Capitol Update: With deadline passed, Rep. Ousley highlights bills submitted in House

Rep. Jarrod Ousley.

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. We’re kicking off this year’s Capitol Update columns a week ahead of the start of the legislative session. Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Rep. Jarrod Ousley and Sen. Barbara Bollier are scheduled to send updates this week. Here’s Rep. Ousley’s filing:

The deadline for bill submissions from individual legislators was Feb. 4, and the deadline for committee bills was Feb. 11, so the last two weeks brought a flurry of bill submissions.

Protecting Children

On the Committee for Children and Seniors, I’ve introduced several pieces of legislation to protect children in foster care, and to help provide support to families in need.

Last year Rep. Linda Gallagher and I introduced legislation repealing the restrictions on the social safety net created under former Governor Brownback, including restrictions on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Payments (SNAP) Lifetime Limit Restrictions.  These restrictions have been directly linked to the increase in children in need of foster care over the last few years, as Kansas has gone from approximately 5,000 in the foster system to 7,000, pushing the system to the breaking point at a time when it was critically underfunded due to reckless tax cuts.  As the ranking member on Children and Seniors, I’ve again introduced legislation to repeal restrictions on support for families in need, in HB 2157, a Children and Seniors Committee Bill.

The Adoption Discrimination Bill passed last session limited the pool of available families to provide foster care for children.  Sentiment against the bill has continued to grow, and the Department of Families and Children is no longer supportive of this bill.   In light of the negative impacts the discriminatory policy has on the pool of children in need of safe homes, I have introduced legislation to repeal it.   House Bill 2164 would prohibit state agencies from using state dollars to discriminate against qualifying families and help ensure qualified and loving families are available for children in need of care.

Another bill I have introduced again this session is HB 2242, an Act concerning investigations of abuse.  It requires reports of child abuse to be shared with law enforcement agencies when multiple mandated reporters have reported on the same child.  This bill has been supported by family members of children who were murdered by adults in their lives after multiple complaints were made to the Department of Children and Family Services, but action was not taken.  In light of information provided during a hearing on the annual Child Death Review Board Report, this bill would loop in police officers to potential threats facing children and allow the officers the opportunity to check in on the child. Last year, the District Attorneys from Wyandotte, Johnson, and Sedgewick County all supported the legislation and Wyandotte District Attorney Mark Dupree and Johnson District Attorney Steve Howe testified in favor of it.  The presentation of the Child Death Review Board Report in committee this year was the first presentation of this information to the legislature.  In previous years, the report was provided to the Governor, Senate President, and House Speaker, but not discussed in committee.  The hearing was a significant step towards implementing policies preventing child deaths in Kansas.

Protection from Self Harm

Prior to the beginning of session, a constituent and friend asked for the creation of a bill that would protect individuals with suicide ideation from committing self-harm.  Her dear friend had suffered from suicidal thoughts for many years, and had made attempts throughout the years, and was unfortunately able to purchase a firearm.  Had her friend, during times of stability, been able to restrict access to the purchase of a weapon by placing a protective order on themselves, the later purchase could have been restricted.  Thus, HB 2234, the Voluntary Gun Safe Act, allows an individual to place a protective order on themselves, restricting their ability to purchase a weapon of their own volition, and as part of plan developed by the individual to protect themselves when destructive thought patterns take over.  This bill has been sent to the Committee of Federal and State Affairs and has support from commonsense advocates who look forward to the opportunity to testify on behalf of the bill once it is granted a hearing.

Right to Work for Less

A constitutional amendment to repeal the Kansas Constitution’s protections for adequate and equitable funding has been the talk of the legislature, and public education friendly legislators are adamantly opposed to this amendment.  There is, however, one portion of the Kansas Constitution that is not serving the interests of working Kansas, and that is Article XV Section 12, which covers membership or non-membership in labor organizations, also known as the “right to work” for less clause.  This amendment to our constitution was passed in 1958 after Fred Koch (yes, that Koch) campaigned along with the Conservative Christian Association to have the amendment passed to weaken Unions they characterized as communist.  Missourians recently soundly defeated a push to create right to work for less during the last election cycle, and in light of the lower wages and benefits in states with such laws, I’ve introduced HCR 5008, to repeal the clause.  The Labor and Working Families Caucus has organized informational lunches for House Representatives on Labor issues this cycle, and Prof. Elinor Schroeder, a leading authority on labor and employment law, is meeting with the caucus this cycle to provide background on the history of right to work for less in Kansas, and how that has impacted working families.

Protecting Human Rights

Reps. Brandon Woodard and Susan Ruiz introduced the Kansas Act Against Discrimination, including LGBTQ as a protected class status along with race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, or ancestry.  I am proud to be a co-sponsor of this legislation along with other local area Reps and Senators.  Currently, it is not illegal for employers to terminate LGBTQ employees, nor is it illegal under state law for landlords to terminate tenancy.  Providing these basic protections so that all Kansans can live without fear of losing their job (which often is an individual’s access to health care) or their home is a core concern for several of us.   HB 2130 can be found here, the full list of co-sponsors is at the top of the bill.

Call to Action to Protect Wind Energy

Last week, a bill that would decimate wind energy opportunities in Kansas, HB 2273 “the Set Back Bill” was introduced and flew somewhat under the radar as other bad bills on tax policy and human rights drew appropriate condemnation.  This bill requires a setback for windmills far beyond the industry standard and would have the effect of preventing any new wind energy farms in Kansas.  Ironically, the legislators supporting this bill are some of the same legislators who were comfortable with commercial chicken farming operations being adjacent to residential areas.  The newly formed Metro KC Climate Action Coalition has been actively pursuing opportunities to bring additional renewable energy sources to North East Kansas, and to partner with and support local municipalities increasing the use of renewable energy sources for our communities.  This bill would end these opportunities before they’ve even begun, hampering local control and energy choice.  Local elected members of the Metro KC Climate Action Coalition, including myself, have signed on to testimony opposing the bill, that will be presented by Mayor Mike Kelly in committee on Thursday, February 21st.  Please contact members of the Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications and ask them to oppose this bill, and to protect local municipalities and their efforts to provide communities with renewable energy choices.  Contact information for committee members can be found here.

As always, it is my privilege to serve my constituents in House District 24.  I can be reached at jarrod.ousley@house.ks.gov at (785) 296-7366 and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JarrodOusleyforthe24th/