Week 2 of the 2021 Session
After the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday on Monday, January 18, legislators resumed their work with a lighter than usual schedule after a number of committee meetings were canceled for the week. As announced by Gov. Laura Kelly on Friday, January 15, access to the Capitol remained limited for the week in response to threats linked to the presidential inauguration on January 20. In addition, on Monday, January 18, Gov. Kelly announced that all state office buildings in downtown Topeka, except the Capitol, would be closed on January 19 and 20. Fortunately, things remained peaceful and legislators were able to work through several issues that were initiated during the first week of the session.
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On Wednesday, January 20, the Governor updated the Phase 2 guidelines for COVID-19 inoculation to:
- Persons age 65 and older;
- High-contact critical workers necessary to maintain systems, assets and activities that are vital to the state security, economy or public health, or who interact with large numbers of contacts and job-related COVID-19 exposure. This category includes firefighters, police officers and other first responders, as well as correctional officers, grocery store and food service workers, K-12 and childcare workers, including teachers, custodians, drivers and other staff; and
- Persons living or working in licensed congregate settings where social distancing is not possible, including homeless and emergency shelters, corrections facilities and behavioral health institutions.
Gov. Kelly noted there are about 1 million Kansans who would be eligible under Phase 2 but that the distribution will be slow as the state is expected to receive only 45,000 doses from the federal government during the week of January 25.
Also on Wednesday, Senate President Ty Masterson’s Chief of Operations, Chase Blasi, stated that Sen. Masterson had helped to establish a testing site in the Capitol that is run by the Wichita State University molecular diagnostic laboratory, which will be open every day from 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM for everyone with business in the building, including lobbyists, media and state employees from other buildings. Blasi noted that the tests are free of charge because they are covered by funds from the CARES Act and stated they are asking everyone in the building to test twice a week. The saliva test results are generally available within 24 hours.
On Thursday, January 21, Gov. Kelly announced that city and county officials across the state will determine how to handle the distribution of shots for individuals in Phase 2 of her inoculation plan and that about 111,000 Kansans had already received COVID-19 vaccinations. Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) Sec. Lee Norman stated that while supplies of the vaccine are low, Kansans can go to any county in the state to be vaccinated and that decisions about vaccinations will be made by local officials.
On Monday, January 25, KDHE reported 269,255 COVID-19 cases (up 9,433 from January 18) from 105 counties with 3,622 deaths (up 97 from January 18).
House Health and Human Services
(Rep. Brenda Landwehr, Chair)
On Tuesday, January 19, and Wednesday, January 20, the Committee heard presentations on the Report of the Special Committee on Mental Health Modernization and Reform from Marisa Bayless of the Kansas Legislative Research Department, Carlie Houchen and Hina Shah of the Kansas Health Institute, and members of the working groups convened by the Special Committee who met during the summer and fall of 2020. Ms. Bayless provided an overview of the Special Committee and its recommendations, Ms. Houchen provided an overview of the process used to develop the recommendations, and Ms. Shah presented the high-level data profile that provides a snapshot of the state’s behavioral health system. High-priority recommendations were then presented for each Working Group: Dr. Will Warnes, Medical Director of the Sunflower Health Plan, reported for the Finance and Sustainability Working Group; Rachel Marsh, Chief Executive Officer of the Children's Alliance of Kansas, for the Policy and Treatment Working Group; Andrea Clark, CIT/Veterans Programs Coordinator at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS), for the System Capacity and Transformation Working Group; and Sandra Berg, Executive Director of United Behavioral Healthcare, for the Telehealth Subgroups. Committee members asked questions about counting supervision hours for telehealth toward licensure requirements, whether recommendations address the shortage of beds at Osawatomie State Hospital, and what legislative actions are needed to have certified community behavioral health clinics in Kansas.
