Senate Tackles Important Issues
Dear Friends,

Let me begin by offering my condolences to the family of Senator Bud Estes, who passed away on Saturday. Bud was a wonderful man, and was well-liked and respected by all of us. Representing the Dodge City area, and just reelected last fall, he cared deeply about his constituents and was proud of the work he did on their behalf. We will miss him, and our prayers for comfort and peace go out to his family.

Despite some of the challenges posed by the pandemic, the pace in the Kansas Senate has been rapid. Though we typically are on the Senate floor just two days a week this early in the session, our leadership team has been moving important bills through the process quickly, particularly a few bills that are specifically designed to help Kansans. In this newsletter, I want to focus on four major items that we dealt with in the last couple of weeks:

  • Energy Choice Act
  • RELIEF Act
  • Tax Credit Low income Scholarship Program
  • Department of Labor Unemployment Fiasco

Although the State Capitol is quiet, the volume of activity is actually quite large - I heard the other day that close to 1,200 bills have been requested to be drafted. Of course, only some will reach the floor and be signed into law, but it gives you an idea of the volume of bills that we review. Not only are we trying to pass good legislation, we are also working to stop bad legislation. Considering we are lucky to be able to debate 8 to 12 bills per week, due to time constraints, there will be a lot of good legislation that will likely/hopefully be carried over to next year’s session.

When we get closer to the halfway point, known in legislative jargon as "turnaround", I will provide a comprehensive list of many of the lesser-known bills we have adopted. Most of them will have been passed unanimously or with little opposition and don't garner the headlines the items above do. Yet, most of what we do has an impact on someone in Kansas, so it's all important.

With that in mind, here's a rundown of the three major bills listed above, and an update on the Kansas Department of Labor.
Energy Choice Act
As Chair of the Senate Utilities Committee, I was proud to carry the Energy Choice Act on the Senate floor. This legislation preserves the right to use natural gas throughout Kansas. 

The freedom of energy choice is being undermined in many areas around the country, with governments seeking to limit or prohibit the use of natural gas. This poses a growing threat to the 870,000 households in Kansas who use natural gas and rely on it to heat their homes, their water, cook meals for their families, among many other uses.

Natural gas is the cheapest form of energy, and its continued availability is essential to those on lower and fixed incomes. We cannot let the movement against this critical energy source gain a foothold in Kansas.

During the hearing we held on the legislation in the Utilities Committee, a wide array of organizations, representing thousands of Kansas businesses and homeowners, testified in support of the Kansas Energy Choice Act. This included the Kansas Chamber, the National Federation of Independent Business, Americans for Prosperity, the Wichita and Topeka area local Chambers of Commerce, as well as numerous industry groups representing thousands of Kansas jobs. 

Curtis Sneden, President of the Topeka Area Chamber of Commerce, said the following in his testimony:

If Kansas communities are to compete for the jobs of the future, they will need all the tools at their disposal, including clean, affordable energy. Innovations in the energy sector have brought forth many promising new opportunities for businesses to lower their energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint. Some local governments, though, have taken action to unilaterally restrict the range of options, such as natural gas, available to energy consumers. This kind of patchwork of municipal restrictions will place Kansas and its localities at a competitive disadvantage without necessarily making any meaningful headway toward the otherwise laudable goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The best approach to such clean energy goals is to develop a long-term statewide energy plan.

Elizabeth Patton with Americans for Prosperity cited compelling statistics in support of the bill:

More than 70 percent of Kansans rely on natural gas or propane for home heating, well above the national average. These local bans serve as regressive taxes that hurt low- and middle-income consumers and exacerbate energy poverty, with little to no environmental benefit. Prohibiting the direct consumption of natural gas in furnaces, stoves, dryers, and water heaters – at a time of historically low prices – forces consumers to rely on more expensive fuels.

This important bill passed in the Senate, with a vote was 27-10. All 27 Republicans present voted to pass the bill. It now goes to the House for consideration.
This week was a good week for Kansas taxpayers. On Tuesday, the Senate adopted the RELIEF Act (SB22), providing critical support for Kansas families and businesses, all who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing shutdowns and restrictions imposed by the government. RELIEF stands for “Rebuilding Employers and Livelihoods. Investing in Everyone’s Future.”  

The RELIEF Act, as adopted by the Senate, contains several components to provide a boost to the state’s economic recovery and provide real relief to Kansans, and the bulk of the bill is focused on Kansas families.  

The major items of the original bill include:

  • Allowing Kansas Families to Itemize on State Taxes. Beginning with tax year 2020, the bill allows individual income taxpayers the option to take Kansas itemized deductions regardless of whether the standard deduction is claimed for federal income tax purposes.  

  • Fraud Protection for Kansans. SB 22 clarifies that victims of identity theft would not owe Kansas individual income tax on unemployment compensation that was fraudulently obtained by another individual. It also includes items to assist the state in tracking unemployment fraud.

  • Tax Certainty and Consistency for Kansas Employers. SB 22 contains several components fixing issues that resulted in an unintended tax increase on Kansas businesses. These provisions provide “decoupling” of the Kansas and federal tax starting with tax year 2021, thereby providing consistency and certainty going forward for Kansas employers.   

