The 2021 session began on Monday, January 11, under the shadow of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its potential impact on the session, as well as the possibility of protests at the Capitol around the January 20 inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden. With access to the Capitol limited due to COVID-19 precautions, legislators conducting virtual committee meetings and chamber sessions encountered audio/visual difficulties, which also proved challenging for conferees and other interested parties.
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Despite these challenges, both chambers convened throughout the week. Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman announced that COVID-19 vaccination was a top priority and also stated he had made a formal request to the Governor for additional security in the House. Sen. Dinah Sykes, the new Minority Leader of the Senate, stated that getting a vote on Medicaid expansion would be a top priority, and also mentioned school funding and mental health issues as priorities.
On Tuesday, January 12, Gov. Laura Kelly delivered her State of the State message virtually due to the pandemic and included comments related to the COVID-19 vaccination priorities, Medicaid expansion, and economic growth. She stated that 84,555 Kansans have been vaccinated to date and that the second phase of the state’s vaccination distribution plan is expected to begin before the end of this month. This second phase will include older adults (age 65 and older), essential frontline workers (police, firefighters and other first responders), and teachers, childcare providers, and grocery store and meat packing plant workers. She noted that the most recent information about distribution and timelines is available at www.kansasvaccine.gov. Her economic growth plan is focused on support for small businesses, rebuilding infrastructure, new job creation, agriculture and broadband development.
On Thursday, Gov. Kelly announced that the Capitol will be closed to the public for one week beginning at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, January 15, due to threats in connection with the presidential inauguration. All entrances to the building will be closed except the north entrance.
On Monday, January 18, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reported 259,822 COVID-19 cases (up 12,320 from January 11) from all 105 counties with 3,525 deaths (up 270 from January 11).
House Health and Human Services Committee
(Rep. Brenda Landwehr, Chair)
On Tuesday, January 12, the Committee held a hearing on the COVID-19 vaccine distribution process. Conferees included Rachelle Colombo, Executive Director of the Kansas Medical Society, and Chad Austin, President and CEO of the Kansas Hospital Association. After hearing about challenges, including frustration among medical professionals about vaccinations for physicians who do not work in hospitals and hospitals that have not yet received their allotment of vaccines, and bright spots with vaccine distribution, committee members discussed the cost and coverage of vaccines, state and federal reporting requirements, distribution to tribes, how decisions about distribution are made, federal and state authority over the distribution process, what happens when locations receive more vaccines than requested, and ways to increase transparency in the distribution process.
On Wednesday, January 13, the Committee held a hearing on the COVID-19 testing and quarantine process. Conferees included Dr. Sam Antonios, Chief Clinical Officer of Ascension Via Christi, Andy Schlapp, Executive Director of Government Relations & Strategy at Wichita State University (WSU) and Tonya Witherspoon, Associate Vice President of Industry Engagement & Applied Learning at WSU. Dr. Antonios provided an overview of the different types of COVID-19 tests and quarantine guidelines for COVID-19. Committee members asked Dr. Antonios about the accuracy of rapid tests, the number of cycles needed for a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, changes in quarantine guidelines, issues with mailing test samples, antibody longevity, length of immunity following a vaccination, and protocols for when health care employees are exposed to the virus.
The WSU conferees then provided an overview of the COVID-19 diagnostic lab the university established to increase testing capacity in Kansas. Committee members asked about the cost of tests, who could be tested by the WSU lab, other testing strategies (e.g., wastewater testing), testing of asymptomatic individuals, who the university has partnered with to conduct regular tests, the sensitivity and specificity of the tests, the capacity of the lab, the possibility of expanding capacity, and ways to expand testing trainings to other languages.
Senate Public Health and Welfare
(Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, Chair)
On Wednesday, January 13, the Committee held a hearing regarding the status of nursing homes and adult care facilities during COVID-19. Testimony was received from nursing home providers across the state, and representatives of LeadingAge Kansas and the Kansas Health Care Association. Conferees described staffing issues — including budget spikes due to increased wages and staffing shortages — and stressed the need to continue the temporary nurse aide training program created in response to the pandemic. Other concerns were raised around reporting burdens, the number of surveys conducted by the state, and inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE). They also expressed concerns about provisions in Special Session House Bill 2016, which granted adult care facilities an affirmative defense to liability in a civil action for damages related to COVID-19, while other healthcare providers were granted immunity from civil liability for damages. Committee members asked questions about staffing (e.g., shortages, testing issues, and the impact of staffing agencies on wages), liability concerns, and Medicaid volumes.
On Thursday, January 14, Scott Brunner, Deputy Secretary of Hospitals and Facilities at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS), provided an update on the agency’s response to COVID-19 in regulating nursing homes and adult care facilities and responded to concerns raised by providers and others during the January 13 committee meeting. His presentation covered guidance issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and KDADS throughout the pandemic, the frequency of agency on-site surveys, distribution of Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) funding, PPE and testing. Committee members asked questions about the allocation of SPARK funding, quality of PPE provided to facilities, stringency of CMS guidance, and regular testing of survey staff.
(Sen. Jeff Longbine, Chair)
On Thursday, January 14, the Committee heard an overview presentation on the Kansas Insurance Department (KID) from Insurance Commissioner Vicki Schmidt. In response to a question from Sen. Beverly Gossage about the possibility of Congressional repeal of the McCarran-Ferguson Act, which grants the authority to regulate the business of insurance to the states, Commissioner Schmidt stated that all states and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners are opposed to any federal legislation that would threaten state regulation of insurance. The Commissioner also stated during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic KID was receiving complaints from consumers who were being billed inappropriately for COVID-19 testing but that the department worked closely with health insurance companies and health care providers to address these problems and both have done a good job resolving these issues.
