This Week in Topeka
March 16-20, 2020
Business, Economic Development & Local Government News from the Legislative Session
It’s a wrap! The legislature raced toward first adjournment earlier than expected as the threat of COVID-19 added some incentive for lawmakers to tackle the pressing needs of the state and head home.
Committee hearings were cancelled to make way for floor debate on the budget and other bills that lawmakers felt were critical. Unfortunately, this accelerated pace meant numerous pieces of legislation were left unfinished.
Lawmakers are scheduled to return on 27 April for veto session although the adjournment resolution allows the Legislative Coordinating Council to bring lawmakers back earlier or delay their return as late as 21 May. The uncertainty of a fixed return date raised some speculation that lawmakers might not return leaving lots of legislation unfinished for the year. Any legislation not acted upon this year will die and will have to be re-introduced during the 2021 session.
Transportation. The new transportation program, now called the Eisenhower Legacy Transportation Program, was approved after several rounds of negotiations between the House and Senate. Negotiators wrestled with multiple differences with the key hang-up being alternative delivery – a process that advocates believe will save time and money and which opponents fear the process cuts out smaller contractors.
An overview of the final plan can be viewed here: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2019_20/measures/documents/ccrb_sb173_01_03182020pm.pdf
Unemployment Insurance. Originally intended to provide relief for aircraft workers in Wichita, legislation was passed that expanded benefits for the state’s unemployment insurance program as lawmakers speculated the COVID-19 situation would soon be impacting others beyond Wichita. Currently the duration of benefits is tied to the unemployment rate. With today’s record low rates recipients were facing a maximum of 16 weeks of benefits without this legislation.
The measure temporarily provides beneficiaries with a maximum of 26 weeks of benefits irrespective of the unemployment rate. Additionally, the legislation waives the one week waiting period.
On Friday the Department of Labor issued startling new unemployment numbers proving that lawmakers were correct in assuming demand for unemployment benefits would rise. This week 11,300 Kansans filed for unemployment benefits – a dramatic increase over last week’s filings of only 1,200 claims.
Budget. The legislature passed a nearly $20 billion budget although lawmakers often referred to the spending plan as a “basic budget” after opting to leave numerous items out due to economic uncertainty. Lawmakers feared the impacts of the corona virus could negatively impact revenues which led them to pare back the budget for now.
Traditionally lawmakers return in late April and use updated revenue estimates to pass an omnibus budget bill that includes other spending measures. However, some have questioned if that will happen this year.
Details on the budget can be viewed here: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2019_20/measures/documents/ccr_2020_sb66_h_3376
Economic Development. Legislation to modify and extend the STAR Bonds program was a casualty of the race to adjourn, but budget negotiators included a proviso in the budget bill granting a one-year extension of the current STAR Bonds program.
HB 2702 decouples the KIT and KIR training programs from the high-performance incentive program. It passed the House on a 125-0 vote and the Senate on an equally strong 39-0 vote, but Senators made a small change that forces the House to concur or call for a conference committee. Unfortunately, time ran short so unless lawmakers return and resolve this small difference the bill will be among the casualties of the abbreviated session.
HB 2689, the bill that extends and expands the angel investor tax credit passed the House on a strong 103-12 vote. The bill was scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee but the race to adjourn caused this hearing to be cancelled and leaving the fate of the angel investor tax credit looking dim unless lawmakers choose to deal with this upon their return.
Abortion/Medicaid Expansion. Throughout the session these two issues were pitted against one another creating a seemingly unsurmountable barrier to either issue passing. As the impact of coronavirus overtook the state, lawmakers raced to put these issues on the back burner clearing the way for passage of the budget and other key pieces of legislation. These issues remain should lawmakers return for the customary veto session.
COVID-19. As the week wore on the number of reported COVID-19 cases steadily increased. The week prior Governor Laura Kelly and her team put the initial plans in motion to prepare the state for the challenges ahead. Her moves included issuing a declaration of emergency and limiting access to the capitol complex.
The Governor and the legislature also enabled the Kansas State Board of Education and our legal system to make appropriate plans for continued operations as the situation evolves. The speed with which these actions have occurred is a very positive sign in what is often a system beset with political gridlock.
This week Governor Kelly followed up her previous actions with even more measures to help keep the situation from spiraling out of control. Her steps this week included:
- Issuing an executive order to limit public gatherings to no more than 50 individuals;
- Requesting the Kansas Corporation Commission suspend utility disconnections until 15 April;
- Recommending that all public schools close for a week while the State Board of Education made plans to address school-based challenges of fighting the public health crisis. This recommendation was later extended to close schools for the entirety of the 2019-2020 school year;
- Temporarily prohibiting evictions and foreclosures.
Her decisions were not without critics who questioned whether some of the moves were unnecessary and overreaching. As a result, Senators modified legislation by adding language restricting some of the Governor’s authority and placing various legislative checks and balances on her edicts.
Kelly wrapped up the week by announcing several new efforts to prop up Kansas businesses during this period of uncertainty. Among her efforts were:
- Applying for disaster certification triggering Small Business Administration (SBA) loan eligibility for Kansas businesses (https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/)
- Allocating $5 million in funding to establish the Hospitality Relief Emergency (HIRE) Fund providing short-term, zero-interest loans (https://www.kansascommerce.gov/covid-19-response/hospitality-industry-relief-emergency-hire-fund/);
Resources for COVID-19.
In addition to the links provided throughout this report here are links to additional resources specific to COVID-19:
- Overland Park Chamber of Commerce: https://www.opchamber.org/community/overland-park-coronavirus-resources/
- City of Overland Park: https://www.opkansas.org/about-overland-park/newsroom/coronavirus/
- Johnson County Government: https://www.jocogov.org/coronavirus-covid-19-update
- Kansas Department of Commerce: https://www.kansascommerce.gov/covid-19-response/
- Kansas Department of Health and Environment: https://govstatus.egov.com/coronavirus
- Kansas Department of Labor: https://www.dol.ks.gov/covid19response
Legislative Policy Series. Following the guidance of public health officials, the Tuesday, 7 April legislative update luncheon has been cancelled. At this time, we are uncertain if we will reschedule this event. Similarly, we are in a holding pattern for the Thursday, 14 May event as well.
We will continue to be guided by directives from our public health officials and will see how the next couple of weeks play out before making a final decision on cancelling vs rescheduling these events.