In addition to these original provisions, a series of amendments were added to the bill providing additional relief to families. This included an amendment to raise the standard deduction, and amendments exempting social security and retirement benefits from income taxes.  

Senate Democrats attempted to gut the bill by removing much of the important relief for families and instead imposed additional burdens on families via a new tax on digital services. This “double hit” on Kansas taxpayers was soundly rejected by Senate Republicans.

Ultimately, the RELIEF Act passed by a vote of 24 to 15. I voted Yes. While the amendments to the bill resulted in a higher fiscal note, it is my hope we can retain as much of the relief as possible. I believe we can find room in our state budget to do so. The question will be obtaining the 27 votes necessary to override a potential veto.
Helping Students: Tax Credit Low Income
Scholarship Program
Hope and opportunity increased for children in Kansas on Thursday, thanks to Republicans in the Kansas Senate.

In a vote of 23-14, the Senate adopted SB 61, which expands eligibility for the Tax Credit for Low Income Student Scholarship Program.

The current program, which has been in effect since 2015, provided tax credits to individuals who help fund scholarships to students students in the 100 lowest performing elementary schools. SB 61 would expand the eligibility to children who receive free or reduced lunches in Kansas, and would also be available to children in any public school in Kansas.

The bill would add a requirement for qualified schools participating in the program to prominently display a link on their website that directs individuals to statutorily published reports on the Kansas State Department of Education’s website as pursuant to requirements in law pertaining to accountability reports.

For a family of four, the current income maximum is just over $34,000. Under SB 61, the income maximum would be raised to just over $48,000, helping more low and middle-income families provide new opportunities for their children.

A full report of the history of the program is available through the Kansas Department of Education by clicking here. Over the entire history of the program, just over 2,000 total scholarships have been awarded, and annual participation has steadily increased, with 632 scholarships being awarded in the 2020-21 school year. Since the start of the program, 1053 kids have been declared as eligible under the program. 

Under SB 61, the number of eligible kids would increase, but they would still be subject to the financial caps of the program. Each scholarship is limited to $8,000 and there is a $10 million annual cap on the amount of tax credits available to fund the program. If the amount of credit exceeds the contributor’s tax liability in any one taxable year, the remaining portion of the credit may be carried forward until the total amount of the credit is used.

I strongly supported the bill, which passed 23-14. I was frankly somewhat stunned by the level of opposition from the Democrats for what, in the scope of the budget, is a very small program. In fact, it is the smallest program of its kind in the country. It helps a few hundred impoverished kids every year by providing them another opportunity if their public school is not meeting their needs.

This article in Forbes illustrates the hostility of the education establishment towards any type of effort such as this legislation.
Problems continue to plague the Kansas Department of Labor
In the last newsletter, I wrote about the significant problems that are plaguing the Kansas Department of Labor. You can read more about it in this report by Channel 41.

My office, as well as every other legislative office in the Capitol, is receiving a flood of emails and phone calls from people frustrated by their inability to receive their overdue unemployment benefits, or to clear up fraudulent claims that have been submitted under their name. MANY of the constituents who have reached out to my office for help, report that they have called the KDOL literally hundreds of times a day trying to get through to speak with someone. One constituent called 669 times without his calls being answered. This has to stop.

In the view of many, the governor did not begin addressing the fraud problem in a serious way until about 10 days ago, when they shut down the system in order to upload new security protocols to block fraudulent claims, which are costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars. Apparently the new measures have worked to some degree, stopping hundreds of thousands of fraudulent requests. Some are still skeptical it's enough, and it doesn't address the hundreds of millions of fraudulent unpaid claims to date.

Another issue exacerbating the problems, is due to the fact that unemployment benefits are considered regular income for tax purposes. Because of this we now have countless numbers of Kansans receiving Forms 1099-G showing income from fraudulent claims under their name, and many are receiving incorrect 1099's showing more benefits than they actually received.

If you received a 1099 for unemployment benefits that you didn't receive, the KDOL has given us information on how to have the issue resolved. Here are their instructions to file an unsworn statement:

Option 1: Go online anytime to the KDOL Self Service Portal at and complete the form. 
Option 2: Call the KDOL Tax Call Center Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM CST or on Saturday from 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM CST. The call center can be reached at 785-575-1461 or by calling toll-free at 1-888-499-0063

We tested the phone line in our office, and experienced what our constituents are telling us... that after going through the many options given, you are told that all of the representatives are busy, and you must hold until one becomes available. They then state that the hold queue is full, and you must go online to resolve your issue.

Although they insist that upgrades are at least representing the beginning of resolving these issues, there are many steps that need to be taken. The biggest priority simply must be on Kansans awaiting their benefits.
Forecasting the Future
We are now over a month in, and are already nearing the midpoint of the session. We have made a lot of progress on bills as our leadership has worked to move things rapidly through the process. In committee, we are currently working through the initial stages of the budget approval process, which is our annual task as required by the Kansas Constitution.
I encourage you to follow the process in the following ways:

YouTube Streaming:

I look forward to reporting on our activity in future newsletters.

Your Senator,

Mike Thompson