Legislative update: Week ending Feb. 25
This week was “turnaround” in the Kansas legislature – the time of year when the Senate and the House tag team and switch out bills. From this point forward, unless a House bill has been “blessed” by the Speaker or the President of the Senate, each chamber will start hearing the other chamber’s bills.
This means there was a mountain of legislation to get through in the past three days. In fact, we heard debate and voted on more than 50 bills during the last part of the last week. Much of the legislation was relatively simple and straightforward – well as simple and straightforward as anything can be in this building- but you get the idea. Small stuff, by comparison. But there were a handful of big issues we tackled during three long days of debate.
Hands down, my favorite thing this week had nothing to do with the Kansas Legislature. It had to do with my friend and former co-worker Kathy Hanks. She traveled to Lawrence to see her daughter for her birthday, and I was invited to join her for dinner. We haven’t had the chance to see each other much lately, and it was nice to sit among longtime friends and catch up. To that end, I had some other conversations this week with friends, and those are always a nice distraction from legislative work – and a good reminder about for whom this work is done.
Workwise, I felt really good about some of the legislation we voted on this week. In particular, I was happy that we passed a bill that opens the door to more use of telemedicine in the state, as well as a bill that changes the way the state’s law enforcement agencies handle civil asset forfeiture proceedings. Telemedicine is going to be sorely needed in the state’s rural areas, and I’m glad we’ve moved forward to make this a viable option for the state’s residents. Changing the way asset forfeiture is handled in alleged drug crimes was long overdue. This measure will hold local law enforcement more accountable if they intend to seize someone’s private personal property. A Kansas Legislative Post Audit revealed a number of issues with the way the such cases have been handled, which, along with some well-reported examples of abuse, helped give the legislation traction.
I was also happy that we passed out a measure that would compensate people who have been wrongly convicted and imprisoned. If someone is innocent of a crime, and the state so drastically alters their lives in such a way, the least we can do is give them some walking around money to make up for it. Some people might not like this idea, but we sometimes convict people who didn’t commit the crime for which they’re accused; we have to try and make it right when we do.
Additionally, we passed out a bill that elevates the crime of “swatting” – a deplorable practice that ended with the death of Andrew Finch in Wichita. Rep. Tom Sawyer gave heart-wrenching testimony in his successful effort to have the bill named in honor of Finch. The bill allows that if someone is hurt or killed as a result of a false call for assistance, the penalty is much more severe than it was before. This is good legislation that is responsive to what we now sadly know can lead to an innocent person’s death.
Least favorite thing…
For a while it looked like we might debate a bill about gun safety in schools – just a few days after the tragic school shooting in Florida that took 17 lives. This bill – HB 2460 http://kslegislature.org/li/b2017_18/measures/hb2460/ would have allowed schools to implement firearms safety training but required use of the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle gun safety program. It would have started training for students as early as Kindergarten.
I have several problems with this bill, and I’m glad it didn’t come up for debate – though, I wouldn’t be surprised if it yet does. This is an election year, and there are postcards that need to be mailed that are simply waiting for a vote like this. First off, the legislation is unnecessary. Schools already can implement such programs and clubs. Some high school students compete in sporting clay competition. Hunter safety education courses are abundant – and they are solid courses that I think anyone who plans to handle a gun should take, regardless of age.
This bill’s aim is clearly to create a market for the NRA by requiring schools to use the NRA program for gun safety education – and indoctrinates students to the NRA’s way of thinking. I don’t think we should ever have legislation like this. If the bill wasn’t written by and for the NRA – or simply for political gain – it would have a more practical focus on the well respected Hunter’s Safety Education course that has been in the state for years – and, perhaps, a touch of something that resembled a pragmatic, proactive approach to school shooting. At the least, it would leave such decisions to locally elected school boards.
Other things that didn’t quite happen….
It must be nice to be part of the majority party…because you’re part of the team that gets to decide which bills get heard and worked in committee, and which bills get heard on the house floor. I’m not normally a fan of the party division thing, but the truth is that the majority party in Kansas gets to make up the rules to this whole thing. It seems the minority party is largely stuck trying to attach amendments to some of those bills in the hopes that they’ll meet approval and something slightly better will emerge.
To that end, there were several amendments offered that didn’t meet approval by the larger body. One was an attempt to change some of the policies that have been terrible to workers in the past few years. Namely, there was an effort to return the Worker’s Compensation framework to the AMA 4th edition, instead of the 6th edition that’s currently used. As I understand it, the 4th edition is more fair to workers, where the 6th edition is quite restrictive – and leads to lesser compensation for workers who have been injured on the job. Another attempt was made to allow injured employees to choose their own doctor – or at least have some input on the matter – instead of requiring a visit to the infamous “Worker’s Comp” doctor. Say what you will, but any of us who have ever been injured at work understand all too well the sort of care we are likely to get when the boss pays for it and has a vested interest in proving the injury didn’t happen at work. Besides, I know and trust my doctor, and I’d rather see him any day, regardless of the circumstances. There’s something to be said about relationships, even in medicine.
