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House Sub for SB 142 passes with strong majority providing relief to schools closed by an emergency

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee on Tuesday amended SB 142 – a school finance bill left behind in committee since last year – by deleting the original contents and inserting new language from HB 2747 which would grant to the Kansas State Board of Education the authority to waive requirements on the number of days and hours of instruction for a school year.

The bill was advanced in anticipation of possible school facility closure due to COVID-19 that could potentially close school facilities for the remainder of the school year. Late Tuesday afternoon, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly issued Executive Order #20-07 that closes school facilities (except in certain very limited circumstances) to students and staff for the rest of the 2019-20 school year but continuous learning will continue.

What was made clear in the House K-12 Education Budget Committee discussion was that legislators expect schools to pay employees for the time they are closed since the state will still be providing state funding to schools. There is no interest by legislators – on both ends of the political spectrum – to have districts pad unencumbered budgets while sending employees to the unemployment insurance line.

The bill was adopted on a unanimous vote and was fast-tracked to the floor for consideration. The bill was amended by Rep. Tarwater (R-Stilwell) to include the legislative intent under which it is expected that all employees would be paid since the districts would continue to be funded. If districts get their funding, then they need to pay the employees, including all hourly employees. 

The bill was advanced on a voice vote and then voted on emergency final action. It passed on a vote of 117-2. Some representatives were not present for the vote (Bishop, Carlin, Donohoe, Holscher, Kuether and Ousley) and two voted NO (Michael Capps (R-Wichita) and Michael Houser (R-Columbus). Capps, speaking on the House floor, suggested the bill was a bail-out for schools who would not fulfill their obligation to educate children. 

Since it is contained in a Senate bill, there would be no opportunity for the bill to be amended by the Senate instead calling for a simple vote to concur in the House amendments. The motion to concur in the Senate passed on a vote of 30 to 4. Those who voted NO were Rob Olson, Dennis Pyle, Gene Suellentrop, and Mike Thompson. Senators who passed on voting on the bill were Larry Alley, Randall Hardy, Richard Hilderbrand, Ty Masterson and Caryn Tyson. The bill now goes to Governor Kelly for her signature.

Kansas Legislature votes to enact help for displaced workers

While the Legislature has been clear that all school employees should be paid as expected because funds have already been allocated for their pay, many other workers in Kansas are facing uncertainty. Under current law, there are different numbers of weeks for eligibility for unemployment benefits based on the unemployment rate in Kansas. House Sub for SB 27 would give every eligible worker benefits for a full 26 weeks and include payment for the normal one-week waiting period if the individual is out of work for three weeks. These provisions would sunset in 2021 and are meant to deal with the current COVID-19 crisis. 

House Sub for SB 27 passed the House on a vote of 119-0 and then passed the Senate on a vote of 29 to 4. Those Senators voting NO were Olson, Pyle, Suellentrop and Thompson.

Governor’s Executive Order protects Kansans from Utility Shut-offs, Evictions and Foreclosures

Governor Kelly, using the powers given to her by the legislature to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, has issued Executive Order 20-05 which protects unemployed individuals from losing utility services during the crisis. Her order says:

“In order to mitigate the economic effects of the spread of COVID-19 I hereby direct and order that all Kansas utility providers not under the jurisdiction of the Kansas Corporation Commission temporarily suspend the practice of disconnecting service to Kansas citizens for non-payment. This directive covers all electrical, natural gas, water, and telecommunications utilities as well as internet service providers who provide services to Kansas citizens.”

Executive Order 20-06 would protect unemployed individuals from being evicted or facing mortgage foreclosure during the crisis. This order says:

“In order to mitigate the economic effects of the spread of COVID-19 I hereby direct and order all financial institutions operating in Kansas to temporarily suspend the initiation of any mortgage foreclosure efforts or judicial proceedings and any commercial or residential eviction efforts or judicial proceedings until May 1, 2020.”

A few senators lead the way to block providing help to Kansans

We are in unprecedented times. That was something said over and over in both chambers of the legislature and in committee rooms. And for the most part, Kansas legislators of all political stripes – conservatives, moderate Republicans, and Democrats – have rallied and risen to the task.

We don’t know what’s going to happen next. But what we do know is that people are going to suffer. As hospitality and food service workers are facing furloughs and unpaid leave, all those hourly employees with no paid leave time go without. They live paycheck to paycheck as it is. And as they aren’t out spending, other parts of the economy and more Kansans will suffer.

Three actions were taken this week to provide relief for Kansans. Senate Bill 142 tells school districts that, if they close, they are still expected to pay all of their employees. Senate Bill 27 tells those restaurant workers and others that if you are laid off, Kansas will make sure you have unemployment benefits. Executive Order 20-05 will make sure that when you are out of work, you will still have lights and heat in your home even if you can’t pay the bill. Executive Order #20-06 makes sure Kansans aren’t evicted during this crisis. These measures and others are intended to care for people. Nearly all Kansas legislators supported these measures. But not all.

Leading the opposition to helping Kansans was Senator Dennis Pyle (R-Hiawatha) with the full and vocal support of Senator Rob Olson (R-Olathe). They worked hard to stop unemployment relief, the school closure bill, and the provisions in the budget that would provide relief. Instead, they argued that the best thing to do was cut spending and build a bigger ending balance.

We could not respond more appropriately than Senator Carolyn McGinn (R-Sedgwick) who said, “Having money in the bank doesn’t help the people who are struggling right now.” 

U.S. Senate passes Families First Coronavirus Response Act

While all of the above is going on in Kansas, the same kind of decisions are being made in Washington, DC.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate voted 90 to 8 to pass HR 6201 which includes the following measures that will help working families (Kansas U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran voted in favor of the relief package):

  • Provides free coronavirus testing for everyone who needs a test, including the uninsured.
  • Provides paid emergency sick leave
  • Provides paid family and medical leave
    Three months’ paid family and medical leave available to those who have been on the job for at least 30 days to:
    • Adhere to a requirement or recommendation to quarantine 
    • Care for an at-risk family member
    • Care for a child if the child’s school or other care facility has been closed, or the provider is unavailable due to the coronavirus.
  • Strengthens the following food security initiatives:
    • Provides $500 million for nutritious foods for low-income pregnant women or mothers with young children, should the women lose their jobs due to the COVID-19 emergency
    • Enables the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to approve state plans for providing emergency SNAP assistance to families with children who would have received free or reduced-price school meals if their schools were open
    • Enables the USDA to issue nationwide school meal waivers, eliminating paperwork for states and increasing schools’ flexibility
    • Allows child and adult care centers to operate as feeding sites and waive all meal pattern requirements if COVID-19 disrupts the food supply
    • Removes all work and work training requirements for SNAP during the coronavirus crisis
    • Increases federal funds for Medicaid by roughly $36 billion
    • Enhances unemployment compensation
    • Provides $1 billion in 2020 for emergency grants to states for activities related to processing and paying unemployment insurance benefits