Capitol Update: Rep. Kessinger laments lack of action during 2020 legislative session

"In times of trouble, leaders need to be out front working to solve our problems, not sitting at home waiting for our problems to solve themselves," said Rep. Jan Kessinger. File photo.

Each legislative session, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Jan Kessinger, Rep. Tom Cox and Sen. Pat Pettey are scheduled to send updates this week. Rep. Kessinger’s column is below.

A popular book to give to graduates this time of year is Dr. Seuss’ “The Places You’ll Go”. The book inspires us to make smart decisions, choose the right paths, dare to do great things and to not be afraid. We are encouraged, Kid, you’ll move mountains! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way!”

I felt that way as we headed into the 2020 legislative session. There was much to be done. Kansas was back onto its fiscal feet after we corrected the 2012 tax experiment and we were positioned to be able to lower food sales tax, to embrace a bi-partisan plan to finally pass Medicaid Expansion, to create a fair sales tax on goods purchased online and to join 17 other states who already offer sports betting and much more.

Alas, another line ends the book, “I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you.”

Yes, we hit some bang-ups and hang-ups. As of today, with one day, May 21, left for the legislature to meet, we have passed eight bills that have been signed into law. Eight.

Why only eight? Politics, primarily. For the first couple of months of the 2020 session, bills accumulated “below the line”, approved by a House committee and awaiting action by the full House of Representatives. Nearly 60 bills were awaiting floor debate and final approval. It was similar in the Senate. Legislation was held up as leverage to get an abortion resolution onto the August primary election ballot.

Covid-19 caused a decision by leadership to not meet the last few days of the regular session and also not to re-convene April 27, for veto session. We meet as a full legislature only on May 21, which is the last day we can meet according to law. It will be extremely difficult to have anything worked on and passed by both legislative houses on that one day.

Between now and then, some interim committee meetings have been called to meet virtually. I am on the Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee. We will meet May 12 and 14, to discuss and perhaps take action regarding the difficulties with the Kansas Department of Labor’s unemployment insurance benefits system and its information technology infrastructure. Yes, that should have been done 10 years ago.

I am not a fan of passing lots of legislation, especially if a goal can be accomplished without making a law. However, consider what we did not do:

Tax

  • Removal of the tax lid and subsequent reductions in property taxes
  • Tax reform that allows Kansans to keep more money by decoupling from the federal tax code
  • Establishment of no-loopholes internet sales tax to level playing field between local brick-and-mortar stores and online
  • Authorization for county treasurers to provide property tax payment plans and also to abate property taxes in event of natural disasters
  • Increase the Social Security Tax Exemption from $75,000 to $100,000

Service to Vulnerable Populations

  • Implementation of the Child Welfare Oversight Committee to hold the administration accountable for their handling of those services

Health Care

  • Creation of the Rural Health Care Innovation Fund, a public private partnership to encourage new, sustainable methods and delivery systems
    Expansion of Medicaid to provide more Kansans with health care and to enhance the vitality of our health care system

Commerce

  • The Targeted Employment Act, a targeted employment tax credit for businesses that hire those with disabilities
  • Creation of the First-Time Homebuyer Accounts, a savings account similar to 529 college savings plans, to help Kansans save to buy a home
  • Income Tax Credits for aerospace and aviation program graduates and their employers
  • Critical reforms to the STAR Bond program
  • Reform and extension of the Rural Opportunity Zone program
  • Extension of Angel Investor Tax Credit
  • Establishment of the Kansas Promise Act, a scholarship program for high school seniors who agree to go into high need areas for semi-skilled labor
  • HB2147 would have extended maturity on bonds to finance projects under the Kansas Rural Housing Incentive District Act from fifteen to twenty years

Pandemic Response

  • Legislation to provide liability protection to health care workers during the pandemic
  • Legislation to provide legislative guidelines and oversight of $1.2 billion in CARES Act funding coming to the state
  • Evaluation of emergency powers to provide a much-needed check on the governor’s authority

Other Important Initiatives

  • Protection of our transportation dollars for the new highway plan
  • Legalization of sports betting to provide security for those who participate and to bring additional revenues to Kansas

The final line in Dr. Seuss’ book is, “With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down any not-so-good street.”

This legislative session went down a “not-so-good street” of playing politics and left much good undone. In times of trouble, leaders need to be out front working to solve our problems, not sitting at home waiting for our problems to solve themselves.