Sunday Reader: Norman’s lab coat preserved for history; Kansas joins challenge to federal abortion rule

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Good morning everyone:

Back from Boston,where we still squeezed in some work while spending time with family at a wedding over last weekend. Went right from Boston to Topeka without missing a beat. As we head into this week, it’s comforting to know that we have just one more night at the Ramada. It’s always a very long four months, but it’s hard to believe how many late nights and early mornings are spent at that hotel and how many lawmakers I run into. In some odd way, it’s like I am attached to that place because it does become sort of a makeshift home/workspace for four months. That aside, let’s move on to the significant stories we published last week as well as other news you may have missed but need to know…

  • The Kansas House overrode Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a $1.56 billion tax bill that she said was too expensive and would put the state’s fiscal health at risk.
  • How the governor’s veto of the tax bill put lawmakers in a dilemma.
  • Former Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt is returning to Kansas politics, announcing Friday morning that he will run for the 2nd Congressional District seat that will come open with Congressman Jake LaTurner not seeking reelection.
  • Jeff Kahrs, a top adviser to Republican U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, is jumping in the race for the 2nd Congressional District as candidates jockey for the open seat.
  • The former president of the Kansas Livestock Association says he’s running for the 2nd Congressional District seat that will be vacated by U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner.
  • After thinking it over, House Majority Leader Chris Croft  said he doesn’t plan to run for Congress in the 2nd Congressional District.
  • Republican state Sen. Kristen O’Shea of Topeka said an emotional goodbye to the Kansas Senate when she announced she would not seek a second term in the statehouse. A House member has already stepped up to run for the seat.
  • The Kansas Senate turned back last-minute efforts to pull bills legalizing medical marijuana and expanding Medicaid out of committee.
  • A Wichita businessman who unsuccessfully tried to pitch a medical marijuana bill to the Legislature this year has filed to run in the Republican primary against state Sen. Renee Erickson.
  • A retired Methodist minister is challenging Republican state Rep. Adam Turk of Shawnee for the House District 117 seat in western Johnson County and eastern Douglas County.
  • The Kansas House overrode Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of about $35 million in sales tax exemptions that would have benefited veterans, telecommunications companies, Exploration Place in Wichita and the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center in Topeka.
  • Gov. Laura Kelly on Wednesday signed a $25.1 billion budget for fiscal 2025, but she vetoed two dozen provisions, including money for sending the National Guard to the southern border, a pregnancy awareness program and language allowing universities to create special districts for a lucrative tax incentive.
  • Here’s a look at how the tax bill vetoed by Gov. Laura Kelly compares to a plan that she proposed for lawmakers to consider when they returned to work Friday with the legislative session scheduled to end Tuesday. The House has already overridden the governor’s veto with a Senate vote set for this week.
  • State lawmakers plan to seek another election audit of a Kansas county that didn’t fully cooperate with a recent examination that was undertaken in 2022 and 2023.

Historical lab coat

Maybe one of the most indelible memories for political insiders of the pandemic was state Health Secretary Lee Norman and his white lab coat.

Norman wore the lab coat at most every press briefing with Gov. Laura Kelly during the early stages of the pandemic as the state tried to come to grips with COVID-19.

The lab coat had Norman’s name and title embroidered on one side and the logo of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment on the other.

Former Health Secretary Lee Norman and his iconic white lab coat.

The lab coat helped Norman emerge as somewhat of an iconic figure in the early stages of the pandemic with a large presence on social media and at the governor’s news conferences on the pandemic.

Now the coat will be preserved for history.

The Kansas Historical Society recently took possession of the lab coat, which will now become part of the Kansas Museum of History and its more than 121,000 artifacts.

“Donor wore the lab coat while serving as the secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says the museum’s description.

“Gov. Laura Kelly appointed Dr. Lee Norman to that position in early 2019. Over the course of the pandemic in 2020, Norman frequently appeared with the governor in news conferences wearing this lab coat.

“He updated the public on case numbers and strategies to limit the spread of the disease, including social distancing, face masks, and vaccines.

“Norman resigned his position with KDHE in November 2021. He served in a similar role in the Kansas Army National Guard during the same period.”

Norman was asked to step down from the position as he developed an increasingly confrontational relationship with state legislators.

Public donations to the museum are presented to its accessions committee, which decides whether to accept or decline the item based on various criteria, including its relevance to state history and if it fills a gap in the collection.

The Kansas Historical Society and Kansas Museum of History have long been collecting stories about the state’s public health.

The history of public health will be a topic in the new exhibits gallery.

Other health items preserved by the museum include a hand-wrought communal iron drinking cup used in the early 20th century by former state health officer Samuel Crumbine, who worked to change laws to eliminate the practice of using the cup.

