A Great Week for Kansas
Dear Friends,

First of all, a Happy belated 160th Birthday to the State of Kansas! Friday was “Kansas Day”, which is celebrated on January 29th of every year, marking the day Kansas was admitted to the union. 

We are now three weeks into the 2021 legislative session, and activity is picking up considerably within the committee process. So far, well over 100 bills have been introduced in the Senate (many more on the House side), and many of those are receiving hearings and are in the process of being worked to move to the floor for consideration.

When we began the session, there were three primary tasks for the Senate to tackle before the end of January: 

  • Kansas Emergency Management Act – With the original bill we passed last June having provisions which expired on January 26th, we had to act and did via SB 14. The House adopted the same bill and it was signed into law by the governor on Monday.

  • Court of Appeals Appointments – During the time we were out of session, the governor nominated two individuals for two spots on the Kansas Court of Appeals. We had to consider those within a small window of the session starting. We did so the week before last, confirming Amy Cline without opposition and rejecting Carl Folsom. My newsletter will address both in detail.

  • Value Them Both Amendment – Last year, the Senate passed the Value Them Both Amendment but the House fell shy by four votes. In the interim, the 2020 elections confirmed that people want this amendment on the ballot, and so it became a priority to adopt it early in the session. I am pleased to report that the House passed it 86-38, and then the Senate followed suit on Thursday by a vote of 28-11. This was a historic action and I will also detail it in this newsletter.

With the work being completed on these major items, the Senate will now turn to a more normal schedule of action. We voted on a number of measures on Monday. The legislative session continues to be a bit different due to COVID-19 – we may spend a day or two on the floor each week only – but in some ways, that is requiring us to be more efficient in what we do. That’s a good thing.

Finally, as noted, some major issues are working their way through the committee process. I will address one of those issues – the Kansas Energy Choice Act – as we heard it in the Utilities Committee this past week, which I chair.

With that, here is your update!
Value Them Both
Thursday was such a historic day! The Kansas Senate passed the Value Them Both Amendment by a vote of 28-11. This followed action by the Kansas House, which had adopted the VTB Amendment the previous Friday by a vote of 86-38. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it does not need the governor’s signature, but instead now will go directly to the people of Kansas for their approval in August of 2022.

Senator Molly Baumgardner did a fantastic job carrying the bill on the Senate floor, and several other Senators made excellent points during the debate. The adoption of the Value Them Both Amendment was made possible by a wide coalition of groups and individuals, including Kansans for Life, the Kansas Catholic Conference, and the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, among others.

The Bill of Rights of the Kansas Constitution reads as follows: “All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

The Value Them Both Amendment is necessary due to the April 26, 2019 decision by the Kansas Supreme Court which created an unlimited right to abortion in the 1859 Kansas Constitution, using the Kansas Bill of Rights as justification for their decision.
Because of the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling, existing bans on late-term and taxpayer-funded abortions are now in danger of being rendered unenforceable due to the strict scrutiny standard the court used. Furthermore, the ruling allows violent live dismemberment abortions to continue and threatens these lifesaving limits:

  • Parental consent for minors seeking an abortion 
  • Informed consent, alerting women to potential health risks
  • 24-hour waiting period
  • Abortion clinic sanitation and safety standards
Most of these protections for women and the unborn were supported by bi-partisan majorities. The 2020 elections, both here in Senate District 10 and around the state, confirmed that Kansans wanted these important laws upheld. For a complete timeline of the protections that have been passed since 1997, please click here. I will note that my predecessor, Mary Pilcher-Cook, played a key role in getting many of these important bills passed and signed into law. These are the very laws Kansas voters will now have the opportunity to preserve.

I encourage you to learn more about the amendment by visiting valuethemboth.com.
Kansas Court of Appeals Nominations
The week before last, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on two nominees by Governor Kelly to the Kansas Court of Appeals. In Kansas, the method of judicial selection varies based on the level of the court. For the Court of Appeals, it is much like the federal system, where the chief executive nominates someone, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate. 

In this case, the governor nominated Amy Cline and Carl Folsom. Amy Cline sailed through the Judiciary Committee and was confirmed without opposition on the Senate floor. Her depth of experience was quite impressive and her answers to questions by Senators confirmed she had a judicial philosophy that respected the Constitution.

For Carl Folsom, if you recall, this was his second bite at the apple. Last May, he was nominated to the same court, but failed to be confirmed due to concerns about his breadth of experience and his judicial philosophy. Some of his answers to questions from Senators seemed to show a viewpoint that the courts could make law over time. 

