Mike Thompson's Legislative Report & Forecast
Dear Friends,

Greetings from Shawnee, where it is nice to be home! I am writing you at the tail end of a 5-day break that in legislative terminology is known as "Turnaround." What that means is that it is essentially the midpoint of the session. It is also the deadline by which most bills that originate out of one chamber must be adopted in order to be considered by the other chamber. There are a few exceptions to that which I will address later in the newsletter.
As a result of that deadline, both the House and Senate were busy last week debating a large stack of bills. On the Senate side, that included the very interesting topic of sports betting, which I discuss in some detail below, as well as some exciting developments in the area of property tax reform; a subject I know is important to many of you.
Of course, the subjects of the Value Them Both Amendment and Medicaid Expansion continue to loom large over the session, and I have an update for you on that, as well.
Thank you, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Mike Thompson
Medicaid Expansion Bill Amended, Remains in Committee
If you have been following Medicaid Expansion in the media, you may have read some comments that indicate that those who crafted SB 252 feel that it should not have been touched in committee, as if it deserved some special consideration because of who crafted the bill.
I disagree with this notion, and I am pleased to report that the majority of the Public Health & Welfare Committee, on which I sit, felt the same. The legislative process is important, and whether one is ultimately going to vote for or against a particular bill, is often determined in the committee process where a bill can be modified and improved so that it's better for Kansas.
That is the case here. The week before last, the Senate Public Health & Welfare Committee amended SB 252, creating the so-called Medicaid Expansion "compromise" bill. I strongly supported the amendments to ensure that if Medicaid Expansion does make it through the legislative process it will not be as damaging as the original bill. However, I still believe Medicaid Expansion remains an unwise course of action for Kansas. Here are the amendments made to Senate Bill 252:

  • Ensuring that it does not take effect unless the Value Them Both Amendment is adopted by the people of Kansas. The Hodes decision, as we have seen with similar rulings in other states, will lead directly to the taxpayer funding of abortions. As such, expanding Medicaid would increase the number of abortions in Kansas. If adopted, the Value Them Both Amendment would preserve the laws prohibiting the taxpayer funding of abortion.
  • Ensuring it does not take effect until the United States Supreme Court decides that ObamaCare is constitutional. If ObamaCare were declared unconstitutional, there is a distinct possibility that Kansas would have to pick up the entire tab of insuring the able-bodied adults who would be covered under expanded Medicaid. This scenario would be devastating to taxpayers.
  • Participation (Work) Requirements. Requires the beneficiary to "participate" to receive benefits by working 20 hours per week, participating in a work program, attending a post-secondary institution at least part-time or volunteering 20 hours per week.
  • Conscience protection. Protects the religious liberty of healthcare providers so they do not have to participate in, or provide, any healthcare services that violate the providers’ conscience.
  • Pro-life Protection. Creates a State “Hyde Amendment” that prohibits the use of state taxpayer dollars for abortion except in circumstances in which pregnancy resulted from rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. However, if Value Them Both is not adopted, this section would not be enforceable. 

