First Two Weeks
The 2022 Legislative Session began on Monday, January 10th at 2:00 p.m. Just two weeks into the legislative session, things are really picking up! Many would like to see us keep the session as close to 90 calendar days as possible, particularly with Value Them Both on the ballot this summer. What this means is that the very important work we must do needs to start processing quickly.

Every session, the major issue we must tackle is the state budget. This year, the state’s coffers are awash in funds and it will be tempting for some to spend that money. However, if we learn lessons from the past, we will know that our good fortune today does not mean that money will be here tomorrow. Financial forecasts in early 2008 projected positive funds as far as the eye could see. By late 2008, that money evaporated. So, while the legislature will certainly look at ways to reduce the tax burden on families, continue to shore up KPERS, and other prudent uses of those dollars, it is important we practice the fiscal responsibility we all preached when running.

This session, the other major item we must handle is redistricting – and the Senate did our part on Friday when we passed the Ad Astra 2 map, which I will include a copy of below. Prior to the end of the session, we must adopt new maps for Congress, the State Senate, the State House, and the State Board of Education.

Those two subjects will be in the background as we roll through these next 76 days (or so) and I will update you on their progress as decisions are made. In the meantime, there are a number of other topics likely to be discussed, as well – including tax policy, judicial selection, further updates to our emergency management statutes, and other items.

With that in mind, here are some quick briefs on what I am focused on in the near-term:
Energy Issues
As Chairman of the Senate Utilities Committee, I am committed to continue to work on issues that will either cap or bring down electrical rates so that Kansans can afford to pay their utility bills, ensure the reliability of those services, and look to the future for our energy needs. It is a very complex set of issues with many stakeholders, which really makes it tough, as many have differing needs and concerns that do not necessarily overlap.

In my research over the past few years, and in research done for the State by London Economics, it is clear that renewable energy has been driving a large part of the increases in electrical rates over the past 15 years and contributing to the destabilization of the grid in Kansas. As a result, I have drafted and introduced eight (8) bills on renewables for this session. As you might imagine, that is a bit ambitious, given the time constraints of the session that I mentioned above. But hearing these bills will get the information out there for the residents of the state to consider and discuss. It’s time to address these problems now while we still have a chance to do something about them. If the proliferation of wind and solar continues at the current pace, our electrical rates in Kansas will continue to soar, and the likelihood of blackouts during peak use times in the winter and the summer will increase. It’s not something we can ignore.

You can follow the bills in my committee easily with the Kansas Legislature website link to the Senate Utilities Committee. You can find the agenda, the bills we are working and other information about the committee.

We are always looking for good testimony on bills and it’s helpful to get input form the residents of Kansas! So, if you see a bill that you have specific knowledge about, we would love to hear from you.

My current bills are SB 323, SB 324, SB 325, SB 349, SB 35, SB 353 and SB 383. These all pertain to utilities in one way or another.
Protecting Health Liberty
The legislation we passed during the Special Session was absolutely critical. It ensured that even if a vaccine mandate is in place via the federal government, employers must accept religious or medical exemptions – they cannot be questioned. This legislation was carefully crafted, with the language regarding religious discrimination matching that from the federal government – meaning a religious belief can be theistic or non-theistic in nature. 

This is particularly important in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision. While it struck down the OSHA mandate, it allowed the CMS mandate for health care workers to continue. However, that mandate is still subject to religious and medical exemptions. In Kansas, those exemptions are simply more robust – by requiring the employer to accept them. The Attorney General has repeatedly signaled that he will enforce the law in this area, so anyone facing a mandate should remind their employer of the law. If the employer persists in mandating the vaccine, employees should contact the A.G.’s office.

While this legislation was a major victory and already working, we still have work to do. My priorities are the following:

  • A permanent ban on vaccine passports issued by any unit of state or local government that receives taxpayer funds. We currently have a ban, but it was a proviso in our budget, and we need to make this permanent. This alone would prevent any government in Kansas from imposing the types of rules we have seen in places like New York City.
  • A ban on vaccine passports for places of public accommodation – this would include restaurants, theaters, etc. This would be similar to the broad-based ban that Florida passed.
  • Carefully reviewing provisions of SB 40 to ensure they apply not only during a public health emergency but even when such an emergency is not in place. This includes requiring units of government to take a vote on any policy and taking away the unilateral authority of public health officers. In this area, I think we need to explore banning local mask mandates as they have done in other parts of the country, including Florida, Arkansas, and Montana. Whether our children wear a mask or not should not be at the whim of 4 people on a local school board or county commission, and it certainly shouldn’t be up to a local health officer.

