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Mark's Musings - 2021 Legislative Session
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February 20, 2021
Amending, Abolishing and Advocating


If 2021 was a “normal” year, groups would set up information tables in the Capitol rotunda to educate legislators about issues such as mental health, sexual assault prevention or tourism. But continued COVID-19 precautions prohibit those opportunities and any others that might encourage indoor gatherings. Legislators have the option of participating in committee discussions remotely, but must be in the Capitol to vote in committee and must be in the chamber to vote when the full House convenes. Debate and voting on the House floor have occurred only about once a week since the beginning of the session — yet another precautionary effort to restrict large-group gatherings.
 
Nonetheless, the work of the legislature continues, and most bills about which we have debated and voted passed easily with broad, bipartisan support — but not all. Here’s a brief look at current actions and deliberations.

Resolution Calling for a Constitutional Amendment

A resolution calling for a constitutional amendment, commonly referred to as the Value Them Both amendment, passed along party lines, with Republicans voting yes and Democrats voting no. Offered in response to a Kansas Supreme Court decision saying that the legislature does not have constitutional authority to regulate abortions, the amendment would not add statutory restrictions on abortion. But, if passed by the voters of Kansas, it would allow the legislature to regulate abortions in our state.
 
With deep respect for trusted friends and colleagues on both sides of this issue, I voted in favor of the resolution because I believe it is time for the people of Kansas to decide whether the legislature should play a role in regulating abortions in Kansas. You will have the opportunity to cast your vote during a special election that coincides with the August 2022 primary.

Executive Reorganization Order and State Energy Plan

During 2020, Governor Kelly introduced an Executive Reorganization Order, which called for moving the State Energy Office from the Kansas Corporation Commission to the Governor’s Office. It also charged the Energy Office with creating a state energy plan.
 
I spoke against the governor’s reorganization order on the House floor because moving the Energy Office into the Governor’s Office, regardless of who is governor, has potential to politicize the energy plan.
 
Conversely, I spoke in favor of creating a state energy plan. This past fall, I began investigating how and why neighboring states have pursued energy plans. The Iowa Energy Office, for example, views energy as an economic-development issue, not a rate or climate issue … although rates and climate may be affected.
 
To jump-start a thoughtful, educated energy plan, I introduced HB 2381, which establishes a state energy plan taskforce composed of legislators and appointees that have direct connections with our energy infrastructure. That includes experts in biofuels, oil and gas production, wind and solar development, and economic development. A hearing on this bill is scheduled for Tuesday, February 23 in the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications committee.
 
Why, you may ask, does Kansas need an energy plan? After all, we have reliable electricity from coal, natural gas and nuclear plants. Our refineries are working well, and the use of wind, solar and other renewables is expanding.
 
But a once slow-moving energy transition now is accelerating rapidly. Larry Fink, chairman and CEO of Blackrock, the world’s largest investment manager, describes that transition in a recent letter to other CEOs (Larry Fink CEO Letter | BlackRock).
 
Mere days after that letter was released:
  • Mary Barra, General Motors President and CEO, announced that 40 percent of GM vehicles will be electric by 2025 (only four years from now!), and that GM will eliminate gas-powered, light-duty vehicle production by 2035.
  • Ford Motor Company announced that it is increasing its already significant investment in electric vehicles to $22 billion through 2025.
  • Tesla, the current leader in the electric vehicle market, shared that it currently is worth as much as the nine largest global automotive companies combined.
Those are among many examples that illustrate how the pace of the energy transition is quickening, and that lead me to believe that Kansas should have a solid strategy that prepares us for upcoming opportunities. As often has been said, “Change is not optional, but growth is.”

Abolishing the Death Penalty in Kansas

I introduced HB 2300, which would abolish the death penalty in Kansas. It currently has 34 co-sponsors of every political stripe, and a similar bill has been introduced in the Senate. The Kansas Reflector printed the attached article, https://kansasreflector.com/2021/02/17/34-kansas-house-members-conservative-to-liberal-support-abolishing-the-death-penalty/.
 
Evidence suggests that the death penalty does not deter violent crime, but the process — from conviction to numerous appeals to execution — is extremely expensive for our state. Although no one has been executed in Kansas since 1965, several people are on Kansas death row, and their appeals are costly.
 
Efforts to abolish the death penalty are gaining steam nationwide. The Virginia legislature, which voted earlier this month, is the 23rd state to abolish the death penalty, and three other states have governor-imposed moratoriums. If the subject interests you, I recommend non-fiction books such as Dead Man Walking by Sister Helen Prejean and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.

