Special Session Legislative Update

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Dear *|FNAME|*

First off, I wanted to update everyone that the filing deadline for the 2020 election was this past Monday, June 1st and I got the surprising and fortuitous news that I'm running unopposed! While I'm very proud of my voting record, my transparency, and my service to constituents, I didn't think that I would be left alone.

I certainly always welcome choices in elections, but truthfully, I'm thankful that I get to spend more time with Astra. The quarantine made me rather accustomed to spending a lot of time with her, and I'm more than happy to keep that going as long as I can.

Onto the update!

I realized that I haven't emailed an update since Sine Die at the end of May, so we need to do some narrative catch-up.

If you may recall, Sine Die was a marathon 24-hour session with a bunch of bills crammed through with very little input from the public or even legislators.

Since then:
  • The Governor vetoed HB2054, which was a really ugly COVID-19 mega-bill that severely limited her powers to deal with the pandemic and gives a ton of liability immunity to businesses, hospitals, and nursing homes. She then called a special session for the legislature to give her something we can work with, which is what the bulk of this email will be about.
  • She signed HB2018 (prohibiting municipalities from charging additional fees in public right-of-ways for micro wireless facilities), HB2034 (amending law related to court orders for restitution by criminal defendants), HB2137 (Updating the Kansas Open Records Act and amending scrap metal photography requirements), HB2246 (relating to oversight of various state agencies) and HB2585 (relating to a tax exemption for certain public utilities).
  • She vetoed HB2510 (large education bill with some good parts! She was concerned about the fiscal note going into a recession), HB2619 (creates a loan fund for small businesses, but also provides a privilege tax break for banks), and HB2702 (property tax transparency bill that all of my cities hated).
Special Session
This catches us up to now. 

A special session essentially acts as an entirely new legislative session, which means that everything that happened in the past is done with (so, no veto overrides for example. It also meant that the Medicaid Expansion bill that passed the House but sat in the Senate was dead, making it a harder path to pass). It also means that all new bills could be introduced.

With everything happening in the country in response to the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, I thought it was an important time to try to show Kansans that we see them. I introduced, along with several co-sponsors, HCR5002, which condemns police brutality, racial profiling, and excessive/militarized force.

Given the nature of a special session, I had little hope that anything would be done with this resolution, but we need to use the moment to try to advance the issue. I also cosponsored HB2010, a bill of Representative Holscher's, which prevents an officer from being hired if they were previously fired for violent misconduct. These two bills are certainly not enough and barely even a start, but I will continue to work over the summer with activist groups and black leaders to see what else will help.

The special session essentially only had one purpose: pass a bill that extended the Governor's emergency powers. In the run-up to the session, the Governor had been meeting with legislative leaders and the morning of the first day of special session, a compromise had been reached.

To summarize this compromise bill (HB2016), it has 3 distinct parts:
  1. Emergency Powers
    • The Governor's emergency powers get extended until September 15th, which is necessary. After that, the State Finance Council has to approve.
    • The Governor can't close any businesses until September 15th. After, she can't close them for more than 15 days.
    • If she wants to close the schools, she has to get approval from the State Board of Education.
    • Counties can make public health orders that are different from the statewide order, but it has to be data-based. County Commissioners can review and amend orders issued by the county health officer.
  2. CARES Act Money
    • The Governor appropriates the money (we've received about $1.2B so far), but has to get a majority of the State Finance Council to approve the expenditure.
    • In the version of the bill that got vetoed, the entire pot of money goes to the Legislative Coordinating Council to appropriate, so this was a fairly compromise point.
  3. Liability Immunity
    • This bill provides lawsuit immunity to all health care providers (excluding nursing homes, who only get an affirmative defense) from claims relating to treatment of COVID-19 patients. There is an exception for gross negligence, and this provision sunsets at the end of the emergency declaration.
    • It also protects manufacturers and sellers of PPE from liability lawsuits if they provided the product at the request of the Governor or state emergency management officials.

Here's a link to a comparison document with the version that the Governor vetoed and a version that is very similar to the one that ultimately passed (there were some technical changes made).

To be honest, I don't love this bill. In my discussions with colleagues, there were probably 166 people in that building that didn't like the bill (125 representatives, 40 Senators, and the Governor), but this was something that simply had to get done. Too much hinges on the Governor's emergency declarations, and Republican leadership wouldn't give that without some of the provisions that are in the bill.

Here are my main concerns:
  1. I understand, to an extent, why some businesses would like some legal cover in terms of liability. However, I think this can be pretty damaging to workers and and patients. I was assuaged by the fact that gross negligence is exempted and the fact that there are sunsets on this provision in the near future.
  2. I think the Governor lost quite a bit of ability to deal with a potential second wave, which we've seen in prior pandemics. If the second wave turns out to be worse than this initial wave, then she will likely not be able to close businesses given the makeup of the State Finance Council.
At the end of the day, compromise is hard but necessary. My first concern is calmed by the sunsets, and my second concern is the Governor's to deal with, and she made it clear that she needed this bill to pass. It passed with large majorities, with 107 yeas and 12 nays in the House and 26 yeas and 12 nays in the Senate.

I would also be remiss if I didn't mention that we did try to amend Medicaid Expansion onto this bill. This bill deals with responses to COVID-19, and in my personal opinion, getting people access to health care in a health care crisis is a germane discussion, but the majority party did not agree. The Rules chair deemed in Not Germane, and we were not able to overrule that ruling. Here's a link to that vote.

In Summary
I know this was a lot! It's been a really wild and weird first two years in the Kansas House of Representatives, but I'm already anxious to get back in January to help guide the state back after the COVID-19 pandemic.

I believe this is truly the last legislative update that we'll have this year, and I just wanted to say that I've really enjoyed writing them and I hope you've enjoyed reading them. It's my duty to distill all the information from Topeka into the important parts for you all, so if you have any suggestions going forward, please let me know.

Even though I'm unopposed, I still plan on walking around the neighborhoods (when safe and able to) to hear from constituents where they're at. Not everyone has the time or ability to keep up with everything in Topeka, so I like chatting with people at their doorstep to get the views from people who aren't paying attention every day.

See you soon!
As always, it is a true honor to serve as your state representative. Please feel free to contact me with any questions and comments you might have.

In Topeka, my office address is Room 174W, 300 SW 10th Ave, Topeka, KS 66612. You can reach me at 785.296.7686 or email me at rui.xu@house.ks.gov.

You can also always email me at my personal email address at ruixuks@gmail.com or call or text me on my cell phone at 913.535.8691.

Representative Rui Xu
Kansas State Representative, District 25
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