed from their original chamber and turned over to the other chamber. Bills not achieving passage are considered dead for the remainder of the session. The content of the bills is always available to be amended into another bill, but the bill number itself cannot be used. The Legislature adjourned Feb. 22 after passing dozens of bills. We had a few days off to give legislative staff time to complete the paperwork and website updates for bills that passed.

As with any rule, there are exceptions. The House Federal & State Affairs, Appropriations, Taxation, and Calendar & Printing, as well as the Senate Federal & State Affairs, Ways & Means and Assessment & Taxation Committees are called “exempt” committees. If at any time, a bill is referred to one of these committees, the bill is exempt from deadlines. House or Senate leadership can refer a bill to one of these committees and rerefer the bill back to its original committee to “bless” it, to keep it “alive” and protected from deadlines.

This past week, the House began hearing bills sent over from the Senate, as well as continuing to consider House bills that are exempt from legislative deadlines.

Action on bills I have introduced:

  • My bill (HB 2232) to allow residents or families of those in elder care facilities to install electronic monitoring devices in their rooms passed the Senate Public Health & Welfare Committee and the full Senate, 38-0. Since it already passed the House last year, I hope to encourage the House to agree with changes made in the Senate so it can go straight to the governor’s desk.
  • I introduced a bill (HB 2593) to provide a sales tax exemption for building materials to renovate and expand 12 group homes operated by Friends of Johnson County Developmental Supports. The bill is scheduled for a hearing in the House Taxation Committee this Thursday, March 8. Sen. Dinah Sykes introduced a similar bill on the Senate side, and it already had a hearing. Although it is a tough sell to add to the long list of sales tax exemptions already in place given our current budget situation, this certainly is a worthwhile cause.
  • Friends of JCDS estimates that the sales tax savings this exemption would provide would allow it to build another access ramp outside a group home, to renovate another bathroom or to add another ceiling lift. The people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who live in these group homes deserve to have these improvements. Friends of JCDS recently announced it had received a $552,366 grant from FHL Bank of Topeka to pay for the work at its group homes. This money will be supplemented by grants from several local Johnson County charitable organizations.
  • I worked with the Alzheimer’s Association on HB 2744, which would establish a task force to study dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in Kansas and produce recommendations for action. Kansas is one of only two states without a state Alzheimer’s Care Plan. The bill was not heard in committee. However, it is believed that Gov. Jeff Colyer plans to issue an executive order to create such a task force. The number of Americans living with Alzheimer’s is expected to triple from the current 5 million to 16 million by 2050, and Kansas needs to prepare for this public health crisis. Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States.
  • I cosponsored legislation (HB 2704) to require prescribers to obtain written informed consent of the patient or guardian before administering antipsychotic medications to adult care home residents. Kansas ranks 50th in the United States for use of strong drugs to control behavior in difficult patients. Informed consent is a best practice used broadly across the country. The bill was blessed and will hopefully move forward in the coming weeks.
  • I cosponsored HB 2666 with Rep. Jarrod Ousley to repeal destructive restrictions on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) aid. A study released last year by two researchers at the University of Kansas shows there is a direct correlation between reduced access to TANF benefits and increases in child abuse and neglect. The bill was not heard in committee, which did not surprise either Rep. Ousley or me. We knew this legislation would not be well received given that the legislature had sharply reduced needy families’ access to federal TANF benefits with passage of the HOPE Act in 2015, followed by further restrictions in a follow-up HOPE Act in 2016. But, we wanted to raise this issue and at least begin a discussion that this legislation may be contributing to our state’s serious, and growing, child maltreatment problems. Rep. Ousley and I both serve in leadership positions on the House Children and Seniors Committee (he is ranking minority member and I am vice-chair), and we both serve on the Child Welfare System Task Force.

