Power limits, Bills and Devastating Incompetence
Dear Friends,

We are now seven weeks into the legislative session and just finished processing most of the Senate bills through the various committees.  The Senate has actually done quite a bit of heavy lifting already, passing some major items our first few weeks, as you may have read in my past newsletters.

However, we still have some important work to be done. March 5th, next Friday, is the first critical deadline this year, as it represents when most Senate bills must be adopted in order to be considered by the House. We anticipate around 40 bills being debated before we head home for a brief break before returning for the second part of the session. 

This newsletter will cover:

  • Kansas Emergency Management Act, Part 2
  • Bills I Am Working On
  • Department of Labor Fiasco
  • Vote Tracker

There are, of course, other issues brewing behind the scenes and some of them may be up for a vote next week. I will have a complete rundown of our votes next weekend, including how I voted on each item.

With that in mind, here is this week’s report:
Kansas Emergency Management Act
& Getting Back to Normal
Our major effort right now is updating our Kansas Emergency Management Act statutes and specifically how they relate to public health situations like we are currently in. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, I am highly involved in this area.

You might recall that in January, we adopted SB 14, which extended the limitations on the governor’s power that we passed last June. It also extended the declaration of emergency until March 31st. While I would have preferred to just have the emergency declaration end, I voted for the bill as the intention was to give us more time to take a deeper look at all of the KEMA statues as they apply to public health situations like COVID-19.

This week, we spent several hours in Judiciary Committee working through a bill that will address many long term changes to our laws, with a focus on both ensuring there is a system of checks and balances in place for any decision made, as well as ensuring every citizen has due process rights when their freedom is restricted by the actions of government. The bill we considered, SB 273, was passed out on Thursday evening and will be up for debate on Monday. 

When we worked the bill, I carried several amendments. Two of of the most critical were as follows:

  • Preventing the governor from declaring any business as not essential – this is necessary due to the incredibly confusing and unfair “Essential Functions Framework” the governor used last spring.
  • Preventing the governor from limiting access to medical procedures. The latter amendment was due to many people not being able to receive critical surgeries during the restrictions, which resulted in a health crisis of its own.

I will note the current bill does NOT include an extension of the emergency declaration. That would mean that all of the executive orders under it would end on March 31st.

Finally, I do want to mention that much of the onus in this debate must be on local officials.

Last June, we gave counties the ability to opt out of any executive order that was restrictive in nature. So, for instance, many counties have opted to not have a mask mandate – including some who adopted one but then rescinded it later.

However, many counties – including Johnson County – do have restrictions and mandates in place, and some businesses wrongfully post that it is due to a statewide order. That is incorrect – the local county could opt out of it at any time.

In addition, even in some of the counties which voted to exempt themselves from the mandates, individual cities have opted to pass ordinances which impose restrictions and mandates. 

So, even within current law, the ability exists to “get back to normal. I would encourage you to write your local elected official and encourage them to end the mandates and restrictions. As more do so, the pressure will be on others to follow, and the end result will be normalcy.
Legislation I'm Working On
I am working on a number of bills that I think are incredibly important to get passed in Topeka. Working in the Capitol building, I am learning that all too often legislators are afraid to introduce new ideas into the process. That is understandable to some degree, as it takes a lot of work to navigate a bill through the legislature. Many roadblocks will appear, and people will tell you that a bill isn’t necessary or try to “educate” you about why it’s not the right time, or some other excuse. Usually, that actually means you’re on the right track. 

Here are some of those bills:

SB 148 – This is legislation I introduced last year, which would prevent Community Improvement Districts (CIDs) which include grocery stores to impose an extra sales tax on items purchased within the grocery store. CIDs are a form of corporate welfare that most often include a shopping center. When goods are purchased at any store in the shopping center, a special sales tax is imposed, and that revenue goes to the developer, who should be taking the risk. The problem is, this essentially means that necessities, like milk and bread, are being taxed higher in order to pay for a developer to pave his parking lot or build a nicer façade. I believe this is inappropriate and any future CIDs which include grocery stores should be prevented from including this special tax.