The bill has not yet passed out of committee, and there is the possibility of more amendments in the future. Some proponents of Medicaid Expansion attacked the amendments as poison pills, despite the fact they put the state in a much more responsible position if it were to pass. While I disagree strongly with Medicaid Expansion, it is still a wise course of action to make amendments, such as the ones listed above, to ensure that if it were passed into law, it would be far less dangerous to the Kansas economy. Personally, I hope Medicaid Expansion is never considered as a viable option, and will vote “no” on any attempt to move it forward.
This week, the decision to pause seems to have been vindicated, as the United States Supreme Court has agreed to decide the constitutionality of ObamaCare in a case that's currently pending before the federal courts. Given that Medicaid Expansion exists solely due to ObamaCare, it is simply good public policy to wait until the federal courts make a ruling, as that decision will have a profound effect on what we must do here in Kansas. It is the fiscally responsible thing to do.
I want to point to a couple of important resources relative to this issue:
The top piece talks about the issue of Medicaid Expansion with health care expert Beverly Gossage, one of the foremost authorities on health care policy in the country. The second piece discusses the link between Medicaid Expansion and the Value Them Both Amendment. It's a link to powerful testimony from Elizabeth Kirk and Paul Linton before our committee. I encourage you to read both!
Sports Betting
As you may be aware, in 2018, the United States Supreme Court overturned a federal ban on sports wagering that applied to all but four states. Since then, states have been rushing to pass laws legalizing sports wagering, with many such laws passing in 2019. Among our neighbors, Iowa passed such a bill and one can wager both in person and via mobile devices in the Hawkeye State. Colorado also legalized it. Kansas, however, did not take any action last year.
This year, that changed, and this week the Kansas Senate debated a measure to legalize sports wagering. This particular bill, SB 283, would run sports wagering through the state-owned casinos, which were legalized in 2007. In Kansas, the issue is rather complex because of that very reason. Any expansion of gambling (as this clearly would be) must be run through the lottery or the casinos, which are also actually a function of the lottery. There are also other complicating factors, such as the lottery's wish to sell traditional lottery tickets via a mobile device, otherwise known as the "i-Lottery."
I encourage you to read the entire supplemental note of the bill . This alone demonstrates the complexity of gaming in Kansas.
The bill did pass the Senate by a vote of 23-15. I did vote Yes, but I concede it was a very difficult vote. I am open to the notion of sports gaming, as I believe all else being equal, it is not something I would prevent citizens from doing. That is why I voted Yes.
On the other hand, there are elements of the structure we currently have in Kansas, the state-owned casinos being first and foremost, that do give me great pause and I will continue to do analysis and study about whether the ultimate proposal we vote on is good public policy. Because no two states have implemented sports wagering exactly the same way, and only a few states have had it legalized for any length of time, it is very difficult to study the long-term impact of legalized sports wagering on the economy, on state budgets, and on the culture.
Some may be asking why we even have to use the casinos or the lottery in the first place. To move towards a true free market system, where sports gaming could exist separate from the casinos or the lottery, most believe a constitutional amendment would be required.
Reforming Property Taxes
In my last newsletter, I talked about the issue of property taxes and how I joined onto two pieces of legislation reforming property taxes in Kansas.
As I noted then, there has long been a "truth gap" regarding property taxation at the local level. Despite local governments saying they have kept the mill levy the same, it is apparent there is a significant hike in our property tax when we look at our tax bills.
The reason for this tax increase, which is not voted on by any elected official, is due to significant increases from appraisals (valuations) which we receive on our property. These increases can be even higher if we simply perform routine maintenance on our homes.
This has gotten out of hand and has made home ownership an increasingly expensive proposition. Meanwhile, our local governments receive a windfall every year, without ever having taken a vote on the actual property tax increase.
As a result, there are two bills (among many) that passed this week:
  • SB 294, otherwise known as the "Truth in Taxation" bill. This bill would require city and county elected officials to vote on the entire property tax increase in their budgets each year.  Once a city or county gets new valuation totals, a ‘Certified Rate’ is calculated to produce the same property tax revenue as the prior year based on the new valuations. Any increase in the certified tax rate would then need to be voted on by ordinance or resolution, with requirements for public hearings. Notices would be required to be mailed to every taxpayer in the taxing district 10 days prior to the hearing.
  • SB 295. SB 295 would prevent the county appraiser from increasing the valuation of property solely as a result of normal repair, replacement, or maintenance of existing structures, equipment, and improvements on the property. The bill indicates that normal repair, replacement, or maintenance does not include new construction.
Both of these bills passed unanimously. There were attempts to water down SB 294, but that failed. I will note that SB 294 does repeal the current property tax lid, which does concern me some, however, that has proven ineffective in recent years as cities used the exemptions to get around it.
In addition to these two bills, the following bills were adopted which also relate to property taxes:
SB 272 . This bill prohibits county appraisers and the state board of tax appeals (BOTA) from increasing the valuation of county appraised property during valuation appeals.
SB 266 . This bill requires appraisal courses for county appraisers and BOTA members to be approved by the Kansas real estate appraisal board.
SB 265 . This bill requires the state board of tax appeals to serve orders and notices by electronic means if requested by the party.
SB 297 . This bill requires appraisal directives to require compliance with uniform standards of professional appraisal practice in the performance of property tax appraisals.
SB 262 . This bill expands the time to request a full Board of Tax Appeals opinion to 21 days from the date mailed by BOTA.
All of these bills were adopted and I voted Yes on each of them.
Too Much Government
Last week, those of you follow me on Facebook may have noted my post regarding the large number of bills we were working on, and I noted that perhaps there were too many. While most of the bills passed unanimously or with little opposition, there were a handful that I voted against, and I want to provide some context as to why.
As a Senator, I feel it is my responsibility to not only examine the bills that make the headlines, but also each bill that comes across my desk for a vote . No matter the topic, I am going to apply the principle of limited government to my decision on whether to vote for or against a bill.
Last week, a number of bills came before us that I felt didn't measure up to that very simple test. Most of these bills were backed by special interest groups, or a government agency, and were certainly crafted with good intentions. And, as is often the case, most of them passed with large majorities. But the path to destruction is paved with good intentions.
I was concerned about the trend I was seeing. Whether it is the expansion of licensing requirements, a lack of accountability in an expenditure, increasing fees, or creating some convoluted government structure to accomplish something…they all fell under the category of "too much government". So I voted No. In each case, I understood the purpose, but disagreed with the solution.
One example of such a bill was SB 402, which amends provisions governing agent licensing and renewal licensure requirements in the Uniform Agents Licensing Act and in the Public Adjusters Licensing Act. It sounds innocuous, but if you read the contents, it added layers of requirements that I felt increased the size and scope of government. The supplemental note, which you can read here , explains the various ways this is done. In the end, the bill passed with six votes in opposition, and I was one of them.
Another example was SB 345, which would require the Kansas Department of Agriculture (KDA), in coordination with state or local law enforcement, to develop a plan for the effective disposal of industrial hemp. Again, it doesn't sound bad on the surface, but the bill established an array of government requirements and procedures that I was not convinced were necessary, just for the purpose of disposing of something. You can read about all those in the supplemental note or the bill itself . This bill passed 37-3, and I voted No.
There were other examples as well, and I'm happy to answer questions about any bill I voted on. I'm happy to stand for limited government.
Forecasting the Future
As I noted at the outset of this newsletter, we have reached the "Turnaround" point, which is when most bills must be passed out of one chamber to be considered in the other. Therefore, in March, we will largely be turning our attention to House-passed items.
However, there are exceptions. Leadership in either chamber can "bless" a bill by referring it, even for an instant, to one of a handful of exempt committees, which allows it to stay alive beyond the typical deadline.
As of right now, the legislative calendar states we should be done with the regular session in about a month. However, with the big issues (budget, Medicaid Expansion, life) yet to be settled, there is always the possibility that things could adjust. As always, I will keep you informed on my Facebook page .
You can view my legislative portal by clicking here . There you can find my committee times, bills I'm sponsoring, and how to contact me at my Topeka office.
See you soon,

Mike Thompson