There may be other areas we need to look at, but we need to make sure that what we have seen happen in 2020 and 2021 does not happen again.
Supreme Court Vaccine Mandate Ruling
As noted, the United States Supreme Court upheld the vaccine mandate for health care workers, with Roberts and Kavanaugh joining the three liberals to uphold that mandate. While they did strike down the OSHA mandate on a vote of 6-3, I am deeply disappointed they upheld the mandate for health care workers.

The justices did not rule on the constitutionality of the mandate. Rather, they offered their own opinions on a topic that is outside their authority. They opined on the safety of the public instead of considering whether an executive order could force individuals to inject a substance into their bodies against their will to keep a job or to move freely about the country. They should have struck down BOTH mandates, but this split- decision paves the way for future mandates, via executive order, to force any other hairbrained idea down the public’s throat. It should have been a no-brainer. This was an extremely damaging blow to our constitution, and to personal liberty.
State of the State Address
The first week of the session also included the traditional State of the State address by the governor, where she spent most of her speech discussing the various proposals in her budget. Her remarks reflected the fact it is an election year, as at times it was clear she was moving “right” in her rhetoric, even though her record reflects something entirely different. This included promises for one-time $250 tax rebates and a call to eliminate the sales tax on groceries. However, she conveniently left out the fact she voted for sales tax increases, income tax hikes, and even vetoed reductions in the same food sales tax that she now wants to eliminate.

The governor also did not mention the fact she has vetoed election reform, vetoed property tax relief, proposed an irresponsible plan to mortgage KPERS, vetoed a bill to ensure fairness in women’s sports, nor did she mention the catastrophic unemployment fraud that plagued her administration in 2020 and 2021.  
Helping Those Impacted by Natural Disasters
On Thursday, the Senate adopted enact legislation (SB 318) to aid property owners whose property is destroyed by natural disasters. The bill does so in two ways:

  • It expands the ability of county commissions to abate property taxes on certain types of real property destroyed or substantially destroyed by natural disasters.

  • It creates a sales tax exemption for purchases necessary to reconstruct, repair, or replace a fence used to enclose agricultural land that was damaged or destroyed by wildfire, flood, tornado, or other natural disaster occurring on or after January 1, 2021.

  • The bill was amended in the Senate Committee of the Whole to, beginning July 1, 2022, to exempt from sales tax all sales of tangible personal property and services necessary to construct, reconstruct, repair or replace any fence used to enclose agricultural land.

SB 318 passed the Senate 35-0.
Staffing Shortages – HB 2477 and My Concerns
On Thursday, the Kansas Senate adopted HB 2477, legislation crafted to codify two executive orders to address health care staffing shortages within Kansas. It accomplishes this by temporarily deregulating several provisions of Kansas law, including:

  • Allowing nursing staff with an inactive or lapsed license to provide medical services appropriate to their education. 
  • Providing the ability for students who are enrolled in programs to become healthcare professionals, as well as military members who are also emergency medical personnel, to volunteer at healthcare facilities.
  • Allows Physician Assistants, Advanced Practice Registered Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses, Nurse Anesthetists, Registered Professional Nurses and Licensed Pharmacists to provide additional services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Health care providers in other states would be able to practice in Kansas.

The bill sunsets the provisions in January of 2023, which will allow the legislature to look at the matter again in one year.

HB 2477 passed the Senate 36-2. I voted No, and it was not an easy vote. While I completely understand the argument for the legislation, I had some concerns about the long-term impact of the legislation and the precedent we are setting.

First, I thought that it was likely kicking the can down the road rather than addressing the core issues about why there are shortages. Some healthcare professionals were pressured to get the “vaccine” against their will, and they quit instead. Some doctors and nurses have been stretched so thin that they have become fed up also got out. Some nurses became contract nurses for higher pay at the same institutions where they worked before. These all contributed to the shortages. These courageous and hard-working healthcare professionals were hailed as heroes during the pandemic, but some are now being treated like outcasts because they did not want to take the jab. It's insane. Especially since alternative early treatment for COVID has been available from the start.

I am concerned that we cannot jeopardize the jobs of doctors and nurses based on vaccination status, and that doing so will only exacerbate and prolong the staffing issues.
Staff shortages were happening before COVID hit…but the pandemic made it worse. The Affordable Care Act is the real culprit. It was designed to create these distortions in our healthcare system so that staffing shortages, lack of access to care, and de facto rationing of care would happen. And it is working as anticipated.

We passed a bill during the heart of COVID and the Emergency declaration that provided immunity for hospitals and healthcare workers during the pandemic because it was deemed an emergency situation. 

But now, we are coming up on the two-year mark and it’s time to start returning to normal. I felt the immunity issue needed to go away because once something becomes law…it’s hard to get rid of. This bill puts immunity into law outside of the SB40 Emergency Declaration for the next year, and I did not like that. I would not be surprised if we are again dealing with a similar request a year from now….and that is a big concern of mine. That cannot be the “new normal” in perpetuity.