On Tuesday, January 19, the Committee also held a joint meeting with the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee to receive an update from KDHE Sec. Lee Norman on the agency’s COVID-19 response efforts. In lieu of a formal presentation, Sec. Norman responded to a large number of questions from Committee members related to the vaccination process, including whether incarcerated individuals had received vaccinations (none have been vaccinated at this time, but the Centers for Disease Control recommends individuals in congregate settings be vaccinated); has vaccine been wasted (only one instance amounting to eight doses); how much flexibility do county health officials have to move from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of the Governor’s vaccination plan (they have the discretion to make those decisions at the county level when they believe they have completed Phase 1); how will the public be informed about when and where they can be vaccinated (local health officials will have that information and there is also a new state website – www.kansasvaccine.gov); how many doses have been administered (125,479 as of 9:00 AM that day, and a total of 200,000 vaccines have been received); why was it originally reported that Kansas was lagging in vaccine administration (vaccine providers, including hospitals, have struggled with the WebIZ reporting system used to report information about vaccinations but KDHE is working closely with them to address their problems, Kansas is currently in the “middle of the pack” of states in terms of reported vaccination rates); would it be possible for legislators to be vaccinated in Topeka rather than traveling back to their home county (they can get vaccinated in Shawnee County and it may be possible to have a mobile vaccination clinic set up in or near the Capitol in the future).
Sec. Norman was asked to appear at a special joint session of the Committees on January 26 and was also agreeable to making a weekly briefing to the Committees at their regular meeting times.
House Social Services Budget
(Rep. Will Carpenter, Chair)
On Wednesday, January 20, the Committee heard a presentation on the Senior Care Act from Janis DeBoer, Deputy Secretary of KDADS. The Act was established in 1989 to provide services to assist older Kansans who have functional limitations in self-care and independent living. The program has become a critical early intervention component to the Kansas long-term care network. Dep. Sec. DeBoer provided an overview of the program and the services provided, its funding, and examples of success stories. Committee members asked questions related to assisting older adults who need help but don’t want to ask for it, the wait list and staffing shortages, funding sources, provider contracts, outreach and entry points, and cost savings compared to the state’s share in nursing home assistance.
On Thursday, January 21, Dep. Sec. DeBoer returned for an informational hearing on the mental health, aging and disability services workforce. She provided an overview of workforce issues in Kansas and how improving workforce development fits into the KDADS strategic plan, then discussed workforce recommendations taken from the Special Committee on Mental Health Modernization and Reform report, and added additional information related to the home and community-based services (HCBS) workforce in Kansas. Committee members asked questions and made comments related to the reasons individuals leave the workforce; how the change in training hours for certified nurse aids (CNAs) has affected quality of care; the average salary of CNAs; telemedicine; women leaving the workforce; the impact of stimulus funds on the workforce; and what might be the potential impact of increasing the minimum wage. Chair Carpenter indicated the Legislature is working on a bill related to the modernization of mental health which should come forward this session.
House Federal and State Affairs
(Rep. John Barker, Chair)
On Thursday, January 21, the Committee discussed House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 5003, which would amend the Kansas Constitution to create a new section in the Bill of Rights concerning the regulation of abortion and would state that the people of Kansas, through their elected state Representatives and Senators, may pass laws regarding abortion. If approved by two-thirds of the Legislature, the resolution would be submitted to voters at a special election on August 2, 2022, in conjunction with the primary election held on that date. Amendments introduced by Rep. Dennis Highberger that would roll back Kansas law to before the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision in the Hodes & Nauser v Schmidt decision, and Rep. Brandon Woodard that would move the date of submission to voters to November 2022, failed to pass. The resolution then passed favorably out of Committee.
On Friday, January 22, the House passed HCR 5003 on a vote of 86-38 and sent it to the Senate.
(Rep. Troy Waymaster, Chair)
On Tuesday, January 19, the Committee heard a presentation on the Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) Taskforce and the Office of Recovery from Secretary DeAngela Burns-Wallace, Kansas Department of Administration (KDOA). The SPARK Taskforce, in conjunction with the Office of Recovery team, are responsible for the statewide distribution of $1.034 billion in Coronavirus Relief Fund (CR) dollars from the federal CARES Act to support state, local and tribal governments in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sec. Burns-Wallace’s presentation included a description of the process used by the Taskforce as compared to neighboring states and the distribution of funds to counties and for statewide needs. The total amount of dollars distributed to date is $998 million.
