2021 Session Begins
Dear Friends,

Monday, January 11th marked the beginning of the 2021 legislative session. It is an honor to begin my first full term as your State Senator, and to have joined my other 39 colleagues in taking the oath of office. While things are certainly different this session due to COVID-19 protocols, I am pleased to see that the business of the people will continue. 

Even though access to the State Capitol is restricted, you can still follow along very closely online. In fact, going forward in every newsletter, I will make sure to provide links on how to follow us in Topeka. They are as follows:

YouTube Streaming: http://bit.ly/2CZj9O0

You can follow most every committee via audio and increasingly, by video as well. Every session on the floor is also on video via the YouTube channel.

The first week of session is usually uneventful, marked by the pomp and circumstance of legislators being inaugurated, as well as the annual State of the State address by the governor. That was not the case this year, as the governor’s address was done virtually, and we immediately went to work on policy, as well. Here is what I will be updating you on in this newsletter:

  • The Basics: My Office, Committees, Etc.
  • New Leadership
  • State of the State & Republican Response
  • Kansas Emergency Management Act
  • Truth in Taxation
  • Value Them Both Hearing

Please feel free to respond with any concerns or questions you have, by replying to this e-mail.
The Basics
First of all, I am pleased to report that I was appointed by the Senate President to serve as Chair of the Senate Utilities Committee. We are looking at ways to lower your utility bills and ensure energy policy in Kansas makes sense from an economic and environmental standpoint. 

In addition to the Utilities Committee, I am also serving on the following committees:

  • Public Health & Welfare
  • Local Government
  • Transparency & Ethics
  • Judiciary
  • Legislative Post Audit

My office moved across the hall from where I was last year and is now located in Room 225-E. My Topeka contact information is as follows:

Phone: 785-296-7362

In other news, I was also elected to serve on the board of the Kansas Truth Caucus, which is an organization of center-right legislators in both the Kansas House and Senate who work to champion conservative principles.  
New Leadership
The inauguration of new legislators on January 11th brought entirely new Republican leadership to the Kansas Senate. On the Senate side, we have an impressive conservative team leading the way. Ty Masterson was elected as Senate President, Rick Wilborn as Vice President, Gene Suellentrop as Majority Leader, Larry Alley as Assistant Majority Leader, and Richard Hilderbrand as Majority Whip. I expect to see good things from this leadership team!

I will also note that Dinah Sykes, a Democrat from Johnson County, is now the Minority Leader, taking over for Anthony Hensley, who lost re-election.
State of the State / Republican Response
On Tuesday, January 12th, Governor Kelly delivered her State of the State Address virtually. Typically, this speech is delivered in front of a joint session of the legislature, but concerns about COVID-19 led the governor to deliver the remarks via video. You can access her address by clicking here.

Senate President Masterson delivered the Republican Response. Due to the nature of the recording being done ahead of time, his remarks were also in the form of providing the Republican vision, rather than a “response.” You can view his remarks by clicking here

I echo much of what Senator Masterson said – we simply must trust the people of Kansas rather than the heavy hand of government. As we proceed through the session, you will see this “Kansans First” approach in much of what we do.
Kansas Emergency Management Act
One of the more timely issues we must tackle early in the session is the Kansas Emergency Management Act. You might recall that last June, in the Special Session, we adopted legislation (HB 2016), that while extending the declaration of emergency, placed many important limitations and checks and balances upon Gov. Kelly's power. Those provisions are currently all set to expire on January 26th.

The bill that was before us last week, SB 14, temporarily extended those provisions until March 31st of this year in order to provide the legislature sufficient time to take a ‘deeper dive’ into the various machinations of the law, which can be quite cumbersome and deserve time and thought. As a member of the Judiciary Committee and the Public Health & Welfare Committee, I will be taking part in those discussions.

Here are the key aspects of the legislation:

  • The bill would amend the statute ratifying and continuing the COVID-19-related state of disaster emergency declared by the Governor on March 12, 2020, to reflect the September 15, 2020, ratification and continuation of the state of disaster emergency by 2020 Special Session HB 2016 and subsequent extensions and continuations by the State Finance Council and would ratify and continue in existence the state of disaster emergency until March 31, 2021. The bill also would amend this statute to extend from 2020 through 2021 a provision prohibiting the Governor from proclaiming any new state of disaster emergency related to the COVID-19 health emergency without approval by at least six legislative members of the State Finance Council.

  • The bill extends the expiration date for several provisions to March 31st, including:
  • Removal of alcohol from premises of a licensed club or drinking establishment (Section 1)
  • Provisions governing declaration of a state of disaster emergency, including when the legislature is not in session and applications to the State Finance Council; the bill includes permitting this procedure when the legislature is adjourned during session for more than three days. (Section 2)
  • Provisions regarding the powers of the Governor and boards of county commissioners enacted in 2020 Special Session HB 2016 (Section 4)
  • Telemedicine (Section 7)
  • Temporary emergency licensure by the State Board of Healing Arts (Section 8);
  • Temporary licensure measures for additional health care providers (Section 9);
  • Business immunity from liability for a COVID-19 claim (Section 10).

  • The bill would amend the KEMA statute limiting the Governor’s ability to issue an order that substantially burdens or inhibits the gathering or movement of individuals or operation of any religious, civic business or commercial activity, whether for-profit or not-for-profit. This is a significantly stronger position than the original HB 2016 language, which allowed the governor to close businesses for up to 15 days before requiring approval from six members of the State Finance Council.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard SB 14 this last week, and it was debated on the floor on Thursday afternoon. It was adopted in broad bi-partisan fashion by a vote of 34-1-1. 

