Legislative Update #1
Kansas 61st District State Representative, Francis Awerkamp
First, let me thank you for the opportunity to represent our 61st District in Topeka for another term. I appreciate your vote last November and look forward to promoting and defending our conservative principles these next two years.
Nearly 30 new legislators joined the House this session which began on January 11th. We just finished the Turnaround week and day 54 of the 90 day session. Below I will review my committee assignments and some of the top issues we faced so far.
I am assigned to three committees. I continue to serve on the Federal and State Affairs committee, which is often referred to as the “Firearms, Alcohol, and Sin” Committee because it deals with 2nd Amendment issues, tobacco and alcohol laws, abortion, gender politics, gambling, and other related topics. I now serve on the Commerce, Labor, and Economic Development committee and also the Tax Committee.
Several key issues will clearly receive most of our attention this year. These issues are: the pro-life constitutional amendment, concealed carry reciprocity, restricting the powers of the Governor during disaster declarations, correcting the unemployment fraud disaster, property and other tax reform, and sports wagering.
Here’s a quick summary of movement on these issues:
● Pro-Life Constitutional Amendment: The House and Senate passed the “Value them Both” resolution. The amendment will clarify that there is no right to an abortion in the Kansas Constitution and the Legislature has the authority to restrict abortion. The KS Supreme Court recently found, or rather shamefully created a right to an abortion in the KS Constitution in order to allow live dismemberment abortions to continue. This forced the Legislature to craft a Constitutional Amendment to correct the Court’s decision and Kansans will vote on this in the August primary election in 2022. I supported this amendment in committee and on the House floor.
● 2nd Amendment - Concealed Carry Reciprocity: The House passed a bill recognizing concealed carry permits from other states, and also allows Kansans 18 to 21 to conceal carry with a permit, a provision similar to those in other states. I supported this bill in committee and on the House Floor.
● Disaster Declaration and Governor’s Powers: Last year the Legislature passed a bill to restrict the Governor’s executive order powers during a state of disaster: many of these restrictions had an expiration date. The Governor has expressed opposition to restrictions on her powers, but the Legislature sees the need to restrict her from turning Kansas into a lock down state like Michigan or California. The House passed a bill to restrict the governor in various ways, among them allowing County Commissioners to override a governor’s order, and giving businesses a clear path to demand relief for orders that cause demonstrable financial harm. The Senate passed an improved version and a conference committee will further amend these bills next week before coming back for a final vote. The Governor has threatened to veto the restrictions on her powers, so the Legislature is trying to craft a bill that will get the 2/3rds majority needed to override her veto.
● Unemployment Fraud Disaster and Corrections: The KS Department of Labor manages unemployment payments and processes, which follow many federal and state laws. The federal stimulus packages greatly increased the complexity by adding additional unemployment programs. This created opportunities for fraud and unfortunately the KS DOL paid out many fraudulent state and federal unemployment program claims. Over the past year the Governor and DOL received dozens of warnings about the fraud attempts and requests to fix the problem. The fraud prevention systems in place focussed on high level warning signs and also a very manual process. Finally, in late January of this year, the KS DOL installed an ID verification security feature and we now have 6 weeks of data to show the results. The weekly payments after the security feature are under $5 million per week, whereas the average weekly payout for the 42 weeks before the security feature was $25 million per week. If the security feature stopped $20 million in weekly fraud payouts, the estimates that the State potentially paid out around $800 million in fraudulent claims over the past 12 months seem correct. The Governor has stated she thinks the State trust fund paid only around $140 million. She also said last August that fraud was not something the state needed to worry about. The Commerce Committee worked for several weeks on a bill to investigate and correct this issue. This bill passed the House this week. The bill calls for a forensic audit of the fraud payments, creates and oversight committee to help with IT upgrades of the Unemployment System, installs several measures to prevent excessive payments, protects employers from liability from fraudulent payments, creates measures for repayment of the fund to avoid penalties due to low trust fund balance, and adjusts the rate tables for a more balanced approach to maintain trust fund solvency. I believe these changes will help and will provide for a much improved Unemployment system both for Kansas businesses and legitimate claimants. Unfortunately the hundreds of millions of fraudulent payments will cause an additional burden on businesses. The data over the next few weeks will help clarify the extent of the damage and as audits come out, we will better understand the cause of the fraud, how much negligence allowed for the fraudulent payments, and who is responsible. This represents theft from Kansas businesses, an embarrassing grounds for distrust of the government, and it demands a thorough investigation.
● Property Tax: The bill, touted as increasing transparency in property tax, creates a new mailing for local taxing entities, a difficult and stressful timeline for the process of notification, and another time and cost burden on the county clerks. This unfunded mandate by the state to the counties in effect penalizes new construction and growth, and eliminates the tax lid. The main benefit: property owners will receive a mailing sometime in August with the proposed property tax amount due, even if it is less than the prior year’s amount. I voted against this bill, as its real negative elements greatly outweigh any proposed benefit, which could be achieved in easier and less costly ways..
● Sports Wagering: Last session I chaired a sub-committee on this topic and dug into the numbers. If this form of gambling passes, the State has two main options: the contracted casinos would control the wagering and pay the state around 5% of the revenue via a tax. Alternatively, the Lottery can manage the process through a sports wagering contractor and the state would take in nearly 75% of the revenue generated. The difference in revenue to the state is roughly around $30 million based on estimates. Many people don’t care for gambling and I would be among this group, but the Legislature must take this negotiation seriously as we are making a financial decision on behalf of the people of Kansas. The casinos hire a small army of lobbyists and direct the conversation away from the numbers. The Senate just passed a highly flawed bill that I call the “Casino Bill”, ceding nearly all control, and a almost all of the revenue to the casinos.
What can we expect from this session? Some troubling trends have emerged for conservative minded Kansans, and we must maintain realistic expectations. We can expect that bills which include real improvement to the social, moral, or fiscal landscape will be vetoed. We hope and believe that we have the numbers to override the Governor’s vetoes. I will certainly relay the progress of these main topics of interest in future letters.
In my campaign, I committed to defend life, the family, and the 2nd Amendment. I will fight for responsible stewardship of your tax dollars, local control of our schools, and I will work to make our government more respectful and responsible. Thank you again for your support. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions or suggestions, either by phone, (785) 296-6989, or email, email@example.com.
Please keep me and all of your elected officials in your prayers. They are much needed, and greatly appreciated.
Kansas State Representative - 61st District