Capitol Update: Sen. Thompson catalogs major bills passed so far in ‘incredibly busy’ session

Sen. Mike Thompson, a Republican from Shawnee, writes that the Kansas Emergency Management Act, which will, among other things, prohibit the governor from issuing future statewide mask orders, is "important to preserving the liberty and freedom of Kansans." File photo.

Each week, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. 

Below is the submission from Sen. Mike Thompson, who represents Senate District 10, which covers much of western Shawnee.

The regular session of the Kansas Legislature is winding down.

“First Adjournment” is April 9th. This week, we will be on the floor for three days, and then return next Tuesday, April 6th, for up to four days. We will be working on a flurry of last-minute bills and conference committee reports, which are bills in which the differences have been worked out between the House and Senate. We will then adjourn until May 3rd for what is expected to be a relatively short “wrap up” or “veto” session.

This session has been incredibly busy, particularly on the Senate side. We have made tremendous progress on a number of bills, some of which have already been signed by the governor. Legislation can change several times before it receives a final vote, so for the purposes of this report, I will focus on legislation which has reached the governor’s desk or will soon.

Kansas Emergency Management Act

In a bi-partisan vote of 31-8, the Kansas Senate passed SB 40, which contains critical reforms to the Kansas Emergency Management Act. The bill also passed in an overwhelming vote by the House. This past week, Governor Kelly signed it into law.

Contained within the bill are a number of provisions important to preserving the liberty and freedom of Kansans, including:

  • An end to all COVID-19 related statewide mandates, including the mask mandate, on March 31st.
  • Proper checks and balances for any order issued by the governor.
  • A clause prohibiting the governor from closing businesses, civil organizations, and churches.
  • Protections for 2nd Amendment rights.
  • Establishment of strong due process rights for Kansans aggrieved by an order.
  • The ensuring that the buck stops with elected officials at the state and local level.
  • The preservation of local control of schools.

Senator Kellie Warren, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, led negotiations in conference committee to achieve a final product. I participated in that conference committee and worked to ensure it contained the provisions necessary to open up the state.

Following the vote, I provided the following Explanation of Vote:

Since the beginning of this pandemic, we have seen an escalating and prolonged suspension, and abridgment of many constitutional rights. True scientific evidence was overlooked in favor of public health edicts that shifted a number of times during this pandemic, based partially on the whims of unelected officials. Last June, we passed HB 2016, an important step forward in providing checks and balances and limitations on the governor’s power as it relates to emergencies. SB 40 does implement more checks and balances, providing due process, ensuring the buck stops with elected officials, preventing the closure of businesses and churches by the governor, and ending the current mandates on March 31st. Do I wish the bill would go further? Absolutely! I believe the core responsibility of state government is to protect the liberty of the people and do not believe any unit of government should be able to impose the lockdowns, restrictions and mask mandates we have seen in the last year. At least this bill represents a step forward towards getting us back to normal, but I believe there will still need to be more work ahead. I vote “YES.”

The bill is already working, as the due process provisions contained within the bill have led several large Kansas counties and cities to drop their mask mandates and other restrictions – including Sedgwick, Miami, Harvey and Reno.

While Johnson County opted to issue its own local health order on Thursday which included a mask mandate, I was pleased to see the mask mandate no longer applies to churches. It will be nice to see smiling faces on Easter!

I will note that Gov. Kelly has signaled she will issue a new statewide mask mandate that will take effect on April 1st.

Under the provisions of SB 40, the legislature can overturn any executive order, and legislative leaders indicate they will do so if Kelly follows through with her plan. That could occur this week. However, even if they do not, as was the case before, counties may opt out of the order or adopt a mandate that is less restrictive.

Energy Choice Act

I carried the Kansas Energy Choice Act to passage across the Senate floor. It originally passed the Senate in February and then after some small changes with the House, passed again this past week on a vote of 30-10, with all Republicans and one Democrat voting in support.

The bill ensures that natural gas and propane remain viable energy choices for Kansans, as there has been a movement afoot to restrict those forms of energy. Here is a statement I provided when the bill originally passed:

“The freedom of energy choice is being undermined in many areas around the country, with governments seeking to limit or prohibit the use of natural gas. This poses a growing threat to the 870,000 households in Kansas who use natural gas and rely on it to heat their homes and water, cook meals for their families, and many other uses. Natural gas is the cheapest form of energy, and its continued availability is essential to those on lower and fixed incomes. We cannot let the movement against this critical energy source gain a foothold in Kansas.”

Back to School Act

This week, the Kansas legislature adopted a slightly modified version of the Back to School Act. The bill requires public schools in Kansas to offer a full-time in-person learning option beginning on March 31st and covers the remainder of the current school year.

Every single Democrat in both chambers who voted, voted against the bill. However, in a perplexing twist, the governor indicated shortly thereafter she would sign the legislation, a positive development for Kansas kids and parents, who have been calling for a full-time in-person option for months. Many school districts have resumed in-person learning since the legislation was introduced, and now all will be open as of March 31st. This is great news!

Property Tax Reform

Republicans made property tax reform a priority this session, passing SB 13 the very first week, which provides critical transparency at the local level, among other provisions. Previously, local governments would not even have to vote when they relied on a property valuation increases to raise taxes to pay for ever-increasing budgets. This bill requires they do so and notify all residents what the property tax increase will be.

Last year, the governor vetoed this legislation, but on Friday, I am pleased to report she signed SB 13. This is good news for Kansans.

Anti-Stalking Bill

In an unanimous vote, the Senate passed HB 2071, which would amend the definition of the crime of stalking to include intentionally engaging in a course of conduct targeted at a specific child under the age of 14. The crime would occur when a reasonable person — in the circumstances of the targeted child or an immediate family member of such child — feared for a child’s safety.

The penalty for the new provision would be a severity level 7 felony for a first conviction and a severity level 4 felony for a second or subsequent conviction.

The Johnson County District Attorney testified that the bill closes a loophole that was identified in a recently widely publicized case in Johnson County. Law enforcement was also strongly supportive of the legislation.

The bill also passed the House unanimously and while it will be subject to a conference committee, it is anticipated it will be on the governor’s desk soon.

Legislative Forecast

Here is a “forecast” for bills we may be working on in the closing days of the session:

  • On Monday, we will vote on HCR 5015 that urges the U.S. Congress to reject H.R.1 that would change, forever, our voting laws and our country as it was founded. While state legislators have no voting rights in a federal matter, we want to express our concern over the dangers that H.R. 1 present. I will vote for HCR 5015.
  • This week we will finish hearing a bill in the Judiciary committee that will establish a pool of money to help businesses that were forced to shut down during the pandemic, using unencumbered federal dollars from the latest round of stimulus money. From the start of this pandemic, I have warned that there would be significant and extensive economic damage from the pandemic. And it is only fair we help those businesses and jobholders with some sort of restitution.
  • I supported the passage of the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act that simply ensures athletic teams or sports designated for women are reserved only for biological women. The bill is necessary to ensure an equal playing field for biological females so they can fairly participate in athletics due to the distinct physiological advantages held by biological males over biological females. The bill passed the Senate easily but awaits action in the House.

I have just scratched the surface with all the important legislation we have passed and considered this session.

Some of the old-timers tell me that this session has been unlike any they can remember. The pandemic has created situations that nobody could have envisioned, and we have been trying to respond to governmental overreach both on the state and federal levels. Distortions in our economy and loss of liberty need to be addressed and that work will carry over into the 2022 session.