Sec. Burns-Wallace also provided an overview of H.R. 133, the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. She explained that the funding provided in the federal law will flow directly to individual entities rather than through a central fund administered by the Recovery Office and that the Recovery Office will now shift its focus from fund allocation and administration to providing targeted support and strategic guidance to recipient entities. She further stated that in this new central support role, the Recovery Office aims to: develop a cohesive view of relief programs across the state; coordinate across entities to optimize and balance the combined portfolio of relief programs; support entities in understanding legislative details; assist entities in navigating reporting and compliance requirements; and share key learnings from the 2020 relief efforts. She also walked through the features of the COVID-19 Investment Dashboard, available at https://covid.ks.gov/covid-data/.
Committee members asked questions related to CARES Act funds being put into the unemployment insurance fund, the timeline for spending childcare remote learning funds, supporting current businesses versus developing or bringing new businesses into the state, possibly recalling unspent funds in areas for which new federal funding is earmarked, and how the SPARK Taskforce set priorities for funding.
(Rep. Fred Patton, Chair)
On Tuesday, January 19, 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, which was passed by the Senate on January 14 on a vote of 34-1, 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. At the end of the hearing Chair Patton explained that SB 14 would need to be passed and signed by the Governor by no later than January 26 in order to extend the provisions in HB 2016 and the bill would likely be referred to the House for debate. Ultimately, the bill was withdrawn from the Committee and referred to the House, which passed the bill on January 21 on a vote of 119-3.
The Committee also recommended that HB 2048, the House version of SB 14, be passed as amended.
(Sen. Kellie Warren, Chair)
On Tuesday, January 19, the Committee discussed Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 1602, which would amend the Kansas Constitution to create a new section in the Bill of Rights concerning the regulation of abortion. The resolution is substantially similar to HCR 5003, which was passed by the House on January 22. Sen. Dennis Pyle made a motion to amend the resolution to move up the date of submission to voters from August 2022 to November 2021 but did not receive a second, and the motion failed. The resolution then passed favorably out of Committee.
House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development
(Rep. Sean Tarwater, Chair)
On Tuesday, January 19, the Committee held a hearing on HB 2066, which would expand the military spouse and servicemember's expedited licensure law to allow all applicants (non-military related individuals) who have established or intend to establish residency in Kansas to be granted licensure, registration, certification or a temporary permit to practice their profession in Kansas within 15 days of submitting a completed application (as defined in the bill) to the appropriate licensing body. The bill broadly applies to a large number of professions and professional licensing bodies, including the Board of Adult Care Home Administrators; Secretary for Aging and Disability Services; Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board; Kansas Dental Board; Board of Examiners in Optometry; State Board of Healing Arts; Board of Nursing; and State Board of Pharmacy, but includes specific provisions related to out-of-state physicians holding a license to practice telemedicine in another state The bill does provide a specific exemption for the Board of Healing Arts, which would permit the Board to deny any application for licensure, registration or certification, or decline to grant a temporary or probationary license, if the board determines the applicant's qualifications are not substantially equivalent to those established by the Board.
Proponents included representatives of Teladoc, Americans for Prosperity Kansas, and the Wichita Regional and Greater Kansas City Chambers of Commerce, and the executive director of the Kansas Board of Technical Professionals testified in favor of the bill but asked that the Board be provided the same exemption granted to the Board of Healing Arts. A representative of the American Institute of Architects testified in opposition to the bill and representatives of the Kansas Medical Society and the Board of Healing Arts provided neutral testimony but expressed concerns about the bill being expanded to include non-military personnel, that it creates different standards for out-of-state applicants as compared to Kansas professionals, and that the term “scope of practice” is not defined when the bill authorizes a licensing body to issue a license to an applicant who holds a certification rather than a license issued by another state that requires a similar “scope of practice” as the licensing requirements in Kansas.
The Kansas Health Institute supports effective policymaking through nonpartisan research, education and engagement. KHI believes evidence-based information, objective analysis and civil dialogue enable policy leaders to be champions for a healthier Kansas. Established in 1995 with a multiyear grant from the Kansas Health Foundation, KHI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization based in Topeka.