School Vouchers, Tax Insanity, and Transphobia in the KSLeg

This content is from our weekly update email that will be sent to Members only beginning net week. It will continue to bring insights into Kansas politics, advocacy, and the actions we can take to affect both, as a benefit for the dedicated Members who make our work possible. If you'd like to keep receiving this content, you can join Mainstream (or check on your membership status) here. Thank you for your support of the Mainstream Coalition.

The 2021 Kansas Legislative Session barrels on, with many changes made to stave off the effects of COVID-19. Not, of course, with mandatory mask wearing, nor with required reporting of COVID infections among legislators. Rather, we have seen bills introduced fast and furiously, committees working quickly to pass bills out, and floor votes held under emergency action to streamline the process.

These are some of the most important things that happened this week.

School Vouchers

Every year, legislators intent on privatizing education propose expanding the Tax Credit Scholarship program. This year, those proposals are in HB 2068 and SB 61. Mainstream testified against these bill when they had hearings last week, but the committees, in the House chaired by Rep. Kristey Williams (R, *M:5%), and in the Senate by Sen. Molly Baumgardner (R, *M:12%), passed the bills out on party line votes.

This legislation tries to expand the program by expanding the definition of children who can access the program, and by eliminating the requirement that those children be attending a struggling public school. Numerous amendments were proposed to require the private schools receiving the funds to adhere to the same standards required of public schools, but all were rejected. For example, private schools are allowed to discriminate against students who they do not wish to admit, whether for reasons of disability, special needs, religion, or sexual orientation or gender identity (or the sexual orientation of their parents!). Public schools gladly take every Kansas student. Private schools do not need to be accredited by the State of Kansas, and can instead choose a third party or even out of state accreditation program, thus not meeting the standards for curriculum or subject matter that public school students are guaranteed. And private schools are not required to report on the achievement of their students, unlike public schools, and in fact there is no record of whether students in this "scholarship" program—in existence since 2014—have actually done better than when they were in public schools.

After hours of debate, during which amendment after amendment—designed to bring "nonpublic" schools into alignment with what we require of our public schools—were rejected, the Senate passed SB 61 by a vote of 23-14. Two Senators passed, rather than record a vote on the issue. It has now been introduced in the House.

Early this week, William's committee also heard testimony on HB 2119, another plan to divert tax dollars to private schools. This bill is even more egregious in its implementation, asking the State to fund "education savings accounts" for any child receiving reduced price meals, in any school in Kansas, regardless of whether they are struggling academically. In addition, provisions in the bill allow for any Kansas student who experienced a number of remote or hybrid instruction hours during 2020 to qualify. This could potentially include every student in Kansas. The fiscal note on this bill is conservatively thought to be over $100 million.

In short, proponents of these voucher bills just want to funnel public tax money to private schools.

Tax Insanity

Last year, then Sen. Susan Wagle (R, *M:10%) championed SB 22, a bill designed to give tax credits to the wealthiest Kansans, draining funds from the State just as it was beginning to recover from the Brownback tax experiment's abject failure. This year, a new bill, conveniently also numbered SB 22, does almost exactly the same thing. Rushed through committee, and festooned with amendment after amendment throwing tax credits at more and more privileged Kansans, one reporter compared the bill to a Christmas tree, loaded with gifts. When first introduced, the fiscal note on the bill suggested that cost to the state would be above $330 million in just the next year, with additional costs in successive years. After extremist legislators got their hands on it, the Kansas Department of Revenue is now estimating it could cost as much as $600 million.

SB 22 was passed on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday this week 24-15, and is now in the House Committee on Taxation. Joining all the Democrats in opposition were Republican Senators Billinger, Dietrich, Doll, and Longbine. We used to be able to count on the Kansas Senate to be the reasonable body that put the brakes on the more excitable House of Representatives. Now, we will be watching the House closely to see what they do about this ridiculous bill. The House Committee on Taxation is chaired by Rep. Adam Smith (R, *M:44%), so there may be hope for sanity yet.

Transphobia on Display

Two bills introduced this week take direct aim at transgender children in Kansas. The first, HB 2210, would criminalize any service, procedure, or prescription made to affirm the gender of a child in Kansas, even in spite of the approval of the child's parents and doctors. The second bill, introduced by Sen. Renee Erickson (R, *M:7%), would prohibit Kansas children from taking part in sports with their peers. Part of a wave of transphobic bills sweeping the country, this measure purports to "protect" women and girls, while it deliberately marginalizes trans women and girls, adding insult to a school experience that too often involves bullying and marginalization already.

While these bills are, we hope, only stunts designed to make gaudy headlines back home, they are nevertheless deliberately hurtful and do not reflect the Kansas we believe in, where all are welcome. We are watching them closely to see if any action is taken to advance them.

Spousal Battery still legal, for the moment

HB 2120, passed by the Kansas House Thursday 110-13, would finally remove the spousal exception from the crime of sexual battery in Kansas. Yes, you read that right. You can commit sexual battery in Kansas, so long as you are married to your victim. We hope, and expect, the Senate to pass this bill, too.

Limiting Absentee Voting Rights

HB 2054, which Mainstream testified against, was heard in the House Elections committee recently, but has seen no further action since then. This bill would limit the number of absentee ballots that can be turned in by a third party, affecting many Kansans who cannot vote in person due to illness or disability. This bill, on the heels of an election season that Republican Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab declared free of any voter fraud, is a simple voter suppression measure with no actual problem to fix.

Reminder: Abortion Amendment will appear on Primary Ballot in August, 2022

As a reminder the resolution to put an amendment to strip rights to reproductive bodily autonomy from Kansans to a vote of the people was passed by the Kansas Legislature. The amendment will appear on the Primary ballot in August of 2022, where it will be seen by a smaller number of Kansas voters than in a General election.

As always, we will keep you updated on these and other measures working their way towards becoming law in Kansas.

Thank you for your support of Mainstream, and your commitment to Do More Than Vote.

Danny Novo
Communications Director

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published this page in Blog 2021-02-12 11:05:14 -0600
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