2019 Legislative Update 3

It was another busy week at the Capitol as we completed week 3 of the 2019 Kansas Legislative Session.

This week Joe Reardon, President/CEO Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce (our former Mayor), gave an excellent presentation to the Early Childhood Learning Caucus. In the presentation, Joe makes the business case of the benefits of early childhood education. The Chamber’s efforts toward quality early childhood education goes back to 2014 when kindergarten readiness was declared one of the Chamber’s Big 5 goals for Kansas City.

On Tuesday, Karen Weichert, President/CEO Midland Care provided information about the services provided by Midland Care at the Wyandotte County Legislative Delegation Lunch & Learn. We appreciate the information which was very helpful as was the discussion about matters of interest before the Kansas Legislature. Nancy Burns, Wyandotte County Register of Deeds, and Legislative Pages, Sydney and Paige, students at St. Patrick School also attended the luncheon as special guests.

It is a special honor to serve as your state representative.  I value and appreciate your input on issues facing state government.  Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions.  My office address at the Statehouse is: Room 452-S, 300 SW 10th, Topeka, KS 66612.  You can reach me at (785) 296-7430 or call the legislative hotline at 1-800-432-3924 to leave a message for me.  You can also e-mail me at: pam.curtis@house.ks.gov

KPERS Re-amortization

There has been a lot of discussion surrounding Governor Kelly’s plan on KPERS re-amortization as part of her budget. During Governor Brownback’s Administration, as a result of the failed Brownback tax plan, the state skipped and reduced KPERS payments. Because of this, the state’s employer contribution obligations will skyrocket next year and continue to increase over time, straining the Kansas budget. This negatively impacts the state’s ability to fulfill other vital obligations such as public education, public safety, and healthcare. Comparable to refinancing a house, re-amortization will “reset” the KPERS payment structure, deleting “layering” additions, and better position Kansas to make full, timely KPERS payments. Re-amortization is a common, fiscally sound method that is used in over 30 states as a means of managing pension system cash flow. The KPERS Board of Trustees is statutorily required to review re-amortization options every three years. The goal of Kelly’s budget is to focus on a realistic and sustainable long-term budget for Kansas, which starts with the re-amortization.

A coalition of bipartisan legislators and nonpartisan researchers have all stressed that it is a matter of when, not if, another recession occurs. The Brownback tax plan decimated state finances and left Kansas not only unable to fulfill current obligations but unprepared for any major emergency or inevitable economic downturn. The Kelly administration argues that by re-amortizing, it strengthens the state’s ability to honor its commitment and be less likely to skip, delay, or reduce KPERS payments, should revenue decrease as a result of a recession.

On Wednesday, January 30th, at a presentation to the House Financial Institutions and Pensions Committee, Alan Conroy, executive director of KPERS, confirmed that re-amortization will have no effect on benefit payments for current and future retirees.

Medicaid Expansion

On Kansas Day, Tuesday, January 29th, Governor Kelly released her Medicaid Expansion bill (House Bill 2102 and Senate Bill 54). The bill is based on the version of the 2017 bipartisan expansion bill that passed the House and the Senate and was later vetoed by Governor Sam Brownback. Expanding Medicaid is a key priority for House Democrats this session. By expanding Medicaid, it will allow our hospitals and clinics to stay open and provide access to affordable health care for 150,000 Kansans currently without insurance. Without it, rural communities are most at risk, with reports showing that 30% of our state’s hospitals are considered financially vulnerable. 77% of Kansans across the political spectrum support expansion and both Republican and Democratic-led states have had incredible results with expansion. Right now, Kansans have lost over $3 billion of our tax dollars to other states that have expanded due to the failure to expand Medicaid in our own state. Our money should be here, helping our people, our hospitals, and our economy and I look forward to supporting expanding Medicaid in Kansas.

On the Senate Side…

Last week, Senator Susan Wagle, President of the Senate, took the unusual step of creating a separate tax committee and appointed herself the chairwoman (sidelining the existing tax committee and its chairwoman, Republican Sen. Caryn Tyson). Senator Wagle’s main objective is to advance Senate Bill 22, which bears a stark resemblance to the failed Brownback tax plan, by cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy effectively shifting the burden onto the middle and lower classes. Kansas voters vehemently rejected the Brownback tax plan and the House Democrats stand with our voters. The Senate Bill passed on Thursday, January 31, and is set to be debated next Wednesday or Thursday on the Senate floor. We will continue to monitor this and reject any legislation that doesn’t put Kansas on a path to fiscal responsibility.

Celebrating Kansas’s Birthday

On January 29, we celebrated Kansas Day at the Capitol with a variety of festivities, including singing “Home on the Range” on the House floor. Although we won’t be nominated for a Tony award anytime soon, we believe we did a good job. The holiday is celebrated annually on January 29 to commemorate the anniversary of the state's 1861 admission to the Union. It was first celebrated in 1877 by schoolchildren in Paola. Kansas turned 158.

Equality Day at the Capitol

Despite the polar vortex, Kansans from across the state gathered to celebrate Equality Day at the State House. The energy was a stark departure from previous years. Governor Laura Kelly was the main speaker, she was cheered for signing an executive order to protect LGBT state workers from discrimination on her first day in office, repealing Governor Brownback’s previous discriminatory order. This was a historic year in Kansas politics for the LGBTQIA community, electing 2 of the first openly gay state representatives and a congresswoman.

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