SB 209 – This bill provides important information to the voter about who is sending third party advance ballot solicitations. The bill is simple and inserts the following language:
Any person who solicits by mail a registered voter to file an application for an advance voting ballot shall include on the exterior of such mailing a clear and conspicuous label in 14-point font or larger that identifies the individual or organization that caused such solicitation to be mailed. No state or municipal seal or official logo shall appear anywhere on the exterior of such mailing or on any document contained in such mailing. Any envelope included in such mailing necessary for returning an application for an advance voting ballot shall provide the return address for the office of the secretary of state or the county election office for the county in which the recipient is a registered voter.
Basically, the intent of this bill is to essentially ensure our election system is transparent and that no one is “tricking” the voter. While it is fine for third parties to encourage people to vote in advance, it’s important for the voter to know what they are looking at and who is sending them the solicitation.

SB 279 – This bill addresses problems created by wind turbines that have been popping up throughout rural communities across our region. While I would prefer a moratorium on new wind turbines, a setback requirement would alleviate the problem a great deal and that’s what this bill does.

SB 172 – This bill came through the Utilities Committee and will be on the floor this coming week. It would amend the Kansas Criminal Code regarding crimes involving property by eliminating the crime of tampering with a pipeline and establishing four new crimes: trespassing on a critical infrastructure facility (CIF), aggravated trespassing on a CIF, criminal damage to a CIF, and aggravated criminal damage to a CIF. The bill would also amend the definition of “racketeering activity” in the Kansas Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (Kansas RICO Act) to include the four new crimes and would allow a judge to order restitution for property damage to any victim of the four new crimes.
Department of Labor Fiasco
One of the more maddening things we are facing this session is the complete disaster that is the Kansas Department of Labor. Every legislator is facing a barrage of e-mails and phone calls from justifiably angry Kansans upset that they still cannot receive their unemployment benefits. Meanwhile, at least $600 million was paid out in fraudulent claims in 2020 alone. Despite repeated assurances that the system was getting fixed, the problems persist.

The administration has even had the gall to imply that the backlog was cleared, when there is obvious evidence it was not – the level of calls to our office is evidence of that alone. They then turned around and admitted that some 12,000 Kansans were still waiting in line to receive their benefits. The anger over the situation is boiling over to the point that now even members of Congress are getting involved.

Friday afternoon, the Republicans in the Kansas Congressional delegation joined Senate President Ty Masterson and House Speaker Ron Ryckman in writing a letter to Governor Kelly urging her to fix the problems and speed up the incredibly slow response times.

The full release and letter to the governor can be viewed by clicking here.
Thompson Vote Tracker
This immediate past week was largely spent in committee, but the previous week we did vote on a number of bills. Here they are and where I stood:

SB 49 would extend the sunset on the single city port authority tax credit from the end of tax year 2021 to the end of tax year 2024 and would expand the credit to be available to all income taxpayers. Current law limits the credit to corporation income taxpayers.
SB 49 passed 39-0. I voted Yes.
SB 52 establishes the Sedgwick County Urban Area Nuisance Abatement Act (Act). The bill would authorize the Board of County Commissioners (Board) to order the removal or abatement of any nuisance from any property in the unincorporated area of Sedgwick County (County). All costs associated with the abatement would be the responsibility of the property owner. Before the abatement process could begin, the bill would require the County to first obtain a conviction for a county code violation regarding the nuisance no more than 12 months before the issuance of the abatement order. The bill would state the Act shall not apply to any land, structures, machinery, equipment, or vehicles used for agricultural activity as defined in KSA 2020 Supp. 2-3203. It also excludes all real and personal property, machinery, equipment, stored grain, and agricultural input products that are owned or maintained by either commercial grain elevators or agribusiness facilities.
SB 52 passed 29-9. I voted No, as I was concerned about the impact on private property rights.

SB 60 was requested by Attorney General Derek Schmidt and would amend the statute governing jurisdictional application of the Kansas Criminal Code to define “proximate result” to mean any logical effect or consequence of an act regardless of whether the statute governing the charged offense considers the specific effect or consequence of such act. Under continuing law, a crime is considered to have been committed partly within the state if the proximate result of the person’s act occurs within the state.
SB 60 passed 38-0. I voted Yes.

