The 2020 Legislative Session began on Jan. 13. Both chambers kicked off the session with speeches by their leadership and the couple of new members to the legislature were seated by Tuesday. Each year, all Kansas legislators receive the Wichita Regional Chamber’s Legislative Agenda. The agenda is developed by the Chamber’s Government Relations Committee after input from Chamber members. It is then approved by the Chamber’s Board of Directors. The Chamber’s primary government relations goal is to create a better business environment for your company or organization by promoting investment, innovation and job creation. This blog post forecasts important issues that will play major roles in this year's legislative session.
For the first time in decades, a legislative session will be conducted neither under the threat of school finance litigation nor in the throes of an actual K-12 lawsuit. However, the legislature and the court’s relationship is no closer to healing. A handful of judges are suing the state for more money for judicial branch salaries, and pro-life legislators are furious over a ruling related to abortion from last summer. Several legislators are pushing for constitutional amendments regarding abortion and how Supreme Court Justices are selected.
Supporters of KanCare (Medicaid) expansion are likely close to seeing their wishes come to fruition. The Senate Majority Leader and Governor Kelly reached an agreement on bill language, which was introduced and is scheduled for four days of hearings in the Senate beginning this week. While their agreement is viewed by advocates as a significant step forward, the expansion debate will take a great deal of focus and time.
Last session, the legislature authorized a study of electric rates and policy impacting electric rates. A large and well-organized group of industrial users wants action to curb the pace of rate increases in Kansas. The first phase of the study is complete, and legislators will learn more about the findings in February. The Governor also announced plans in October for a state energy plan and more on that is expected soon as well.
Governor Kelly and some industry groups are anxious to authorize and fund a new comprehensive transportation program. Bills were introduced last year primarily related to the funding of the program but only made incremental progress. Look for a renewed push to enact a comprehensive program this year (dubbed “FORWARD” by Kansas Department of Transportation), with additional conversations about how to fund the plan.
Mental and Behavioral Health
This is an issue that virtually everyone realizes must be addressed. Businesses, local governments, police chiefs, and county sheriffs, along with those working in the health professions, seem united in their desire to move the state beyond the budget cuts made to mental health services and toward solutions. It’s the proverbial penny-wise, pound-foolish analogy. It’s going to cost money to correctly and adequately address this issue that impacts every sector and region. Proponents point out the cost of sticking with the status quo is much higher than the necessary state appropriations needed. Conversations are anticipated this session on the state hospitals, regionalization opportunities, and funding for community mental health and crisis centers.
Republicans are set to make another run at addressing increased state income taxes on some Kansans as a result of the federal Tax Cut and Jobs Act. Governor Kelly twice vetoed tax reform legislation last session that would have decoupled state tax returns from federal tax returns. For her part, Kelly wants tax legislation related to online purchases, taxes on digital property (e.g. smartphone apps and video/music streaming), and sales tax refunds for the economically disadvantaged. Finding common ground between the governor and the majority of the legislature may prove challenging.
The labor market across the state remains tight, with more job openings than job seekers. While the Boeing 737 MAX software issues and the resulting layoffs in the supply chain negatively impact the state and the South Central Kansas region, there are still good jobs available for workers that find themselves seeking new employment. Several pieces of workforce legislation are expected to garner discussion this session, including the aviation jobs tax credit legislation that received 106 votes in the Kansas House of Representatives last session. Additional workforce topics to be considered include liability issues for high school apprenticeships, occupational licensing reciprocity for attracting workers from other states, and job training incentive programs.
Economic development will be a hot topic under the dome, starting with an extension of the sometimes-controversial STAR (Sales Tax Revenue) Bonds program and a deeper look at the Rural Opportunity Zones (ROZ) program. The ROZ program allows people who move to ROZ counties to receive a temporary income tax break and possibly student loan forgiveness. It has already come under fire from Secretary David Toland of the Kansas Department of Commerce, who deemed it an ineffective way to grow rural Kansas counties. Finally, the first report from the Kansas Department of Commerce’s new comprehensive strategy for economic growth, called the Framework for Growth, is expected to be released in the near future as well. The final report, to be released later in 2020, will include information on economic development incentive programs and a plan for how to grow the state and its various industry sectors.
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