The Kansas Legislature worked into the morning Sunday to adjourn after passing a cluster of bills that included the annual state budget, a tax measure likely to be vetoed, regulations on the scrap-metal industry and softening of legal risk to sick people possessing low-THC oils to manage pain.
Approval of a budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 was temporarily gridlocked as a bipartisan coalition in the House tried to force the Senate to vote on a Medicaid expansion bill. That effort was abandoned after Senate GOP leadership promised to develop an expansion bill ahead of the 2020 session.
The House departed at 1:30 a.m. and the Senate followed at 2:40 a.m., with both chambers scheduled to return May 29 for ceremonial close of the 2019 session. The Senate held open May 14 for possible consideration of a nominee to the Kansas Court of Appeals and GOP Sen. Ty Masterson proposed action, perhaps May 29, on a constitutional amendment calling for Senate confirmation, rather than direct appointment by a governor, of Kansas Supreme Court justices.
End of the budget impasse opened a route to House approval of a Senate-passed package delivering $245 million in tax relief over three years, which stood as a potential veto target for Gov. Laura Kelly.
Primary beneficiaries of the tax bill would be multinational corporations returning foreign income to the state and wealthy individuals wanting to itemize deductions on state income tax returns while claiming a doubled standard deduction on federal returns. Both were tied to the state's cash windfall resulting from changes to federal tax law signed by President Donald Trump.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said failure to pass the bill or a veto by Kelly would amount to a tax hike and stand as a missed opportunity to lower sales tax on food. She also said hardworking Kansans know "how to best spend their money and more of it should stay in their own pockets."
Rep. Jim Gartner, D-Topeka, said the state had no business wading into consequential tax reform before developing a comprehensive strategy for Kansas. He questioned decoupling the state from federal law on tax deductions, because only 9 percent of the state's tax filers were likely to itemize on their Kansas returns.
"What about the other 91 percent? What are they receiving?" Gartner said. "Maybe we should take a deep breath and sit back. We need a road map. We need a tax policy for this state."
In addition, the tax bill would redirect a portion of an expanded internet sales tax revenue to buying down the state's 6.5 percent sales tax on food purchases. It's possible enough sales tax revenue would be available to trim the rate to 6 percent in 2021 and 5.4 percent in 2022, said Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Assaria.
"The sales tax on food is one of the fairest tax that we have," said Rep. Bill Pannbacker, R-Washington. "A fair tax is one each of us pays proportional to the benefit derived."
The House voted 83-41 for tax policy in Senate Bill 25, which was approved Thursday by the Senate by a margin of 27-13. Republicans and Democrats in both chambers speculated Kelly, a Democrat, would veto the measure.
In March, the governor vetoed a tax bill that would have consumed $500 million in state revenue over the three-year span. Before votes on the revised bill, Kelly said reform ought to be guided by "a thoughtful, data-driven, big-picture vision for Kansas – not by a hasty attempt to achieve an immediate political victory."
The House and Senate passed House Bill 2140 to authorize countywide sales tax votes in Thomas, Russell, Jackson, Dickinson and Wabaunsee counties. It also gave belated legislative endorsement of action by Finney County voters to adopt a 0.3 percent sales tax increase in 2017.
Both chambers embraced a bill called "Claire and Lola's Law" to lower legal obstacles for people using low-THC oils to care for profoundly ill individuals unable to find relief with pharmaceutical medications.
The bill would create an "affirmative defense" in criminal court for people found by law enforcement to be in possession of CBD oil with up to 5 percent THC and to prevent removal of children from a home where the oil was consumed. Under the bill, oils with THC would remain illegal in Kansas, but the defense could be raised if individuals offered police or the courts a letter from a physician affirming medical need for the oil.
Gwen and Scott Hartley, parents of Claire and Lola born with profound medical needs, urged Kansas lawmakers to back the bill. Lola Hartley died in December, and Gwen Hartley said she was desperate to try unorthodox methods of caring for Lola.
Meanwhile, the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill altering a 2015 state law designed to deter theft of scrap metal. The revision was sought because the old statute unintentionally pushed small, rural dealers out of business. The KBI would be responsible for developing an online database of scrap metal sales starting in July 2020.
The late-night debate in the House was nearly derailed by an attempt to block a motion to work past midnight Saturday. The vote was 66-58 to proceed.
Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat, recalled the 2012 death of Rep. Bob Bethell in a single-car accident on Interstate 70 near the Paxico exit. The wreck occurred about an hour after the Legislature adjourned for the year as Bethell was driving home. His district included Rice County and parts of Barton and Reno counties.
"Not all accidents caused by inattentive driving and falling asleep after a long, hard day's work, not all the people who die in those accidents, were the people who worked late. You need to think about our friends and our fellow Kansans," Carmichael said.