SB 65 would decouple participation in the Kansas Industrial Training (KIT) program or the Kansas Industrial Retraining (KIR) program as a method to qualify for the High Performance Incentive Program (HPIP) tax credit. The bill also would eliminate the HPIP certification and recertification by a business to dedicate 2.0 percent of payroll for training purposes.
SB 65 passed 38-0. I voted Yes.
SB 66 would reauthorize the Kansas Angel Investor Tax Credit Act (Act) until tax year 2026. The bill would also make changes to the definitions and elements of how the Act operates. Starting tax year 2021, the Secretary of Revenue would be required to ensure no more than $100,000 in tax credits per Kansas business or $350,000 in tax credits per investor are claimed in a single year. The annual cap in the bill would steadily increase over time, from $6 million to $8 million. The bill would amend the Act to allow, beginning tax year 2021, individuals who do not have a current tax liability and who do not reasonably believe they will owe any such tax for the current year to invest in a qualified business and receive up to a 50.0 percent tax credit. The bill would strike language from the Act prohibiting Kansas venture capital companies from qualifying for a tax credit under the Act.

During Senate debate, there was considerable discussion on the bill, including on an amendment offered by Senator Mark Steffen which would have sunset the program within three years and placed the cap at a steady $6 million. Republicans within the Senate were split evenly on the amendment, which failed on a vote of 13-23. I voted Yes on this amendment, as I felt it improved the bill by giving us a chance to measure its success in shorter time frame.

Ultimately, SB 66 passed the Senate on a vote of 26-12. I voted No. This was a close call, as the intention of the program has certainly been positive. However, I had two concerns – one the failure rate of businesses participating was quite high, and secondly, I worry it sets up a system of government picking winners and losers, which we want to move away from over time. 
SB 77 would enact the Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Interstate Compact. Among other provisions, the Compact would provide licensure requirements for states participating in the Compact. Licenses issued by a home state to an audiology or speech-language pathologist would be recognized by each member state as authorizing the practice of audiology or speech-language pathology in each member state.
SB 77 passed 35-3. I voted Yes.

SB 85 would require a foster care case management contractor (contractor) under contract with the Department for Children and Families (DCF) to notify DCF within an established time frame whenever a child in foster care has gone missing or spent any overnight period in a location not licensed as a placement for foster youth. The bill would establish time frames and actions that would be required to be taken, should the contractor notify DCF of the missing child or overnight stay at a non-licensed location. The bill would also establish fines on the contractor and authorize DCF to adopt rules and regulations.
SB 85 passed 38-0. I voted Yes.
SB 88 would amend law regarding the process for vacation of city streets or other public easements and would add law regarding challenging a street vacation ordinance. The bill would allow any landowner aggrieved by the decision of a city governing body to vacate certain property to bring action in a district court challenging the reasonableness of such decision within 30 days following publication of the vacation ordinance.
SB 88 passed 37-1. I voted Yes.
SB 103 would amend the Kansas Power of Attorney Act (Act) to state a power of attorney executed on or after July 1, 2021, would be deemed sufficient if in substantial compliance
with the form set forth by the Judicial Council and would direct the Judicial Council to develop such form.
SB 103 passed 38-0. I voted Yes.
SB 107 would enact the Uniform Fiduciary Income and Principal Act [UFIPA] and repeal the Uniform Principal and Income Act (1997) [UPIA]. Throughout the UFIPA, some provisions from UPIA are continued, reorganized, or updated without substantive changes. The bill also would amend one statute within the Kansas Uniform Trust Code (UTC). This brief summarizes the UFIPA structure and notes provisions containing substantive changes or additions to UPIA
SB 107 passed 38-0. I voted Yes.

SB 118 would establish a procedure by which a city or county may assume the powers, responsibilities, and duties of a special district within the city’s corporate boundary or the
county’s boundaries.
SB 113 passed 38-1. I voted Yes.
Forecasting the Future
Overall, I believe Kansans should be pleased with the progress this session. While much work remains to be completed, the Senate has been ahead of its normal pace in passing legislation that has a positive impact upon the lives of Kansans. 

As I noted, this next week will be very busy with bills on the floor, and then we will take a brief break to allow staff to process the bills, and then we will begin primarily working on House legislation.

I encourage you to follow the process in the following ways:

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

I look forward to reporting on our progress next weekend. 

Your Senator,

Mike Thompson