Despite the Senate’s rejection of his nomination last June, Governor Kelly opted to nominate him again to a different position on the same court. This time around, he attempted to clarify those questions, but his answers did not seem consistent – it was more like he was simply trying to satisfy Senators to get 21 votes, rather than articulating a core philosophy. In addition, concerns about his breadth of experience remained. Many Senators shared those concerns and as a result, his nomination only garnered 18 votes – three shy of the 21 required.

I voted Yes on Cline and No on Folsom.
Kansas Energy Choice Act
As I mentioned in my first newsletter, I was appointed Chair of the Utilities Committee. The major bill we are working early in the session is very important to Kansans – and that’s the Kansas Energy Choice Act. The bill would prohibit a municipality from taking any action that would limit a customer’s use of a service from a public utility based upon the source of the energy to be delivered to the customer.

During the hearing, a wide array of organizations, representing thousands of Kansas businesses and homeowners, testified in support of the Kansas Energy Choice Act. This included the Kansas Chamber, the National Federation of Independent Business, Americans for Prosperity, the Wichita and Topeka area local Chambers of Commerce, as well as numerous industry groups, representing thousands of Kansas jobs.

Here are two points of testimony I want to highlight that emphasize the importance of the legislation:

More than 70 percent of Kansans rely on natural gas or propane for home heating, well above the national average. These local bans serve as regressive taxes that hurt low- and middle-income consumers and exacerbate energy poverty, with little to no environmental benefit. Prohibiting the direct consumption of natural gas in furnaces, stoves, dryers, and water heaters – at a time of historically low prices – forces consumers to rely on more expensive fuels.
Elizabeth Patton, Americans for Prosperity

If Kansas communities are to compete for the jobs of the future, they will need all the tools at their disposal, including clean, affordable energy. Innovations in the energy sector have brought forth many promising new opportunities for businesses to lower their energy costs and reduce their carbon footprint. Some local governments, though, have taken action to unilaterally restrict the range of options, such as natural gas, available to energy consumers. This kind of patchwork of municipal restrictions will place Kansas and its localities at a competitive disadvantage without necessarily making any meaningful headway toward the otherwise laudable goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The best approach to such clean energy goals is to develop a long-term statewide energy plan.
Curtis Sneden, President of the Topeka Area Chamber of Commerce.
We finished two days of hearings on Wednesday – one day for proponent testimony, and one day for neutral and opponent testimony. We began working through the bill on Thursday, and that process will continue this week. 
Unemployment Insurance Fraud
at the Kansas Department of Labor
It would be hard to find a more disastrous situation than the one the governor finds herself with at the Kansas Department of Labor. The staggering number of fraudulent claims led the governor to completely shut down the system last weekend in hopes of finally adding security to the system. You can read about the situation in this report on ABC News. The problem is that the situation is already out of control. 

The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on the situation last week, and the information coming out of that committee will anger you. 
Jeff Oswald, President of Unemployment Insurance Services, testified to the “immense” amount of fraud. His company is a third-party administrator of employer's unemployment claims and tax management programs and has represented employers in the state of Kansas since 1977. By providing services to customers nationwide, particularly in the Midwest, he testified that he is in a unique position to see trends in each state.
Here is an excerpt from his testimony:
First, I want to make it clear that the fraud issue is occurring in every state. We have clients in all 53 unemployment jurisdictions and have had fraudulent claims filed in nearly each one. What sets Kansas apart is the incredible volume of fraudulent claims. Since October 1, 2020, we have identified more than 17,000 fraudulent unemployment claims for all our clients. The Kansas portion of this total is 97% equaling more than 16,600 fraudulent claims filed against our Kansas clients. Since January 1, 2021 alone, we have identified and processed more than 4,100 potentially fraudulent claims against Kansas clients. These numbers do not include claims that we have received for a second, third, and even a fourth subsequent notice on the same individual.

What makes the situation even more frustrating is that the KDOL is also basically “spinning” the actual unemployment numbers to show something better than is being advertised, due to the fact many Kansans have stopped looking for work. Note this story from the Sentinel. Michael Austin, a noted economist in Kansas, said the following in the article:

“When Kansans stop looking for work, they are not counted in the labor force as unemployed,” Austin said. “If these Kansans stayed in the labor force and looked for jobs, the unemployment rate would be more than a percentage point higher.”

I encourage Governor Kelly to get the problems at the Department of Labor under control,
and to be honest with Kansans about the statistics the department releases.
Forecasting the Future
As I noted at the outset, now that we have emerged from the first three weeks, the legislative process will be a bit more typical. A number of bills are working their way through committees and several deadlines are approaching regarding the submission of bills.
I encourage you to follow the process the following ways:

YouTube Streaming: http://bit.ly/2CZj9O0

I look forward to reporting on our activity in future newsletters.

Your Senator,

Mike Thompson