Mark's Musings - 2021 Legislative Session
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March 13, 2021

It’s halftime for the 2021 Kansas legislative session.  Also known as “turnaround,” it’s when bills passed by the House are sent to the Senate and vice versa.

Notable Bills

Last week, the House voted on 66 bills, most of which passed with more than 100 votes. Here’s a brief recap of a few bills from my committees that are on their way to the Senate.
  • HB 2039 would require students enrolled in an accredited public, private or parochial high school to pass a civics test, or series of tests, as part of the Kansas required courses for graduation. The bill requires that the civics test, or series of tests, be composed of 60 questions selected from the naturalization test administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Each accredited high school would submit an annual report to the State Board of Education that provides aggregate student achievement data for the civics test or series of tests. The State Board would compile and present those reports to the legislature on or before Jan. 31 each year.

    This bill was debated in the Education Committee, of which I am a member. The committee chairman was the bill’s chief proponent, and many of us support his passion for civics education.

    However, I believe this bill will do nothing to elevate our students’ civics knowledge. The USCIS multiple-choice test covers the same topics as those covered in the three units of history and government — world history, U.S. history and U.S. government, including study of the Constitution — which our high school students already are required to pass. Also, I have serious doubts about whether the legislature, rather than the elected State Board of Education, should dictate our students’ test-taking requirements. The bill passed 69-54. I voted no.
  • HB 2126 provides for immunity from liability for covered facilities in a civil action for COVID-19 damages if such facilities were in substantial compliance with public health directives that apply to the activity giving rise to the lawsuit. The bill defines covered facilities as adult care homes, community mental health centers, crisis intervention centers or community developmental disability organizations. It clarifies that immunity would not apply when it is established that the act, omission or decision giving rise to the lawsuit constituted gross negligence or willful, wanton, or reckless conduct. The bill passed 87-37. I voted yes.
  • HB 2416 includes the House revisions to the Kansas Emergency Management Act (KEMA). Both chambers have passed amended versions of KEMA and must reconcile them before March 31, when the state-of-disaster emergency for COVID-19 expires. If the legislature does not extend the state-of-disaster emergency by March 31, conditions within HB 2016, which was passed in the special session last year, will be null and void.

    In my years of emergency planning at Wolf Creek, I learned that it’s not possible to develop a plan that covers every contingency. The best plan is one that provides structure, but also allows flexibility for those in charge to respond appropriately to protect the health and safety of the public. I think the House bill comes closer to that goal than the Senate bill. The House bill passed 81-40. I voted yes.

Energy Emergency

As I write this newsletter, it’s sunny and warm outside. But only four weeks ago, the high temperature was 2 degrees, and much of the Midwest was in the grip of an energy crisis. As the duration and depth of the frigid weather ramped up energy use, the equipment on natural gas wellheads and the coal piles at generating stations froze, commodity prices for natural gas skyrocketed by 100 times or more, solar generation declined because of heavy cloud cover, and wind generation decreased because the nacelles (box-like structures at the top of wind towers) in some areas had not been winterized.
Increased demand and decreased generation led to rolling outages. I was in the electric utility business for 38 years and never before saw such a widespread weather event that hung around so long. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen again. So here’s some background about the situation, an explanation of why the outages occurred and some information to keep in mind during future cold snaps.
Kansas and all or sections of 13 other Midwest states are part of the Southwest Power Pool (SPP). It is designated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate and coordinate energy transmission and generation to ensure economic efficiency and operating reliability in its area.
SPP operators are responsible for keeping the 14-state energy grid up and running, and they take that responsibility very seriously. The rotating outages we experienced in Emporia and elsewhere in the region were the direct result of SPP operators doing what was absolutely necessary to ensure that the grid did not completely fail. If it fails for whatever reason, restoring it would be a difficult, long-term process, and temporary outages like those we experienced would seem trivial compared with whole sections of the state being without power for days.
Texas operates its own system separate from the SPP. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) had predicted that 80 percent of this year’s winter generation capacity would come from natural gas, coal and nuclear sources; only 7 percent was to come from wind. Texas temperatures are not normally below freezing for such a long time, and its equipment is typically not winterized. Frozen natural gas wellheads and coal piles brought energy delivery to a virtual standstill and led to a sequence of failures.
Those who don’t like wind energy proclaimed that frozen wind turbines caused the Texas blackouts, although wind was expected to generate only a small percentage of the required energy. Failure to winterize machinery was the real culprit. Despite frigid temperatures, wind turbines in Iowa and Minnesota keep turning, and natural gas pipelines in North Dakota remain operational because they are winterized.
And, in my opinion, arguments about which systems should be used to generate power miss the point. In fact, if you ask me how energy should be generated, I immediately will check the box next to “all of the above.” Natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind and solar all should be part of the equation. Diversity is strength whether you are talking about an ecosystem, an investment portfolio or an electric grid.
Texas differs from the SPP in another way — its retail electric market is deregulated. The idea was that market efficiency would dictate which energy-generation systems were built and which were retired. The promise was that deregulating would lower electricity prices, and it did in Texas.
We don’t yet know whether deregulation exacerbated the power shortages in Texas. But we do know that the SPP system of which we are a part is regulated. In my opinion, that’s an advantage because reliability trumps cost every time. Saving 10 percent on your electric bill doesn’t matter if you don’t have power when you need it.
The push-pull tension between costs and reliability (read investments) always has been part of setting utility rates. Finding the right balance requires analysis and some assumptions. In the end, I think being regulated has served Kansans well.

Halftime Is Over, and It’s Time to Finish Strong

I’ll keep you informed about key developments during the second half of the legislative session. Most committees will stop meeting by March 26, after which legislators will consider conference committee reports before first adjournment April 9. We’ll return for the May 3 veto session and, in between, we’ll receive updated revenue projections for the rest of the year.
I truly appreciate your feedback, input and questions, which are crucial to helping me represent you to the best of my ability. Your diversity, in opinions and outlook, is a great strength.
Representative Mark Schreiber

Statehouse Office
Room 149-S-B
300 SW 10th Street
Topeka, KS  66612

1722 Yucca Lane
Emporia, KS   66801
Home: 620-342-6954
Cell: 785-230-0897

StateHouse Office

Room 149-S-B
300 SW 10th Street,
Topeka, KS 66612
Phone: 785-296-2721


1722 Yucca Lane
Emporia, Kansas 66801
Phone: 620-342-6954


Copyright © 2021 Mark Schreiber for Kansas House, All rights reserved.

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