Legislative Update 4/8/19

After several long days last week, the legislature adjourned on Friday. They are off until the 2-1/2-week veto session at the beginning of May. So it’s a good time for another update on the issues KIFA has been working on.  

Medicaid Expansion. As you know, this cleared the House, only to meet continued stonewalling by Senate leadership. Gov. Kelly and Senate President Wagle held dueling press conferences, and three K-State students unfurled banners calling out obstructionist Senate and House leadership by name, in a nonviolent direct action that we applaud. If obstruction continues we expect there to be more actions like this. As the banners made clear, people’s lives are at stake.

Senate leadership is floating the idea of a study group over the summer and fall to “study” the issue and (more) to develop amendments like work requirements and drug testing that Expansion advocates oppose. It’s been pointed out by Mod Rs and Dems that is just a tactic to provide cover for not allowing a vote; the issue has been studied extensively already.

On Friday Senate Democratic leader Anthony Hensley made a motion to bring the Expansion bill out of committee. This would need 24 votes, which would require moderate Republicans in the Senate to oppose their leadership on a procedural motion, which they are loath to do. We need to reach out to them throughout the month of April, and will send out an action alert later in the week with specific names.  

Stay tuned; this isn’t over.  

SB 22 – The tax-cut bill. This passed both the House and the Senate but not by veto-proof majorities; Gov. Kelly vetoed it but the (Kochist) Kansas Chamber put a huge amount of pressure on the few Republicans who voted against it. Late last week it became clear that Sen. Wagle doesn’t have the votes for an override, and there the matter stands for now. We applaud Sens. Skubal, Hardy and Doll (and lest we forget, the entire Democratic caucus) for standing strong, and also the governor for her veto. Given the mess that state government is in, we cannot afford another multi-million-dollar tax giveaway to corporations and the wealthiest Kansans.

SB 124 – The Kansas Energy Fairness Act. This bill was an attempt to remove the demand charges that Evergy (the successor company to Westar and KCP&L) has placed on home-based solar users. We believe it is completely unfair to charge solar customers extra for spending their own money to take the most effective action available to them to get off coal-fired power.

After encouragement from Senate Utilities Committee Chair Masterson, the utilities and our group (led by Climate & Energy Project) came to a compromise that will (pending KCC action) rescind the demand charges on the 400-some customers who installed solar before the charge was implemented in October 2018. Everybody seemed to agree that the retroactive charges need to go.

What happens next is unclear. Supposedly the Clean Energy Business Council will be part of a negotiation with Evergy on determining the best way to account for the costs and benefits of residential solar power on the energy system going forward. Whether the utility will be forthcoming in negotiations when the pressure isn't on remains to be seen. The bill remains in committee so at least in theory if we don’t come to a satisfactory agreement we can go back next year and pick up where we left off.

It must again be said that the utility’s behavior regarding distributed (residential) solar is similar to if Ma Bell had been able to put self-protective tariffs on cellphones in 1985. The market is changing and they’re using their power to stop it. Why a corporation whose owners are mostly out of state get such a big say in energy policy in Kansas -- not to mention guaranteed 10% profits – is a question that has yet to be answered.

Hopefully part of that answer will come from SB 69, which passed the legislature and calls for a study as to why Kansas has the highest utility rates in the region. This bill had broad support from across the political spectrum. Who the consultant is and the scope of the study has yet to be determined, and will go a long way to determining its efficacy, but we’re cautiously optimistic.

Climate – On the larger issue of climate change, the Rural Revitalization Committee, chaired by Rep. Don Hineman, held an informational hearing on climate change’s impact on rural Kansas. There’s a lot of talk about rural revitalization this year (Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers is holding discussions around the state on the same issue) and we see this as a means to get climate back on the agenda in Kansas. After all, you can’t talk about the future of rural Kansas (or not-rural Kansas, for that matter) without talking about the impacts of climate change. And given that all the other committees that would be in a position to talk about the issue are commodity-focused – energy and agriculture – the House committee and the Lt. Gov’s work show some real promise.

Guns – The House passed HB 2326, a concealed carry reciprocity bill (recognizing other states’ permits), which also lowers the concealed carry age to 18. Sigh. The majority of Kansas House members apparently hasn’t gotten the message that gun violence is a public health crisis of epic proportions, and more guns in the hands of younger people will mean more gun violence, more gun suicides, more guns used in domestic violence incidents, etc.

The margin was one short of a veto-proof majority. The Senate has not taken up the measure, and a similar measure last year was never brought to the Senate floor -- so credit to Sen. Denning there. You might want to send him a note asking him to keep HB 2326 off the floor this year too -- separate from your note asking him to allow a vote on Medicaid Expansion.  

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