In addition, an amendment by Senator Steffen to not allow discrimination by medical providers against unvaccinated patients failed by two votes. Had it gotten on, my comfort level would have gone up considerably.

Ultimately, as noted, the bill did pass and the House then immediately concurred on the legislation, sending it to the governor, who then immediately signed the legislation.
Congressional Map
On Friday, the Kansas Senate passed the “Ad Astra 2” map, a Congressional Map that is primarily based upon suggestions received on the in-person and virtual listening tours. The same map was also introduced by Chairman Croft in the House Redistricting Committee.

Highlights of the map include:

  • The map only splits four counties: Pawnee, Douglas, Jackson and Wyandotte. Both Douglas and Wyandotte are primarily divided along natural and geographic barriers such as highways and rivers.

  • The First District contains both University of Kansas and Kansas State University, which have aligned goals, returning them to the same Congressional district.

  • The Second District includes several military installations, including Ft. Riley, Ft. Leavenworth, Forbes Field, and the Kansas National Guard.

  • The Third District keeps Johnson County together, blending the Kansas City suburbs with nearby bedroom communities.

  • The Fourth District includes Wichita and surrounding communities.

  • Indian Reservations are kept wholly within Congressional districts.

The map is also consistent with historical maps. For instance, the 3rd Congressional District has had the following shifts over time:

  • Mid-1960s – 5 districts – Anderson County was in CD 3
  • 1973-1982 – 5 districts – Wyandotte County was split, and Franklin Co. was in CD 3
  • 1983-1992 – 5 districts – All of Miami County was included in CD 3
  • 1993-2002 – 4 districts – All of Miami County was included in CD 3, Douglas Co split
  • 2003-2013 – 4 districts – Douglas County split, City of Lawrence split

Some citizens have asked about the process of drawing the 3rd District. Because of population shifts in the last decade, placing Wyandotte County and Johnson County both completely within the 3rd District was not possible. The decision was made to keep Johnson County whole, which then necessitated dividing Wyandotte County. The Kansas River and I-70 provided a natural and geographic barrier, so people within Wyandotte County would easily understand which Congressional district they resided in. The resulting population shift resulted in then adding Miami, Franklin, and Anderson Counties, followed by minor adjustments to bring the deviation between districts to 0. Historically, Anderson, Franklin, and Miami have been fully or partially within the 3rd Congressional district at some point.

Finally, the Ad Astra 2 map retains political fairness as it keeps all four members of Congress within their districts and all four members of Congress would have still won in 2020. In addition, the results for President in 2020 and Governor in 2018 would not have been different in any of the four districts.

During the debate both within the committee and on the floor, Democrats repeatedly focused on keeping what they characterized as the “core” of the Kansas City metro together, which they said was Wyandotte County and most of Johnson County. Despite this assertion, four Democratic Senators who represent parts of Wyandotte and Johnson voted for a map that put Wyandotte completely in one district and Johnson completely in another.

Following the debate, most of Senate leadership - Senators Masterson, Alley, Wilborn and Erickson, offered the following explanation of vote:

“Today, the Kansas Senate passed a Congressional map that is reflective of the testimony we received on the in-person and virtual tours conducted in 2021, carefully follows the guidelines we established, and is the culmination of a lengthy process that began last summer. 
The Ad Astra 2 Map brings together communities of interest within each Congressional district to the furthest extent possible. It keeps the core of the 3rd District – Johnson County – together, merging it with southern Wyandotte and the bedroom communities in Miami, Franklin, and Anderson that have historically been part of the 3rd Congressional District and are increasingly associated with the Kansas City Metropolitan area. It places the University of Kansas, Kansas State, and Fort Hays State in the 1st District. It draws boundaries largely along easy-to-understand major highways and natural barriers such as rivers. 
It is also a fair map, keeping all four members of Congress within their current seats – and despite the assertions of the minority party that the map was drawn for partisan gain, all four would have won their elections in 2020. Finally, it has zero deviation in population between all four districts. On balance, this map will serve the state well for the next decade. We Vote Yes.”

The Ad Astra 2 Map, contained within Sub SB 355, passed the Senate 26-9. All suggested maps can be found on the Kansas Legislative Research Redistricting Page by clicking here. A picture of the map can be viewed below.
Looking Forward
We are already about 1/6 through the legislative session, and we have many big topics still remaining - including the budget, more redistricting, tax issues, and others.

Thank you to all of you for your support, prayers, thoughts and opinions. I will continue to keep you updated in the weeks and months ahead!

Your Senator,

Mike Thompson