The Legislature returned to work on Wednesday, March 1, following the Turnaround Week break, but only a few meetings were held in the health-related committees. However, childcare, cannabis, and homelessness were discussed by legislators during the short week.
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On Wednesday, March 1, Gov. Kelly announced that the total tax-only collections for February were $549.8 million, which was $36.8 million more than the monthly estimate.
On Thursday, March 2, the House passed House Bill (HB) 2269 on a vote of 68-53. The bill would amend the Kansas Cigarette and Tobacco Products Act (Act) to raise the minimum age to 21 to sell, purchase, and possess cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, and tobacco products. The bill also would amend the Act’s unlawful act provisions concerning cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, or tobacco products, specifically to amend references to the minimum age in statutes concerning the sale, furnishing or distribution of cigarettes, electronic cigarettes or tobacco products; the possession of such products; the age listed on required notice of the minimum age to be sold such products; distribution of samples within 500 feet of a school when the facility is primarily used by persons under the minimum age; distribution of such samples in an area to which persons under minimum age are allowed access; and use of a self-service display in a facility where the retailer allows persons younger than the minimum age to be present or permitted to enter at any time. The bill has now been referred to the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee.
House Child Welfare and Foster Care Committee
(Rep. Susan Concannon, Chair)
On Wednesday, March 1, the Committee received a presentation on childcare from Melissa Rooker, Executive Director of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund (KCCTF), which included the background and history of the Trust Fund and its funding source (a share of the Master Tobacco Settlement agreement). Rooker noted that currently the Trust Fund leads a cross-agency collaboration between the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE), Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) and Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), funded by a $26.7 million, three-year, federal Preschool Development Grant (PDG) and that the Trust Fund was awarded an additional $4 million PDG for calendar year 2023. The new grant is to be used to facilitate an evaluation of progress made with the prior PDG, update the comprehensive statewide needs assessment, and plan for continued improvement in the early childhood care and education system. She also described some Children’s Cabinet activities, including:
- Coordinated efforts between KDHE, DCF, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and local law enforcement to streamline the fingerprint and background check process for childcare workers;
- A comprehensive review of the state’s childcare licensing rules and regulations to ensure compliance with federal regulations, ensure safe childcare conditions, and address community needs;
- Technical assistance to communities to assist with planning for childcare expansion, which involves bringing local government, education, business leaders, economic development groups, philanthropic organizations, faith-based organizations, childcare providers and parents together to plan for childcare expansion;
- The award of nearly $9 million in Child Care Quality Improvement subgrants over the three years of the first PDG; and
- The award of grants and funding for programs related to childcare utilizing federal pandemic relief funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSA), and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
Finally, Rooker noted that low wages and lack of eligibility for healthcare and retirement benefits negatively impact the ability to recruit and retain childcare workers and the supply of childcare slots. Committee members asked questions regarding average age of childcare workers (more than half of the workforce is over the age of 50), how might childcare workers be provided with benefits, and the timeline for completion of the review of the licensing rules and regulations.
House Federal and State Affairs Committee
(Rep. Will Carpenter, Chair)
On Thursday, March 2, the Committee worked HB 2304, which would provide that for the purposes of promoting the safety and protection of students and emphasizing how students should respond when encountering a firearm, school districts could provide firearm safety education programs. The State Board of Education would be required to establish curriculum guidelines for a standardized firearm safety education program that would include accident prevention. If a local board of education would elect to provide firearm safety education, the instruction would be required to be in accordance with the guidelines established by the State Board of Education. Four amendments were proposed but none were approved, and the bill was passed favorably out of Committee.
Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee
(Sen. Mike Thompson, Chair)
On Wednesday, March 1, the Committee began a two-day informational hearing on multi-state impact data on the legalization of marijuana and heard presentations by Dale Quigley, National Marijuana Initiative for High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program; Jo McGuire, National Drug and Alcohol Screening Association; Brian Surber, Deputy Director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics; and Steve Howe, Johnson County District Attorney.
Quigley discussed the evolving pattern of marijuana legalization in the United States since 1996 and noted that there is no single standard for regulation of marijuana. He also stated that the potency levels of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana have increased since 1996.
McGuire discussed the impact of workplace drug testing rules and how mandatory drug testing programs have reduced drug use by 50 percent. However, she asserted that there is now pressure to remove THC from routine drug test panels to protect employees’ rights to use marijuana and that positive drug test rates have been increasing year-over-year since Colorado, Washington, and Oregon changed their laws. McGuire also reported that employee substance use disorders are costing U.S. employers upwards of $81 billion annually.
Surber reported on the impact of legalizing marijuana in Oklahoma and cited the lack of evidence supporting the use of marijuana for the treatment of epilepsy and the dangers of cannabis use disorder. He also stated that since the legalization of marijuana in Oklahoma, there has been a significant increase in the black market, with international criminal syndicates operating black market marijuana grows in the state.