Public Money for Private Schools

School-choice advocates are supporting a couple of bills aimed at directing public money to support private schools.
  • The House will soon debate HB 2068, which expands the Tax Credit for Low Income Students Scholarship Program Act. About five years ago, this program was enacted for only those students eligible for free lunch in our state’s 100 worst-performing elementary schools. The program’s tax credits are capped at $10 million, but have not exceeded $3 million in any year of its existence. Advocates want to expand the program to include students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch in any school in Kansas — a significantly expanded group.

    Private donations to these scholarship programs receive a 70 percent tax credit, which comes out of the State General Fund, not the K-12 school-funding formula. It is a generous incentive for those seeking to reduce their tax liability. I don’t support this bill because I don’t believe public money should be used to support private schools.
     
  • HB 2119 authorizes education-savings accounts for at-risk students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch, or who are eligible for at-risk education programming, or who have been required to learn remotely or through a hybrid method for a certain period.
    • Savings accounts would be credited BASE (Base State Aid per Pupil) funding (currently $4,539 per student per year) plus any weighting associated with any particular student.
    • Students could use the funds for private-school tuition, transportation fees to and from private schools, textbooks, tutoring services, tuition, and fees for accredited or private online learning programs.
COVID-19 has affected the learning situation for every student in Kansas, and I have deep appreciation for our teachers, public and private, who have gone above and beyond to find new, innovative ways to educate. This bill, however, is another attempt to divert public dollars to private schools, which I do not support.

Proceeding to a Vote: A Non-Controversial Bill for Americus

I introduced HB 2178 for the city of Americus. When the city was first platted, a restriction was placed on two blocks for a city park and a university. Today, the city has no interest in founding a university, and it already has a city park. The city needs the legislature to remove the deed restriction so the city can develop the property.

I introduced the same bill last year, but the legislature left the Capitol in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the bill received no action. The current bill passed out of the House Local Government committee last week, and passed the House 121-1. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Unemployment Fraud

One of the most pressing issues facing Kansans during the pandemic has been unemployment insurance, which has been made more difficult by the Department of Labor’s inability to properly and efficiently process claims and identify fraud. Fraudulent claims are at an all-time high, which puts both the identity of many Kansans and the solvency of the Kansas Unemployment Trust Fund at risk.
 
I am disappointed that our Department of Labor has struggled to protect the dollars of public schools, universities, not-for-profits and businesses that pay into the Kansas Unemployment Trust Fund. There are multiple reasons for this failure, and it likely stretches across administrations.
 
Notably, the Department of Labor’s computer system recently was updated during a multiple-day shutdown to protect against future fraudulent claims, and the updates appear to be effective.
 
But Kansans now have begun receiving 1099-G tax forms based on fraudulent unemployment claims, which only exacerbates the problem.
  • If you receive or if someone you know receives notice of an unemployment claim you believe to be fraudulent, report it at https://www.dol.ks.gov/fraud.
  • If you received a 1099-G form for a claim that you did not receive payment for due to identity theft, you can fill out a request on the KDOL Self-Service Portal under “1099 Protest/Dispute”, making sure to check the box for “I want to dispute my 1099” and upload an Unsworn Declaration to declare you did not receive the benefits that were stated on your 1099-G form issued from the Kansas Department of Labor. Also report the fraud at https://www.dol.ks.gov/ui-faqs/1099g-forms.
  • To file for unemployment, visit the Kansas Department of Labor website at https://www.getkansasbenefits.gov/Home.aspx. The site has been slow, but it still is the best resource.
The Department of Labor staff is working hard to resolve the multiple issues, and the legislature receives frequent updates. As the critical work of providing qualified Kansans the money they deserve continues, I am focusing on helping my constituents and avoiding the blame game.

Energy Crisis

This past couple of weeks a persistent cold wave landed on the Midwest. I’ll cover the situation in more detail in my next newsletter. I think it’s fair to say many more people know about the Southwest Power Pool than before the cold wave. Thank you to all who heeded the calls for conserving energy during that time. Every little bit helped and avoided more rotating outages. Spring is only about 4 weeks away!

Please Let Me Hear From You

I welcome your thoughts and input any time. Thank you for the honor of representing you.
 
Representative Mark Schreiber
www.schreiberforkansas.com

Statehouse Office
Room 149-S-B
300 SW 10th Street
Topeka, KS  66612
785-296-2721
Mark.Schreiber@house.ks.gov

Home
1722 Yucca Lane
Emporia, KS   66801
Home: 620-342-6954
Cell: 785-230-0897
markschreiber60@gmail.com
 
 

StateHouse Office

Room 149-S-B
300 SW 10th Street,
Topeka, KS 66612
Phone: 785-296-2721
Mark.Schreiber@house.ks.gov

Home

1722 Yucca Lane
Emporia, Kansas 66801
Phone: 620-342-6954
markschreiber60@gmail.com
 
 

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


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