One of the committees I serve on is the Government Technology and Security Committee, which has been working all session on a cybersecurity bill to establish a framework for implementing more and better cybersecurity protections within various state departments and agencies. We ended up passing two cybersecurity bills out of the committee:

  • Substitute for HB 2560 started out to be comprehensive across all three branches of government with fairly far-reaching effects. It included a fee structure to pay for cybersecurity services that not only would have cost state agencies hundreds of thousands of dollars, but also would have heavily cost local governments – a fee would have been assessed for any staff member of state, city or county government or local law enforcement agencies who regularly use a state database. We quickly heard from local government officials and local law enforcement agencies from across the state, as well as from Johnson County, that this would be impossible for them to afford. The committee worked for several days to amend this bill, eventually stripping out the fee structure and restricting the bill’s provisions to only state executive branch agencies and departments. However, this bill was not brought up for a vote in the House before the Turnaround deadline, so it is now dead.
  • Substitute for HB 2359 is a scaled-down version of Substitute for HB 2560; in committee we called it “Cybersecurity Lite.” It also is limited to the executive branch only but would do less than the other bill. Both bills would establish the Kansas Information Security Office, relating to executive branch agencies. They both also would establish the position of Executive Branch Chief Information Security Officer. Substitute for HB 2359 was debated in the House on Thursday and advanced to final action, which is on the House calendar today. I plan to vote for this bill because we do need to at least get started on an improved cybersecurity plan.

With this bill, we will start out slowly, and it is hoped that we will be able to pass a more comprehensive plan in the future. The state has many databases that contain personally identifiable information on Kansans, and we have a duty to protect that information. Not doing so can be very costly. Last March, there was a data breach in a jobs program database in the Kansas Department of Commerce. This cost us more than $1 million in credit monitoring subscriptions for the affected citizens. The Government Technology and Security Committee has heard repeatedly from several conferees this session that cybersecurity needs to be elevated to a high level of concern for top officials in all government agencies. And, the fact is, it will cost significant amounts of money to implement cybersecurity plans properly. Sooner or later, Kansas is going to have to face up to that reality.

I also serve on the Transportation Committee, which recently passed a bill relating to Johnson County. You likely remember the tragic story of Johnson County Sheriff’s Deputy Brandon Collins, who had 21 years of service when he died on Sept. 11, 2016. He was killed when a suspected drunken driver hit the rear of his patrol car during a traffic stop. HB 2436 would designate a portion of U.S. Highway 69 as the Brandon Collins Memorial Highway. When highway signs are posted honoring someone, current law requires the family or supporters of the sign to raise the funds necessary to have the sign created, posted, and maintained. This bill passed unanimously.

In the Social Services Budget Committee, we have spent the last few weeks hearing supplementary budget requests for the various social services agency under our review. So far, we have held hearings on and made supplementary budget recommendations for: Kansas Commission on Veterans’ Affairs, Kansas Neurological Institute in Winfield, Parsons State Hospital and Training Center, Department for Aging and Disability Services, Osawatomie State Hospital, Larned State Hospital, Board of Pharmacy and Department for Children and Families. This week we will review and make recommendations for supplementary budget requests of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

This is my fourth session on the Social Services Budget Committee, and it is unusual, given the state’s budget woes in recent years, that we are even considering supplemental budget requests this year. In the odd-numbered years, the legislature passes a two-year budget, so in the even-numbered years, such as in 2016, Social Services Budget didn’t take up any budget requests. The reason? The state was mired in a deep budget hole, so there was no “extra” money to appropriate for any budgetary needs that had arisen for state agencies, even those social services agencies that provide services for our most vulnerable citizens.

But, thanks to the tax reform bill we passed last spring, and to monthly revenues that have been exceeding projections for several months now, there is the possibility of being able to fund some of the state’s critical needs in core functions of government, including social services. Of course, we won’t know exactly how much money we will have to work with until after the April 17 tax deadline and until the Consensus Revenue Estimate comes out a few days after that. And, of course, the big unknown is still unresolved – how much additional funds will have to be put into K-12 school funding.

The budget committees can only make recommendations to the House Appropriations Committee about supplementary funding. That committee will determine what makes it into the supplementary funding bill. But in Social Services Budget Committee, we have gone about our work optimistically and determinedly, sometimes going along with the governor’s budget recommendations but other times stepping up to recommend additional funding for critical social services programs that have been woefully underfunded for far too long. This includes more money for mental health needs across the continuum of care, substance abuse clinics, more targeted case managers for people on the Frail Elderly waiver, a feasibility study to determine the need for new computer systems at the Department for Children and Families, raises for nursing facility inspectors (the state has only half the inspectors it needs), and more.

Time will tell which of our recommendations make it into the final supplementary budget that will likely pass in the closing days of the legislative session. But I am hopeful that many of them will be funded.

It is an honor to represent District 23 and Johnson County in the House of Representatives. I welcome hearing from people about issues important to them. My office is in 187-N and my office phone number is 785-296-7482. I can be reached by email at linda.gallagher@house.ks.gov.