Eight things you need to know from Tuesday at the Capitol

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As we rapidly move toward the midpoint of the Legislative session, the pace at the Capitol is gaining steam as we approach turnaround.

Here’s a look at the major events of Tuesday at the statehouse, most notably a late afternoon announcement from the Labor Department about the amount of unemployment fraud paid out last year….

Labor Department

The Kansas Labor Department revealed Tuesday  that it paid out almost $300 million in fraudulent unemployment claims during 2020, including $140 million from its regular unemployment program. Legislative auditors are scheduled to meet later Wednesday with lawmakers to discuss their findings into fraud at the department.

Meanwhile, the House Commerce committee is in the final stages of its work on a bill that, among other things, would set up an oversight committee of the modernization of the computer system at the Labor Department. On Tuesday, the bill was amended to allow the committee to order an audit of the agency. This same bill also includes provisions that would reduce benefits for unemployed workers.

Loans forgiven

Gov. Laura Kelly announced Tuesday that she was forgiving $5 million in loans that were given to restaurants and businesses in the hospitality industry at the start of the pandemic.

The state gave out zero-interest loans of up to $20,000 to 344 businesses across Kansas shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic swept into the state last March.

The state distributed $2 million to 136 businesses in the Kansas City area, $1 million to  68 businesses in Sedgwick County and $2 million to 140 businesses across the state.

The program started out as a working capital loan program, but the Kelly administration announced Tuesday that the loans would not need to be repaid.

Businesses that have made repayments will be reimbursed.

“There’s nothing more important my administration can do than give Kansas businesses the long-term, continued support they need to not only recover from the pandemic but prosper now and into the future,” Kelly said in a statement.

“This action allows the loan dollars we delivered at the beginning of the pandemic to no longer need to be paid back, helping businesses maintain operations as we work to recover from the challenges brought about by COVID-19,” she said.

Transgender student athletes

The Senate Education Committee took testimony Tuesday on  legislation prohibiting students whose biological gender is male from competing in interscholastic sports for females.

Counting Kansas, similar types of legislation have now been introduced in 20 states this year, including neighboring Oklahoma and nearby Iowa, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

It’s not clear whether the bill will advance out of committee.

Here’s coverage of the hearing from KSNT, The Kansas City Star, The Associated Press and the Capital Journal.

Tax appeals appointment

Gov. Laura Kelly’s nomination to the Kansas Board of Tax Appeals was never going to be easy. She withdrew the nomination of Robin Marx once last year when it looked like his confirmation would be in trouble and then renominated him to the panel. Marx ran into plenty of questions during his confirmation hearing Tuesday about his role in the so-called “dark store” debate over appraising big box stores. He also received an ardent defense from Democratic state Sen. Tom Holland.

Business compensation

 The debate over whether – and how much – businesses should be compensated for ordered closures during the pandemic will move to the Senate with a bill that was introduced on Tuesday. The new legislation is very different from another bill allowing commercial businesses to seek property tax refunds if they were shut down during the pandemic.

The 4th Estate (and not the press)

Republican Attorney General General Derek Schmidt and GOP leadership on Tuesday took aim at that niggling so-called fourth branch of government – executive branch agencies – that pass rules and regulations without any oversight from the Legislature. They unveiled a constitutional amendment that would give the Legislature the power to veto administrative rules and regulations. The amendment, if passed, would go to voters in November 2022.

Energy plan

The Topeka Capital-Journal takes this broad look at a bill in the House that would make create a task force to develop an energy plan. Last year, the House voted down the governor’s proposal to move the Energy Office out of the Kansas Corporation Commission. The governor wanted to create an independent agency that would have been the first step toward forming a state energy plan.

Young marriages

The Kansas City Star examines the implications of a bill introduced by Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Clayton of Overland Park on behalf political consultant Lauren Van Wagoner that would raise the minimum marriage age in Kansas to 18 with no exceptions.