The Kansas Legislature convened on January 11 with a number of new legislators and lots of new technology installed in the building to comply with social distancing and allowing the legislators and the public to listen in on committee meetings and floor debates.
With the potential of a COVID related shut down consistently looming over the Statehouse, Committee Chairs wasted no time getting to work. The Statehouse has a much different feel this year. The legislature is discouraging visitors unless they have a direct purpose in front of a committee. However, In the Senate it’s business as usual. Members and visitors have the option of participating virtuality if they do not wish to be there in person. But all Senate committees are attempting to meet as normal as possible.
On the House side, the Speaker has encouraged all committees to be virtual if possible. This has put some strain on the Statehouse technology infrastructure and caused several committees to cancel hearings due to technical issues. On Tuesday, January 12, the Governor issued her State of the State Address. The next day she unveiled her budget which has very similar proposals as last year’s budget. The Governor is again asking the legislature to re-amortize KPERS and place a tax on digital goods sold in Kansas. Both of these proposals failed last year. Anti-abortion advocates also introduced and held a hearing on a constitutional amendment which would regulate abortion in the State. This issue failed by a handful of votes last year and is the number one priority for leadership in both chambers this year.
Committees are working on issues more rapidly than we have seen in years and working 5 days a week. Friday, normally a “pro-forma” day (a day that legislatures travel home) will be working in committees. As stated earlier the awareness that COVID could shut things down has every committee chair working bills quickly.