These seven bills would actually help Kansans. But can they become law?

February 21, 2023 3:33 am
care facility recommends construction in Topeka adjacent to the Veterans Administration medical center. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

A proposal for construction of a $49 million residential care facility recommends construction in Topeka adjacent to the Veterans Administration medical center. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

Despite the way it sometimes appears, not every bill introduced in the Kansas Legislature envisions burning the state to the ground and dancing on the ashes of a desiccated wasteland.

Sure, some legislation might cause problems. But other bills come from those who want the best for Kansans and have solid ideas for improving the state. After a week in which high-profile, awful ideas scurried through committees and chambers, I thought we could all use a refreshing change of pace. Let’s look at some of the positive bills introduced this session. Heck, most of them even managed to get hearings.

Then just imagine what would happen if leadership cared as much about moving constructive legislation as they do about their pet ideological projects.


Appointed counsel

House Bill 2351. “Increasing the maximum rate paid to appointed counsel for an indigent person.”

Our justice system depends on defendants having the right to a lawyer in criminal cases, even if they can’t afford one. This bill increases that maximum rate for such lawyers to $100 per hour on or before June 30, 2024, and then to $120 per hour on and after July 1, 2024. Kansas Reflector wrote about challenges facing the Kansas State Board of Indigents’ Defense Services in January.

The bill received a hearing Feb. 13. You can watch it here.


Film industry

House Bill 2182. “Enacting the Kansas film and digital media industry production development act, providing a tax credit, sales tax exemption and loans and grants to incentivize film, video and digital media production in Kansas and establishing a program to be administered by the secretary of commerce for the purpose of developing such production in Kansas.”

Sometimes the bill’s short title does the heavy lifting of describing what it does, and such is the case here. The proposal comes from a coalition called Grow Kansas Film. I mentioned their efforts in a roundup column earlier this month. A matching bill, SB 91, has been introduced on the Senate side.

The House bill received a hearing in the tax committee Feb. 13. You can watch it here. The Senate Commerce Committee hearing was Feb. 2, and that panel advanced an amended version of the bill to the full Senate on Feb. 17.


Veterans home

House Bill 2378. “Authorizing the secretary of administration on behalf of the Kansas department for aging and disability services to convey lands in Shawnee County to the Kansas commission on veterans affairs.”

This bill helps pave the way for the construction of a residential home for veterans. Kansas Reflector senior reporter Tim Carpenter wrote about the plan in January. The state has long-term care facilities in Dodge City and Winfield, but nothing in the northeast.

The bill received a hearing Feb. 14 and was recommended for passage Monday. You can watch the hearing here.


Forfeiture fix

House Bill 2380. “Requiring a criminal conviction for civil asset forfeiture, remitting proceeds from civil asset forfeiture to the state general fund, increasing the burden of proof required to forfeit property, making certain property ineligible for forfeiture, providing persons involved in forfeiture proceedings representation by counsel and the ability to demand a jury trial and allowing a person to request a hearing on whether forfeiture is excessive.”

Props to Americans for Prosperity-Kansas, Kansas Policy Institute and the Kansas Justice Institute for developing this bill to curb the worst excesses of civil asset forfeiture. That’s when police seize and keep property (including cash) without necessarily arresting the people involved. Kansas Reflector covered the Feb. 16 House judiciary hearing, where law enforcement officials turned out to quash the bill.

You can watch the hearing here.


Caregiving funds

Senate Bill 63. “Expanding the scope of uses of campaign contributions to include family caregiving services.”

This bipartisan bill allows candidates to use donations to help care for family members while they’re running for office. This tweak would ease the path of young parents running for office, or adult children who might be caring for their aging parents.

The bill was heard Feb. 15 by the Senate Committee on Transparency and Ethics. You can watch the hearing here. It was amended and sent to the full chamber Monday.


Minimum wage

Senate Bill 70. “Enacting the making work pay act to increase the Kansas minimum wage.”

The Kansas minimum wage currently sits at $7.25 an hour. This proposal would raise it to $16 an hour in 2027 in several steps. I highlighted the bill and its sponsor (Sen. Ethan Corson, D-Fairway) in a Statehouse Scraps column last month. It hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing.


Sustainable ag

Senate Bill 71. “Requiring the secretary of agriculture to establish a division of sustainable agriculture that shall apply for federal grant funds under the greenhouse gas reduction fund to assist farmers in converting to renewable energy and sustainable agriculture practices.”

Another bipartisan proposal, this one comes from Senate Majority Leader Larry Alley, R-Winfield, and Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence. It creates a Kansas sustainable agriculture department. That division could then apply for federal grants to aid local agriculture. Those funds come from the landmark Inflation Reduction Act, passed last year by the U.S. Congress. A companion bill on the House side, HB 2091, also has been introduced.

You can watch the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing from Feb. 15 here. You can watch the House Agriculture Committee hearing from Feb. 16 here.

As you see, reasonable and bipartisan bills still pop up in the Kansas Legislature. Even more besides these seven could improve life for Kansans, but we only have so much space before this turns into a Russian novel.

I’ll let you know which ones make it through.

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Before joining the Reflector, Clay spent four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.