Kansas legislature opens 2022 session as coronavirus and election year politics soar

TOPEKA – The 2022 legislature met in Topeka on Monday to begin policymaking with looming election year politics and coronavirus-related legislation, as well as redistribution, in the foreground over the coming months .

The 125 Representatives and 40 Senators will begin the committee’s deliberations this week, hoping to pass a law Governor Laura Kelly sees fit to sign. With Republicans holding qualified majorities in both chambers, expect a debate on tightening election laws and renewed efforts to undermine vaccine mandates.

Rep. Susan Concannon, Republican from Beloit and chair of the House of Children and Seniors committee, said there was a lot of enthusiasm about working with a budget surplus, something that was often lacking in past legislatures.

“Figuring out where the gaps are in Kansas and where, what and how we can best use that money is a good problem,” Concannon said. “I can’t wait to come here and pass the budget… and we have some child welfare issues that I’m interested in and that I’ve kind of focused on this session. “

Kansas House members in prayer as the 2022 legislative session begins. Lawmakers are optimistic and working with a budget surplus will ensure more needs for the state are addressed. (Noah Taborda / Reflector Kansas)

State economists forecast a surplus of $ 2.9 billion in November, which could rise if tax revenues exceed expectations. Last week, the governor announced that Kansas exceeded December’s estimates for total tax revenue by $ 64.5 million.

In 2021, lawmakers introduced more than 700 bills and passed more than 100 after debate in both chambers and approval by the governor. Leftover legislation, like medical marijuana, will be postponed until this year.

Senator Molly Baumgardner, Republican of Louisbourg and chair of the Senate Education Committee, said the committee she oversees will spend the first few weeks cleaning up past legislation and working on unfinished business from 2021.

“We’re going to look at the numbers in regards to K-12 enrollment, as well as the college level,” Baumgardner said. “Next week, I hope we get the Promise Act trailer bill, to resolve some issues that have arisen separately, and we will start working on the other bills, some of the issues that have arisen separately. in the meantime have occurred education meetings and some remaining bills from last year.

The Kansas Promise Scholarship Act, which was passed by the Senate and the House, would provide post-secondary scholarships for certain two-year associate degree and technical education programs.

Another looming education problem is critical race theory, although state and local school boards have repeatedly told lawmakers that no K-12 schools in the state teach the college-level academic body. Senator Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Democrat from Wichita, said she was eager to finally debate the issue.

Faust-Goudeau also highlighted other issues requiring immediate attention from lawmakers.

“People are still struggling to pay their bills due to the loss of jobs with COVID, and I’m especially excited to be back here so we can better deal with unemployment issues, as I’m still getting calls. phone calls and emails and I continue to help them contact the Ministry of Labor on this matter, ”said Faust-Goudeau.

Rep. Boog Highberger, a Democrat from Lawrence, was less optimistic about passing potential legislation that would benefit all Kansans, but hoped lawmakers could come together on issues such as criminal justice reform and efforts to eliminate the sales tax on food. He expressed concern about the potential for partisan politics in the redistribution process.

“I think (the legislative session) is going to be a train wreck, and I think it’s going to be very partisan,” Highberger said. “I want (Kansans) to ask our lawmakers to be pragmatic rather than ideological and try to do what’s right, whether that fits your preconceptions or not.”

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