Howe encouraged the Committee members to consider the opinions of the medical community when making a decision regarding the legalization of medical marijuana and referred to published statements from the American Medical Association (AMA), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACP).
Committee members asked questions regarding the most popular cannabis products sold in Oklahoma and how the legalization of marijuana has impacted workers compensation laws.
On Thursday, March 2, the Committee heard from Laura Stack, Johnny’s Ambassadors; Dr. Ken Finn, American Board of Pain Management; Dr. Eric Voth, Kansas Medical Society (KMS); Robert Jacobs, Executive Officer of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation; Ed Klump, Kansas Sheriff’s Association/Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police; and Katie Whisman, Stand Up for Kansas.
Johnny’s Ambassadors is an organization that aims to educate people about the risks associated with high-potency THC marijuana use. The organization was founded by Stack following the death by suicide of her 19-year-old son after his use of high-potency THC marijuana.
Finn noted that the primary reason patients request medical marijuana is for pain relief and presented findings from a report on a randomized trial that indicated that the therapeutic window of pain relief is between 16-31ng/ml (nanograms/milliliter) of THC plasma. He also suggested that 5 ng/ml is considered impaired driving but acknowledged it is difficult to determine.
Voth, who is also the president and chairman of the board of the International Academy on the Science and Impact of Cannabis, recommended that all cannabis-based medicines or substances be approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before legislation is passed in Kansas, and that preparations with more than 10 percent THC concentrations be prohibited. He also noted that the medical community’s opposition to medical marijuana is due in part to concerns regarding providers recommending state-approved cannabis, which is not approved by the FDA, and the lack of standard safe practices.
Jacobs stated that the KBI opposes the legalization of medical marijuana in Kansas, citing concerns over public health and safety and argued that legalizing medical marijuana would increase accessibility to a drug that is already commonly abused, leading to more property and violent crimes, and posing a significant risk to public safety through illegal THC extraction methods. He also suggested that increased access to marijuana would make it more accessible to minors and contribute to increased marijuana use among young people.
Klump stated that Kansas law enforcement associations believe that legalizing medical marijuana will lead to recreational use in the future, and that it will result in more demand for hospital services, mental health, and addiction services.
Whisman stated that her group believes that legalizing marijuana for medical purposes is a threat to the quality of life in Kansas and that it is a slippery slope towards recreational legalization and that developing marijuana-based medications through the FDA process is more likely to ensure safe and reliable products.
Committee members asked questions regarding whether crime increased in Colorado following legalization of marijuana, what is an “acceptable” amount of THC, and how the disposal of the biproducts of industrial hemp is handled.
House Welfare Reform Committee
(Rep. Francis Awerkamp, Chair)
On Thursday, March 2, the Committee held a hearing on HB 2430, which would establish the Safe Cities Act and would set requirements and limitations for political subdivisions (such as cities) regarding homelessness. The bill would prohibit political subdivisions from adopting or enforcing any policy that interferes with the enforcement of any order or ordinance banning public camping, sleeping or obstruction of public right-of-ways, including roads and sidewalks; or prohibits or discourages a peace officer or prosecuting attorney who is employed by or under the direction of the political subdivision from enforcing any order or ordinance prohibiting public camping, sleeping or obstruction of public right-of-ways. The bill also would authorize the attorney general to bring a civil action against any political subdivision to enjoin it from violating the provisions of the Act. Proponent testimony was provided by a representative of the Cicero Institute (based in Austin, Texas), who stated the bill would ensure that cities enforce laws against public disorder and public camping and prevent local governments from refusing to enforce their own laws. Neutral testimony was provided by a representative of the City of Topeka, who expressed concerns regarding the bill’s potential impact on state funding for addressing homelessness.
Opponents included more than 20 private citizens and representatives of organizations, including the League of Kansas Municipalities, Good Faith Network, Peace Works KC, Cross-Lines Community Outreach, Care Beyond the Boulevard, City of Lawrence, Kansas Interfaith Action, Lawrence Community Shelter, Topeka Rescue Mission, and United Community Services of Johnson County. Written-only opponent testimony was submitted by more than 30 private citizens and representatives of organizations, including the Kansas Mental Health Coalition, Health Forward Foundation, Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, Kansas Action for Children, Kansas Association of Counties, Greater Kansas City Coalition to End Homelessness, HumanKind Wichita, Leavenworth Attainable Housing, Project 10 20, Inc., Douglas County Kansas, Hunter Health, and City of Overland Park.
Committee members asked questions regarding what is meant by sanctioned camping areas, the enforceability of the criminal penalty provisions, criteria used by the federal government to determine the amount of federal funding available to communities for homelessness, investments in housing in Colorado Springs, and the bill’s impact on the LGBTQ community.