The museum also has a fly swatter that Crumbine used as part of campaign eliminate the insect and its spread of disease.

It also has a quarantine sign for scarlet fever. The sign belonged to Chester L. Stocks, a druggist and medical doctor in Bushong from 1896 to 1934.

Compensation from conception

A bill making fathers responsible for picking up the cost of child support from the moment of conception cleared the Legislature on Friday.

The Senate voted 25-12 to pass the bill giving mothers the ability to receive child support payments while they are pregnant. The bill had already passed the House 82-38.

The bill now goes to Gov. Laura Kelly. With the legislative session set to end Tuesday, the Legislature will not get a chance to override a veto.

The legislation, similar to an idea already proposed in Congress, would require direct medical and pregnancy-related expenses to be added to state guidelines that courts must consider in awarding child support.

The amount of child support would be calculated from the date of conception plus interest.

Currently under Kansas law, the parental relationships are not established until there is a live birth.

There have been concerns expressed about the legal implications of writing “fetal personhood” into law and whether it advanced attempts to limit abortion rights in Kansas.

Democratic state Sen. Ethan Corson of Fairway said that while the bill may seem benign on the surface, he was worried that the legislation could potentially have a broader effect.

“The impact of this bill is likely to be much more serious, much more sweeping and much broader in its implications,” Corson said on the floor.

“This bill is essentially an attempt to enshrine the concept of fetal personhood into our Kansas statutes and that would have very, very far-reaching consequences to a whole body of law,” Corson said.

“If we’re going to say that fetuses now have legal rights, that is going to affect downstream a whole bunch of other things,” he said.

Supporters said the bill only requires judges to consider child support payments for pregnancy-related expenses.

They said the bill doesn’t change any of the legal proceedings related to child support, only that it be considered by the court in those cases.

They said there are already parts of Kansas law that recognize a fetus as life in cases of criminal proceedings.

“The real impact of this bill is helping women, helping women paying for things they need help paying” for, said Republican state Sen. Kellie Warren of Leawood.

Warren said the bill is not about “fetal personhood,” saying that is already weaved into different parts of state law.

“The bill is simple and short and does not affect a fundamental change in current Kansas law about the definition of a person or a human being or an unborn child,” she said.

There were 12,732 children born out of wedlock during 2023 in Kansas, with an average of 13,000 children born out of wedlock over the previous five years, state officials said.

The health care costs associated with pregnancy and childbirth average almost $19,000, including $2,854 paid out-of-pocket, a KFF analysis of large employers’ insurance claims found.

Senate passes film credits

The Kansas Senate on Friday passed a bill allocating up to $10 million in yearly tax credits to lure film and television productions to the state.

The Senate voted 32-5 to approve the bill that calls for providing filmmakers with a 30% tax credit if they spend at least $50,000. The tax credits can increase up to 40% under certain circumstances.

The bill now goes to the House for a final vote before it could go to the governor.

The nonrefundable tax credit would be for eligible expenses for film projects approved by the Commerce Department.

The tax credits would be transferable and could be carried forward for 10 years.

State officials have previously said that the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission receives about four requests a month seeking information about the state’s incentive program, which has been lacking.

Kansas commerce officials estimate that a studio feature film would produce between $125,000 and $260,000 in spending per day, and a television series would generate $15,000 to $110,000 a day.

There are 37 states that now offer tax incentives for film production, including Missouri where Gov. Mike Parson last year signed into law a new film incentives program capped at $16 million a year.

The Missouri program provides a 20% tax credit for all qualifying film productions and an additional 5% tax credit if more than 50% of the production is filmed in Missouri.

An additional 5% tax credit is available if at least 15% of the production is filmed in a rural or blighted area.

An extra 5% tax credit is available if a certain number of Missouri residents are hired onto these productions, and another 5% credit is available if the production depicts the state or region in a positive light, as deemed by the Missouri Department of Economic Development.

The bill also would create sales tax exemptions for purchases of personal property
made by the following not-for-profit community theaters:

  • Great Plains Theatre (Abilene)
  • Music Theatre Wichita
  • Salina Community Theatre
  • Theatre Atchison
  • Theatre Lawrence
  • Topeka Civic Theatre

The bill also would create a sales tax exemption for purchases and sales of goods made by the Friends of Cedar Crest Association.

The goal is to preserve and enhance Cedar Crest and encourage public awareness of the historic and cultural importance of the residence for Kansas governors.

Good Samaritan immunity

The Kansas House on Friday unanimously passed a bill that would give immunity to people who seek medical help for someone experiencing a drug overdose.