I voted Yes, both in committee and in Final Action. SB 14 is a very good legislation that preserves and actually strengthens the limitations we put in place last June, and that’s why I voted for it. I would prefer to see the entire declaration of emergency come to an end, as I believe we must always trust the people of Kansas to do what is best for themselves, their families and their businesses.

The House is working on a similar bill but it has different dates. When it passes the House, differences between it and SB 14 will have to be worked out. With the deadline of January 26th approaching in just a week, I expect we will move very quickly.
Truth in Taxation
Those of you who have followed my work in Topeka since last session know that a key priority of mine has been property tax reform. It was a key issue in the campaign and one that must receive attention by the legislature. This is why I was so pleased to see that Senate leadership and Cary Tyson, who chairs the Tax Committee in the Senate, move so rapidly to pass SB 13, which contains key provisions and reforms. These items were all passed last year but were vetoed by the governor, and due to circumstances with the calendar, we did not get the chance to override her veto. 

Here is what SB 13 contains:

  • Transparency. The bill would establish new notification and public hearing requirements for taxing subdivisions seeking to increase property taxes above those provided for by their “revenue-neutral rate.” A taxing subdivision would be prohibited from levying taxes exceeding its revenue-neutral rate without first approving a resolution or ordinance in accordance with the procedure provided by the bill. It requires county clerks to notify the public about the intent to exceed the “revenue-neutral rate” via publishing such notification on their website as well as via a mailing to each taxpayer impacted. The public hearing would have to be held by September 10th. The governing body of the taxing district would have to vote to exceed the revenue neutral rate by a majority vote. Those entities not complying would be required to refund the property taxes.

  • Regular Maintenance of Property. The bill would prohibit an increase in the appraised value of real property solely as a result of normal repair, replacement, or maintenance of existing structures, equipment, or other improvements on the property. 

  • Payment Plans. The bill would authorize county treasurers to accept partial payments and establish payment plans for all property taxes. Current law allows treasurers to accept partial payments for delinquent property taxes.

  • Finally, it eliminates the property tax lid, which currently requires a public vote for certain property tax increases by cities and counties. The process of navigating the property tax lid could be cumbersome for local governments. Most importantly, for taxpayers, because there were ways to navigate around its limits, it often resulted in no practical benefit to the taxpayer, resulting in a “faux” limit that was really not a cap at all. The process included within SB 13 greatly enhances the ability of Kansas taxpayers to understand what their local government is doing and then object. By requiring local officials to vote to exceed a revenue neutral rate, taxpayers can hold local officials accountable.

I would have preferred to keep the property tax lid in place. I believe it could have been improved in a way to make it harder for local governments to get around it.

That said, when taken as a whole, SB 13 represents a dramatic improvement over where we are now in Kansas. The step of requiring our local government officials to both notify the public and take a vote to raise taxes (when relying on the valuation increases) is an important step towards giving the people of Kansas the ability to hold their elected officials accountable. 

The bill passed 34-1-1 and I voted Yes. 
Value Them Both
On Tuesday morning, a number of Kansas legislators and pro-life leaders held a press conference on the south steps of the State Capitol announcing introduction of the Value Them Both Amendment. The Value Them Both Amendment is necessary due to the April 26, 2019 decision by the Kansas Supreme Court finding an unlimited right to abortion in the1859 Kansas Constitution. This finding can be reversed by amending the state constitution via the Value Them Both Amendment.
Because of the Kansas Supreme Court’s April 26, 2019 ruling, existing bans on late-term and taxpayer-funded abortions are now in danger of being rendered unenforceable. Furthermore, the ruling allows violent live dismemberment abortions to continue and threatens these lifesaving limits:

  • Parental consent for minors seeking abortion
  • Informed consent, alerting women to potential health risks
  • 24-hour waiting period
  • Abortion clinic sanitation and safety standards
To amend the constitution, both the Kansas House and Senate must adopt a constitutional amendment with a 2/3 supermajority, which then sends it to the ballot for approval by the people of Kansas. The Value Them Both Amendment would put it on the ballot in August of 2022.

In 2020, the Value Them Both Amendment passed the Kansas Senate but was just short in the Kansas House. In both the primary and general elections of 2020, the people of Kansans made it clear that they supported Value Them Both and want the opportunity to vote on it next August.

The Value Them Both Amendment was introduced in both houses. You can read the House version by clicking here and the Senate version by clicking here – they are identical. Last Friday, the House Federal & State Affairs Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee each held hearings on their respective amendments. They are expected to pass them out for floor action next week.

For extensive information about the Value Them Both Amendment, please visit the website for Kansans for Life at www.kfl.org.  
Forecasting the Future

Due to the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, we have a short week ahead of us but it will also be a busy week. I expect we will continue to work on KEMA and Value Them Both. In addition, the Judiciary Committee will be holding hearings and votes on two nominees for the Kansas Court of Appeals, which also have a deadline associated with them. I look forward to updating you on these items, as well as some of the work we are doing in the Utilities Committee.

In closing, please reach out to me with any questions or ideas you have! I always enjoy hearing from constituents and encourage you to follow our actions closely in the weeks ahead.

Your Senator,

Mike Thompson