This Week in Topeka
January 31-February 4, 2022
Business, Economic Development & Local Government News from the Legislative Session
What started out as a normal week in Topeka ended rather hurriedly as a looming mid-week snowstorm led to most legislative activities for the week being shuffled around or canceled altogether. Next week several key legislative deadlines are on the calendar. Monday, February 7 is the last day for individual lawmaker bill introductions and Friday, February 11 is the last day for committee bill introductions.
Citing a lack of adherence to established guidelines for drawing legislative maps, Governor Laura Kelly on Thursday vetoed SB 355 which is the bill form of the map known commonly as Ad Astra 2. The move sends the bill back to the legislature where leaders will have to determine if they want to attempt a veto override.
Both chambers passed the bill earlier this session with healthy margins but not by veto-proof majorities. Despite that, there is some thought that a veto override is possible. Should an override attempt prove successful, it is still expected the map will face a legal challenge.
For a detailed look at the Ad Astra 2 map, click here.
Lawmakers continue to work toward creating a new powerful economic development tool to help seal the deal on “mega” economic development projects that the state’s Department of Commerce is pursuing. Commerce officials have testified that Kansas has lost out on eleven such projects over the past few years because we don’t have an economic development tool that make us competitive with other states for projects of this magnitude.
Reports from the Department of Commerce that Kansas is a finalist for landing a “mega” project has prompted the swift action on SB 347, legislation that supporters believe will leave Kansas as the victor for a transformational economic development project. While details on the project are confidential, the Department of Commerce has said that the project will result in 4,000 permanent jobs and $4 billion in investment in our state.
Members of the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee have devoted significant time this week to make changes that they believe will trim some of the incentives and provide for more oversight to protect the state. Lawmakers and officials from the Department of Commerce continue to wrangle over the details of the legislation while working toward an agreed-upon solution that is still attractive to the potential project.
Based on timelines for the mystery project, it is expected that lawmakers will need to wrap up their work on the bill early next week.
Numerous bills have been introduced this session addressing education, but none seem to have captured the attention of the education community more than HB 2550 and HB 2553.
HB 2550 allows for the creation of educational savings accounts for students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals or if they are identified as eligible to receive at-risk educational programs. Each year an amount equal to the BASE aid (or portion thereof if part-time) will be transferred to the participating student’s Student Empowerment Account. Funds in these accounts can be used to support a student’s enrollment in a qualified private school. On Tuesday, the bill was the subject of a hearing before the House Committee on K-12 Education Budget. The bill is similar to HB 2119 was passed by the House in the 2021 session.
HB 2553 was also the subject of a hearing before the House Committee on K-12 Budget on Tuesday. This bill would allow open transfer of students between school districts at any time during the year to any district within the state.
School districts would have to annually determine the number of students in each grade level that they would have the capacity to accept. Once the number is established, students could transfer into the district on a first-come, first-served basis until the capacity limit was reached. The legislation does carve out limited exceptions including high absenteeism and repeated suspensions or expulsions by a prospective student. Beyond those limited exceptions the transfers are largely automatic.
BASE aid would travel with the student if the transfer occurred before the state’s mid-September official head count day, but local assessments like local option budget revenue (LOB) would not. School districts could not assess additional fees on the transfer students beyond what they charge for resident students. Area districts cited major concerns with determining capacity limits and the costs associated with serving special education students among the factors in their opposition.
Johnson County continues to see strong economic development growth and with that comes families establishing residency in area school districts. The districts argued that this persistent growth presents challenges in determining how many non-residents students they could adequately accept throughout the year.
Further, the districts report almost daily interest from parents seeking to enroll their special education students in area districts. The districts argued that they are only reimbursed approximately 65% for the total cost of education special education students and without limits on inbound, non-resident students, the costs could quickly surpass available resources.
Proponents argued that students should not be tethered to schools simply because of a ZIP code and that the open transfer process makes school transfers an option for all students rather than a select few.
Walmart and a high-tech partner, Gatik, made a push for approval of SB 379. The bill would prevent cities and counties from enacting ordinances restricting how autonomous vehicles could be operated in their jurisdictions.
Walmart representatives told lawmakers that their goal was to support the supply chain by using autonomous vehicles to help overcome driver shortages and other challenges creating backlogs in the nation’s supply chain. They shared examples of how similar legislation in Arkansas and Louisiana is allowing safe operation of these driverless delivery vehicles on fixed, pre-determined routes. Lawmakers have considered other versions of legislation addressing autonomous vehicles and concerns are often raised about safety and what level of control cities and counties should have within their boundaries.
The House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee will consider amendments to SB 347 with anticipation that they will pass out an amended bill for consideration by the full House early in the week.
Lawmakers in the House Judiciary Committee will consider HB 2575, a bill that would provide for the automatic expungement of criminal records stemming from legal action on largely minor crimes. This bill and several others are aimed at making it easier for those with low-level offenses to have them stricken from their record to assist in gaining housing and employment with fewer obstacles.
The Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee will take up HB 2316 which eliminates the prohibition of assessing a surcharge when purchases are made with a credit or debit card.
The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee will consider SB 375, SB 376 and SB 369 – three bills that contemplate tax credits and other tools to support affordable housing.
Kevin Walker, IOM
Senior Vice President of Public Policy
(913) 766-7602 | (913) 526-6855