The bill, which still must be approved by the Senate, comes at a time when drug overdoses, especially related to fentanyl, are spiking in Kansas and across the country.

The bill gives someone who might be using drugs the ability to help someone else who suffers a drug overdose without fear of prosecution.

The immunity would only apply to simple possession of the drug or certain drug paraphernalia.

The bill doesn’t provide immunity for the sale of the drugs or possessing a trafficable amount of drugs.

The person calling for emergency help must also provide their full name, remain at the scene and fully cooperate with police and emergency medical responders.

The bill was backed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers including Republican state Reps. Nick Hoheisel of Wichita and Pat Proctor of Leavenworth and Democratic state Reps. Jason Probst of Hutchinson and John Alcala of Topeka.

There were 738 drug overdose deaths among Kansas residents in 2022, a 9% increase from the year before when there were 678 drug overdose deaths.

Of the overdose deaths in 2022, 497 involved an opioid as contributing to the cause of death.

Synthetic opioids, the category that includes fentanyl, were involved in 412 of the deaths.

Among Kansas residents, synthetic opioid-involved overdose deaths have increased by 1,014% from 2013 to 2022, skyrocketing from 37 in 2013 to 412 in 2022.

Kansas challenges new abortion rules

Kansas has joined with 16 other states in fighting new federal rules giving workers time off and other accommodations to get an abortion.

The complaint, led by attorneys general in Arkansas and Tennessee, says that a 2022 law called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was passed to help ensure that women received workplace accommodations to protect their pregnancies.

However, the lawsuit says a new rule adopted on a 3-2 vote by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission expands that law, requiring employers to accommodate workers’ abortions, something Congress didn’t authorize.

“If the rule stands, Tennessee, its co-plaintiff states, and many others must facilitate workers’ abortions or face federal suit — even those elective abortions of healthy pregnancies that are illegal under state law,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires employers to accommodate “known limitations” arising from a worker’s pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.

Supporters of the law said the language would require “commonsense accommodations” —like extra restroom breaks or the ability to work while seated “to ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby,” the lawsuit says.

But the lawsuit says the EEOC’s final rule includes a mandate that employers, including states where abortion is generally prohibited, provide abortion accommodations to their workers.

“The Supreme Court has recognized that states have many legitimate interests in regulating abortion, including ‘respect for and preservation of prenatal life at all stages of
development,’ ‘the elimination of particularly gruesome or barbaric medical procedures,’ and ‘the prevention of discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or disability,’ among others,” the lawsuit says.

“The EEOC’s rule vitiates these interests by requiring the plaintiff states in their sovereign capacity to facilitate elective abortions they have chosen to proscribe or else face federal lawsuits for money damages and injunctive relief,” the suit said.

Here’s coverage of the lawsuit from The Associated Press, The Nashville Tennessean and The Hill newspaper. Here’s the news release from the Tennessee attorney general announcing the litigation. National Public Radio neatly breaks down what abortion politics have to do with rights for pregnant workers.

Education bill passes

Last week, the Kansas Legislature approved a bill that allocates $6.6 billion for public education, including $4.9 billion from the state general fund.

The Topeka Capital Journal reports that the budget includes $75 million for special education and a total of $303 million in new money for schools.

The bill passed 115-2 in the House 35-2 in the Senate.

The bill would amend the law governing school district state aid and the local option budget to require school districts to transfer a portion of their local option budget fund to the district’s special education fund.

The amount would be proportionally equal to the amount of the school district’s total foundation aid that is attributable to the special education weighting.

The bill, which was sent to the governor, would repeal authorization for the Special Education and Related Services Funding Task Force.

The panel would be replaced with an Education Funding Task Force, which would review several components associated with the current school finance system and academic reporting and achievement goals.

The committee would have to report recommendations to the governor and the Legislature on or before Jan. 11, 2027, that provide for the establishment of a new school finance formula to replace the existing formula.

New audits selected

The Legislative Post Audit Committee last week picked 10 audits to undertake in the coming months. Here’s a look at the audits selected last week with a little bit of the background of each provided by the auditors. The summaries prepared by the Division of Post Audit detail the concerns the audit is intended to address.

Evaluating hospitals’ compliance with the Kansas Lay Caregiver Act: In 2017, the Kansas Legislature passed this law giving patients admitted for inpatient care the opportunity to designate a caregiver. The patient does not have to designate a caregiver. But if they do identify a caregiver, hospitals are required to inform the caregiver of any discharge or transfer plans. It also requires hospitals to provide caregivers with the instructions they need to provide aftercare services to the patient after they’re released. Legislators are concerned that hospitals may not be complying with the law.