There was also an effort by Democrats to amend a bill dealing with marijuana and THC penalties that would’ve allowed local communities to prescribe their own penalties for possession of marijuana. I think this makes sense, and several communities have attempted to do this to save their local taxpayers money and trouble. The argument against the amendment was that we need uniformity in the law. I find that suspect, since every community in the state has the ability to write it own ordinances. If a community didn’t want to offer a lesser penalty for marijuana possession, it could opt for the state’s policy. But, alas, this proposed change didn’t light up very many lawmakers.
Rep. Steve Becker also made an attempt to amend the compensation for wrongfully imprisoned bill with his six-year effort to repeal the state’s death penalty. He made a compelling argument, but in the end, the rules committee decided it wasn’t germane to the underlying bill.
Lastly, I almost walked into a pit of hot lava, but was saved by the valiant efforts of Rep. Jeff Pittman. It turns out there’s a walkway in the middle of the House floor that can not – UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE – be crossed during debate on the floor. I knew this, but, being new, I don’t always think about it. I saw another Representative I needed to talk with and headed off nonchalantly across the “aisle”. Apparently, this forbidden land is a long-standing tradition, and it seems if I set foot in this hallowed ground, I’ll either instantly dissolve into a heap of ash, or the entire fabric of the universe will be ripped asunder and we’ll all be thrown into a chaotic existence. Thankfully, right before my foot reached out into this DMZ of Kansas politics, Rep. Pittman threw out his arm – not unlike a mom reaching over to hold back her child during a too-hard stop in the car – and said “Not on my watch.” Disaster averted!
A round up of this past week, again from the wonderful and hard-working staff of the House minority party office…..
More than 50 bills came above the line on General Orders, with the House spending full days on the Floor on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Below, find some of the bills passed through the chamber of significance or interest:
HB 2498: This bill will prohibit state agencies and municipalities from prohibiting any individual from wearing tribal regalia or objects of cultural significance.
HB 2539: This bill will amend the qualifications for candidacy for several statewide elected offices. The bill would require every candidate for the office of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Treasurer, and State Commissioner of Insurance be a qualified elector of Kansas. The bill also would require a candidate for the office of the Attorney General to be licensed to practice law in Kansas.
HB 2551: This bill will require prior legislative authorization for any state agency to enter into any agreement or take any action to outsource or privatize security operations of any correctional or juvenile correctional facility operated by a state agency. The bill would apply to security operations or job classifications and duties associated with a security operation of correctional or juvenile correctional facilities.
HB 2480: This bill amends the definition of “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” in the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Act to replace a list of persons with various relationships to the victim (like a current or former spouse) who may commit the crime with the phrase “against a person with whom the offender is involved or has been involved in a ‘dating relationship’ or is a ‘family or household member’ as defined in the domestic battery criminal statute at the time of the offense.”
HB 2571: This bill will amend the statute governing disclosure of audio or video recordings made and retained by law enforcement using a body camera or a vehicle camera (law enforcement recordings)
HB 2530: This bill will add an emergency medical services (EMS) attendant to the list of mandatory reporters of abuse, neglect, exploitation.
HB 2581: This bill will amend the law related to the crime of giving a false alarm. Under current law, this offense applies to transmitting a false fire alarm to a fire department, knowing there is no reasonable ground for believing such fire exists, and to making a call in any manner for emergency service assistance including police, fire, medical, or other emergency service, knowing there is no reasonable ground for believing such assistance is needed.
HB 2700: This bill amends the law related to the disclosure of public records to require the redaction of all portions of an individual’s social security number on any document or record before it is made available for public inspection or copying.
HB 2496: This bill enacts the Nurse Licensure Compact. The Compact would allow RNs and LPNs to have one multi-state license, with the privilege to practice in the home state of Kansas and in other Compact states.
To see the full list of bills considered and passed during turnaround, click here.
We’ll start hearing Senate bills this week, and they’ll start hearing bills from the House side. And maybe we’ll both shake our heads and wonder what the other side was doing with its time. Or maybe we’ll find some good stuff in there. In the meantime, feel free to reach out to me with any comments or concerns. I want to hear from you! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office at 785.296.7645. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – @thatguyinhutch.
Have a great week!