This Week in Topeka
March 9-13, 2020
Business, Economic Development & Local Government News from the Legislative Session
It was a full work week in Topeka as committee action hit full stride after a couple of shortened weeks. The week started like many others but soon discussions of coronavirus (COVID-19) began to dominate talk among those in the capitol. Governor Laura Kelly and public safety officials are formulating plans for the state and are releasing those plans as they unfold. For now, the impact on the capitol will be limiting statehouse visitors to only those people who have business before the legislature. Large gatherings, events and tours will be off limits for now, but legislative work will continue.
Now on to this week’s update….
Transportation. Both chambers passed versions of the new transportation plan that, up until now, had been known as FORWARD. The Senate version of the plan is very similar to the version that was introduced and reported on several times in previous editions of the TWIT report.
The House, however, had a different take on the plan that started with renaming it the Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Plan in a nod to favorite Kansan and father of the country’s interstate system, Dwight Eisenhower.
The House also made modifications which:
- Eliminates alternative delivery;
- Accelerates the construction of 17 unfinished projects from the current T-WORKS plan;
- Dedicates funding to railroad improvements;
- And institutes a formula establishing minimum expenditures among the state’s transportation districts.
Now that the committees have had their say, the full chambers will work their respective bills that will likely lead to a conference committee to hash out the differences.
Budget. As of this writing on Friday afternoon, the House was poised to debate the budget assembled by its Appropriations Committee. There was some thought the Senate might also act on its version of the budget today, setting up conference committee action, although that did not materialize. The Senate should act early next week thus opening the door for House and Senate negotiations to begin soon thereafter.
With the impact of coronavirus uncertain, lawmakers appear to be working quickly to address the critical issues.
Economic Development. HB 2689, the bill that extends and expands the angel investor tax credit passed the House on a strong 103-12 vote. The bill now advances to the Senate for additional consideration.
The bill that decouples the KIT and KIR workforce training programs from the high-performance incentive program (HPIP), HB 2702, passed the House on a 125-0 final action vote and moves over to the Senate for review.
Finally, work on the STAR Bonds should wrap up in the House Commerce Committee next week as they put the final touches on HB 2529. On the Senate side, the Commerce Committee will spend two days hearing testimony on their version of a STAR Bonds bill - SB 498. The bills, that differ in several ways, appear to be moving toward a conference committee where differences will be worked out.
Sales Tax. SB 396 and its companion HB 2656 were the subject of hearings on Thursday. The bill stems from a rift in Atchison County and would eliminate the current apportionment formula for countywide sales taxes and allow county governments to retain all the sales tax generated in the county. The City of Overland Park testified that passage of this bill would result in a loss of $16.3 million in general sales tax.
Another sales tax bill, HB 2727, would have instituted sales tax on barber shops, beauty salons and a host of other personal care services. The imposition of tax on these entities was intended to be an offset for adding two non-profits to the long list of exempted organizations.
The legislature has wrestled for years with the issue of tax exemptions for non-profits. As it currently stands, Kansas does not offer a blanket exemption for officially recognized 501 (c)(3) organizations. These entities must be added via legislation and as a result it seems every year organizations seek to be added to the list reigniting the longstanding debate over this policy. The future for both of those bills doesn’t appear bright but anything can happen as the session winds down.
SB 460 was heard by the Senate Commerce Committee this week. The bill seeks to reduce regulatory burdens on small businesses by increasing the thresholds that trigger annual, quarterly and monthly sales tax filing requirements. This bill is one of many this session aimed at making the state more business friendly.
Robotic Delivery. SB 435 is an interesting look at how advanced technologies might be integrated into everyday life and that is what set up the differences of opinion in the Senate Commerce Committee this week. The bill, supported by Amazon, would define personal delivery services and establish ground rules for how small, powered delivery vehicles could operate on city sidewalks and streets. Opponents raised public safety concerns with the bill that prohibits cities and counties from regulating the delivery vehicles beyond what state law would establish.
Abortion/Medicaid Expansion. The logjam caused with these two issues squaring off is still in place. However, two ideas have been floated to clear the blockade but neither seems to have much traction at the moment. Speaker Ron Ryckman suggested splitting the abortion amendment into two votes might be one way of moving the issue while Representative Don Hineman proposed moving the vote on the politically charged issue to November. For now, the deadlock continues to have repercussions on the session as it has all year.
Supreme Court. Governor Laura Kelly officially named Keynen Wall to replace Chief Justice Lawton Nuss who retired last December. Wall has ties to Overland Park and is Kelly’s second appointment to the state’s highest court.
COVID-19. Uncertainty is the order of the day, so lawmakers and the administration are taking action to ensure Kansas is as prepared as possible to respond to the health crisis. The House passed a resolution granting authority to Governor Kelly to modify the current budget and aid local units of government should those moves be necessary. The Senate is likely to address that resolution early next week.
Lawmakers are also working to grant additional authority to the judicial branch and other state leaders, so they have the flexibility to do what is necessary with minimal disruption to the day-to-day operations of the state in the coming months.
The cooperation among legislative leaders, the Governor and agency personnel is a great reminder that while politics impacts many things in Topeka, in times of need these leaders can work together quickly to ensure Kansans have the resources necessary to thrive during difficult times.
Next Week. Lawmakers will give considerable attention to the budget and work to move critical issues toward some degree of resolution. No one knows how the COVID-19 situation will impact the legislature, so leadership seems to be working proactively to address the important issues in case it becomes necessary to take drastic action.
Legislative Policy Series. Get more sleep on weekends! We're switching formats for the remainder of our Policy Series from breakfast to lunch. The third event in our series is a weekday lunch held in conjunction with the Johnson County Public Policy Council, at noon on Tuesday, April 7. Panelists will be Senators Molly Baumgardner, Barbara Bollier and John Skubal and Representatives David Benson, Tom Cox, Jarrod Ousley and Jerry Stogsdill.
At this time, this event is still scheduled as planned, but we will keep you apprised as plans for in-person events evolve.