Kansas Legislature races to finalize budget, tax cuts, parental rights, trans ban

TOPEKA — Kansas lawmakers worked Friday to finalize last-minute deals on the state budget, tax cuts, a parental rights bill, a ban on transgender athletes and a host of other legislation before adjourning for a three-week hiatus.

The rush to the finish line — complicated by revelations about an ethics investigation and allegations of “pay-to-play policies” — included an attempt to overthrow the state ethics commissioner and extend Medicaid contracts. Friday was the last scheduled day of regular session, and lawmakers planned to work after midnight.

Lawmakers were still working late Friday to finalize deals on sports betting and a cut in the state sales tax on groceries.

Republicans agreed on an abbreviated version of a Bill of Rights that guarantees parents of children in public schools can inspect classroom materials and refuse their children any material that interferes with a parent’s values. The legislation also allows parents to appeal any book in a school’s library and have it removed from the school.

“Our children do not belong to the state, educators, teachers’ unions, or the village,” said Rep. Patrick Penn, R-Wichita. “Our children belong to their parents”

House Democrats engaged Republicans in a heated debate over a law banning transgender athletes from participating in school sports. At one point, Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park, showed up to challenge the men in the chamber to a fight.

“A previous speaker suggested that men are physically stronger than women,” Clayton said. “Any man who believes that is welcome to meet me outside as soon as we have our next break and I will prove you wrong.”

The model law was promoted by religious groups across the country and struck down as unconstitutional by federal courts. Governor Laura Kelly vetoed the same proposal a year ago.

“Stop trying to close kids so much that they’re afraid to tell the rest of the world who they are,” said Rep. Brandon Woodard, a Lenexa Democrat and member of the LGBTQ community.

Democrats also raised concerns about subpoenas issued by the ethics committee, as Republicans sought a rule change that would require the ethics commissioner to be a licensed attorney, effectively barring current Executive Director Mark Skoglund from continuing any investigation.

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, said he was concerned by the “stink” of the pay-to-play policy, evident in the subpoenas and an attempt by Republicans to offer no-bid contract extensions to managed care organizations .

“We don’t want to live in this Capitol or in this state under the power of pay-to-play policies,” Carmichael said.

Lawmakers reached a bipartisan agreement on a spending plan that includes a 5% increase for government employees and preserves a $895 million surplus, and they made progress on legislation to legalize in-person and online sports betting.

Republicans planned to devise a plan, without support from Democrats, to phase out the state’s 6.5% sales tax on groceries, instead of eliminating it outright as the Democratic governor has proposed. Republicans have questioned whether the state could afford the $402 million cut in annual government revenues after it passed a massive tax stimulus package for a mysterious corporate project and planned to pour more than $1 billion into the state pension system.

Kelly announced that state tax receipts for March exceeded estimates by $80.2 million.

“Because of the state food sales tax and pandemic-related inflation, Kansans continue to pay some of the highest food prices in the country,” Kelly said. “These census numbers demonstrate the possibility of eliminating the grocery tax and eliminating the state sales tax on groceries on July 1, bringing immediate relief to all Kansans.”

A separate tax bill, which bundles 29 laws into one, provides tax breaks for property damaged by wildfires, teachers who buy school supplies, workers who relocate to rural areas of the state, and short-distance rail infrastructure. The overall package is expected to reduce government revenue by $90.9 million to $119.6 million annually over the next three years.

Lawmakers sent legislation to the governor granting broad legal immunities to medical providers, as well as bills addressing the privacy of charitable supporters, drunk flying and child abuse.

They also voted to place a proposed constitutional amendment that would require counties to elect a sheriff in the November general election. The proposal comes in response to talks in Johnson County about a possible move to a commission-appointed sheriff.

House and Senate negotiators also reached agreement on legislation designating the Sandhill plum as an official state fruit and another bill banning the use of meat terms on plant-based food labels.

Meanwhile, Kelly signed a dozen bills that passed earlier in the session. These include legislation authorizing a memorial to Kansas Gold Star families on the Statehouse grounds.

Comments are closed.