Legislature passes bills on COVID response, education and tax policies on final day

Just short of 24 hours after it began, the final day of the 2020 Legislature passed a multi-part bill addressing the COVID pandemic that Democrats say could be vetoed by Gov. Laura Kelly. 

The Legislature also approved a bundle of several education bills, including a provision allowing districts to pay for student tuition in dual high school/college courses, and combined a number tax provisions. 

Here are the provisions: 

COVID response HB 2054. Bill description. Conference Committee report.  

The bill appropriates federal funding Kansas receives from COVID relief to the Legislative Coordinating Council, rather than the office of the Governor. It requires state agencies to get a review by the Legislative Budget Committee and approval by the Legislative Coordinating Council, composed of legislative leaders, before spending funds. 

It applies to both the $1.2 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund and to any federal funds received under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Families First Act), the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act, and any other federal law that provides moneys to the state for aid for coronavirus relief. (This would appear to include over $90 million in state school district aid.) 

The bill makes a number of changes in state law related to state of disaster emergencies and the Kansas Emergency Management Act (KEMA). It ratifies and confirms the Governor’s March 12, 2020, disaster declaration through May 1, 2020 and ratifies and continues through May 31, 2020, the state of disaster emergency declared by the Governor on April 30 and extended by the State Finance Council through May 26, 2020. Without this action, the emergency will expire on May 26. 

The bill prohibits the Governor from proclaiming any new COVID-19-related state of disaster emergency during 2020, unless the Governor makes specific application to the State Finance Council and such action is approved by an affirmative vote of at least six legislative members. If the Governor proclaims a new state of disaster emergency, the Governor must make specific application to the State Finance Council, and an affirmative vote of six of the legislative members would be required, to order the closure or cessation of any business or commercial activity. 

The bill limits the Governor’s ability to order the closure or cessation of any business or commercial activity in response to any or all conditions necessitating the declared state of disaster emergency for 15 days, except that the Governor can apply to the State Finance Council, which may extend the closure or cessation of business or commercial activity for specified periods not to exceed 30 days each with the approval of at least six legislative members of the council. 

The bill allows the Board of County Commissioners of any county to issue an order relating to public health that contains provisions that are less stringent than the provisions of a statewide executive order issued by the Governor. Any Board of County Commissioners issuing such an order would be required to make a finding, based upon advice from the local health officer or other local health officials, that the scope of provisions in the Governor’s executive order are not necessary to protect the public health and safety of the county to be implemented in the county. 

The bill makes a number of changes in current law regarding the Governor’s authority to issue executive orders in a disaster emergency and changes the penalty for violating orders from a crime to a civil penalty. It also amends some statutes regarding local health officials. 

The bill provides immunity in certain COVID-related cases for health care providers, businesses and products. It does not address schools or other educational institutions. It also states that nothing in the Act creates, recognizes, or ratifies a claim or cause of action of any kind; eliminates a required element of any claim; affects workers’ compensation law, including the exclusive application of such law; or amends, repeals, alters, or affects any other immunity or limitation of liability. This provision would apply retroactively to any cause of action accruing on or after March 12, 2020. 

The bill also includes provisions addressing notarial acts, first responder notifications relating to COVID, numerous health care provisions, court videoconferencing, issues relating to the sales of alcohol, and measure for unemployment compensation.  

Education – HB 2510. Bill description. Conference Committee Report. 

The bill combines a number of provisions that had passed either the House or Senate. 

Dual Enrollment. It authorizes, but does not require, school districts to pay all or a portion of tuition, fees, books, materials, and equipment for any high school student who is concurrently or dually enrolled at a postsecondary educational institution (postsecondary institution). School districts would also be authorized to provide transportation for concurrently or dually enrolled students. The bill requires school districts to grant high school credit to concurrently or dually enrolled students who satisfactorily complete course work at a postsecondary institution. The bill would prohibit school districts from paying for technical education courses that are part of the Excel in Career Technical Education program (also known as SB 155 courses) administered by the Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR). 

The bill sets eligibility requirements for students and reporting requirements for higher education institutions. It also expands the Kansas Foster Child Educational Assistance Program to provide a tuition waiver for an eligible foster child who is concurrently or dually enrolled in a postsecondary institution. School districts would be authorized to pay for any costs that are not waived, including for fees, books, materials, and equipment. 

Foster Care Report Card. The bill requires the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) and the Department for Children and Families (DCF) to prepare an annual academic report card on educational outcome data regarding foster care students. 

The bill also requires de-identified disaggregated race and ethnicity data for all the required data. The academic report card must be submitted to the House Committee on Education and the Senate Committee on Education on or before January 15 of each year. 

Kansas Promise Scholarship Act. The bill creates the Kansas Promise Scholarship Act (KPSA), which would provide scholarships for students to attend a community or technical college, the Washburn Institute of Technology, or any two-year associate degree program or technical certificate program offered by a private postsecondary educational institution that has its primary location in Kansas. 

The scholarship program is capped at $10 million annually. The amount of a student’s scholarship for each semester would be the aggregate of the amount of tuition and related fees or costs of the eligible postsecondary educational institution minus the aggregate amount of all other aid awarded to the student. 

The bill sets out various student qualifications and requirements and administrative provisions. 

Free ACT Exams. The bill requires the Kansas State Board of Education to provide the ACT college entrance exam, ACT WorkKeys assessments, and the pre-ACT at no charge to any person enrolled in any public or accredited nonpublic school in Kansas. Current law requires the State Board to provide those examinations at no charge to students enrolled in public schools. Under the state’s contract with ACT, the bill is not expected to add any cost to the state. 

Other provisions. The bill amends the authority of healing arts school clinics to provide healing arts services and authorizes the sale of land by Kansas State University in Saline County. 

Property and Income Tax – HB 2702. Bill description. Conference Committee Report. 

Property Tax Notice and Hearings. The bill establishes, beginning in 2021, new notice and public hearing requirements for certain taxing subdivisions prior to property tax increases above a revenue neutral rate. The bill would not apply to school districts or to any taxing subdivisions receiving less than $5,000 annually in property taxes. It also repeals at lid on cities and counties that also does not apply to school districts. 

Property Tax Payment Delay. The bill prohibits interest from accruing on unpaid property tax for tax year 2019 from May 10, 2020, through August 10, 2020. The tax would not be considered delinquent for that time and counties would be required to waive any costs related to delinquent property tax collection charged to taxpayers prior to August 11, 2020. The bill would also delay, for tax year 2019 only, the preparation of a list of real estate subject to sale due to delinquent taxes until after August 10, 2020, and the publication deadline of such list would be delayed until September 1, 2020. Real estate sales of property as a result of delinquent taxes in 2020 otherwise scheduled to occur on the first Tuesday of September would be scheduled to occur on or before the fourth Monday of October. 

Income Tax Filing and Payment Extension. The bill extends, for tax year 2019, the deadline for filing income and privilege tax returns otherwise due April 15 through July 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020. The bill also prohibits the imposition of penalty or interest associated with such returns if the liability is paid on or before July 15, 2020. 

Other provisions address the Taxpayer Protection Act, authorize county treasurers to establish partial payments and establish payment plans for all property taxes, and provide for county discretion in handling de minimis property tax penalty charges. 

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