House Federal and State Affairs
(Rep. John Barker, Chair)
On Thursday, January 14, the Committee discussed guidelines for the hearing on House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 5003, known as the Value Them Both Amendment, which would amend the Bill of Rights of the Kansas Constitution by adding a new section stating there is no constitutional right to abortion, and reserving to the people the ability to regulate abortion through the elected members of the Legislature. The amendment, if approved by two-thirds of each the House and the Senate, would then be submitted to Kansas voters at a special election on August 2, 2022, in conjunction with the primary election held on that date.
On Friday, January 15, the Committee held a hearing on HCR No. 5003. Following a summary of the bill by Matt Sterling, Office of Revisor of Statutes, the Committee heard testimony from proponents, including representatives of Kansans for Life, the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, the Archdiocese of Kansas, Frontier Peace and a number of individual conferees. Opponents included representatives of Planned Parenthood, the Trust Women Foundation, MainStream Coalition, Kansas Abortion Fund, and a number of individual conferees.
House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means
(Rep. Troy Waymaster, Chair; Sen. Rick Billinger, Chair)
On Wednesday, January 13, the Committees held a joint meeting to hear an overview of Gov. Laura Kelly’s 2021-2022 budget proposal. J. G. Scott, Director of Legislative Research, provided an overview of the Fall 2020 Consensus Revenue Estimates (CREs) and Adam Proffitt, former State Medicaid Director and newly appointed Director of the Division of Budget, provided a high-level overview of the Governor’s budget, which proposes a revised State General Fund FY 2021 budget of $7.59 billion and a FY 2022 budget of $7.96 billion.
The budget includes resources to expand Medicaid beginning January 1, 2020. For FY 2022, expenditures of $596.0 million from all funds are included for expansion, with $19.0 million from the State General Fund. Costs for expansion are included in the Governor’s recommendation for FY 2022 caseloads.
Gov. Kelly also announced that on January 21 she again will submit an Executive Reorganization Order (ERO) to merge the Kansas Department of Children and Families (KDCF) and KDADS to create the Kansas Department of Human Services (KDHS). A similar ERO submitted last year was not approved by the Legislature. The proposed budget for KDHS for FY 2022 is $3.1 billion, including $1.3 billion from the State General Fund, and includes enhancements for specialized community mental health center services in nursing facilities for mental health, statewide behavioral health mobile response and stabilization, and family crisis response and support services.
(Rep. Fred Patton, Chair)
On Wednesday, January 13, the Committee began a hearing on House Bill (HB) 2048, which would extend certain disaster declaration provisions of the governmental response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Kansas and provide certain relief related to health, welfare, property and economic security during the public health emergency to June 1, 2021. This bill would extend or amend similar provisions included in 2020 Special Session HB 2016, which will expire on January 26, 2021. The bill also extends provisions related to the practice of telehealth, temporary emergency licenses to practice any profession licensed or regulated by the Board of Healing Arts, and the expansion of services that may be provided by physician assistants, advanced practice registered nurses, nurse anesthetists, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and pharmacists to December 31, 2021. Natalie Scott, Office of the Revisor of Statutes, presented an overview of HB 2048 and answered questions from legislators about how HB 2048 differs from HB 2016, legislative oversight, and executive authority. Proponent testimony was received from representatives of the Kansas Hospital Association, Kansas Policy Institute, Kansas Justice Institute, Kansas Chamber, Kansas Association of Certified Nurse Anesthetists, National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), and Centura Health.
(Sen. Kellie Warren, Chair)
On Tuesday, January 12, the Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill (SB) 14, which would amend existing law regarding the governmental response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Kansas. The bill would amend the statute ratifying and continuing the COVID-19-related state of disaster emergency created by 2020 Special Session HB 2016 and subsequent extensions by the State Finance Council and would ratify and continue the state of disaster emergency until March 31, 2021. The bill also would amend the Kansas Emergency Management Act (KEMA) to extend from 2020 through 2021 a provision prohibiting the Governor from proclaiming any new state of disaster emergency related to the COVID-19 health emergency without approval by at least six legislative members of the State Finance Council. The bill also would amend statutory provisions of existing law related to telemedicine, temporary emergency licensure by the Board of Healing Arts, temporary licensure measures for additional health care providers, and business immunity from liability for a COVID-19 claim and amend KEMA to limit the Governor’s closure or cessation of business activity by limiting its application to a state of disaster related to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Jason Thompson, Office of Revisor of Statutes, provided an overview of the bill provisions and answered clarifying questions. Proponent testimony was offered by representatives of various organizations, including the Kansas Chamber, Kansas Policy Institute, Kansas Restaurant & Hospitality Association (KHRA), League of Kansas Municipalities, Kansas Medical Society, Kansas Hospital Association, Centura Health, and the Kansas Association of Certified Nurse Anesthetists. Neutral testimony was received from representatives of the Kansas State Board of Healing Arts and the Sierra Club.
The hearing on SB 14 was continued on Wednesday, January 13, and the Committee received opponent testimony from a private citizen, who stated there should be no disaster declaration in place. The Committee also approved a motion to clarify legislative intent in the minutes to not create a new scope of practice for providers not licensed in Kansas, and then passed the bill out favorably.
The bill was then passed by the Senate by Emergency Final Action on January 14 on a vote of 34-1 and forwarded to House Judiciary.