Evaluating staff safety at Osawatomie State Hospital: This state psychiatric facility serves people 18 years of age and older. The hospital has experienced challenges with its work environment. “It is a difficult job, pays comparatively low salaries, and suffers from consistently high vacancy rates. These challenges have led to safety issues for staff and
patients over time.” Lawmakers are worried that the hospital’s environment does not ensure staff safety and may be contributing to employee turnover.

Reviewing select cities’ use of transient guest tax revenues: “State law allows cities and counties in Kansas to charge a transient guest tax to hotel guests and guests at certain other lodging facilities. Legislators have expressed interest in understanding how cities spend transient guest tax revenues and whether that spending aligns with state law
and local ordinances.”

Reviewing agencies’ implementation of selected performance audit recommendations: Auditors seek to learn to what extent agencies have implemented selected audit recommendations made in recent years. This examination would follow up on recommendations from 2022 audits of foster care, the tax credit for low-income students scholarship program and trends in social workers employed by school districts.

Evaluating state agencies’ registries of people who have abused, neglected and exploited persons with disabilities: Lawmakers want to know if state agencies have maintained complete abuse, neglect and exploitation registries in recent years. Seven agencies maintain registries of people confirmed to have abused, neglected or exploited adults and children. The registries are separately maintained and updated by agency staff when they receive confirmed reports about abuse. “Confirmed cases may be added to one registry, but not other applicable registries, leaving them incomplete. Because individuals with disabilities, their families, and potential employers rely on these registries to determine if a care provider is a perpetrator, it’s important the registries are complete.”

Comparing Kansas’s hemp requirements to other states’: Lawmakers seek to learn how Kansas’ requirements for growing hemp compare to requirements in other states and the federal government. Legislators have expressed concern that the number of requirements placed on commercial hemp production may discourage farmers from growing hemp.

Review of the Central Plains School District’s adult virtual school funding and an additional three to four school districts to look at the accuracy of how they are billing for credit hours. The audit also would examine the consistency of the state education department’s auditing process. School districts receive funding for adult students attending a virtual school by reporting the number of credits students earn to the state education department. The department audits the credits each year and ascertains whether they should have been paid. If it’s found that a credit shouldn’t have been paid, the money is withheld from the district’s funding the next year. A 2023 audit of the Central Plains Diploma Completion Program found that many of the credits the district claimed for the 2022 school year were not eligible for funding, auditor said. The district subsequently appealed the audit findings. Legislators have expressed concern that the Central Plains School District may not have received the funding it was entitled to for the 2022 school year.

Evaluating whether the Department of Commerce’s economic development transparency database includes the required information: Five years ago, the Legislature passed laws to improve the evaluation and transparency of certain
economic development and tax incentives. The Department of Commerce was required
to maintain an online database with information about select incentives. Legislators have expressed concern that the transparency database does not include all the required information. The audit would examine whether the database is reasonably functional to determine who is getting tax incentives.

Reviewing free-lunch student counts used to determine at-risk funding: Lawmakers want to know whether the number of free-lunch students used for at-risk funding accurately reflects the number of students eligible for the program. A 2006 audit of the program showed about 17% of free-lunch students were ineligible. Auditors said the error rate resulted from households underreporting their income. The audit also found some students who may have been eligible, but their families didn’t apply for the free-lunch program for various reasons. The audit also would include a review of how the free-lunch process has changed since the COVID-19 pandemic. The committee also wanted to know the number of qualifying students by citizenship status.

Reviewing veterans’ Claims Assistance Program matching requirements: “Legislators have expressed concern about how the Kansas Commission on Veterans’ Affairs requires veteran service organizations to meet the matching requirements for the Veterans’ Claims Assistance Program. Legislators would like to know what the matching requirements are, whether and how service organizations are meeting them, and what KCVA does with any matching funds it receives.”

Homelessness

In a case that has relevance for Kansas, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week about whether an Oregon city could constitutionally ban sleeping in public.

It’s an issue for policymakers here in Kansas, where there have been discussions about how to address homelessness.

Last year, a legislative committee considered a highly controversial bill that would have made it illegal for homeless people to sleep or camp on public property.

The bill was ultimately not worked, and a roundtable discussion was later held on the issue.

In question in the Supreme Court case is whether the enforcement of laws regulating camping on public property constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” prohibited by the
Eighth Amendment.

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach joined a brief with 23 other states supporting the city of Grants Pass, Oregon, in its defense of a law that prohibited sleeping on public sidewalks and streets and outlawed camping in parks, on benches or under bridges.

Grants Pass enforces those ordinances through civil citations, not through criminal fines or jail terms. If a person is cited for violating park regulations, city officers have authority to issue an order barring that person from a city park for 30 days.

“Idaho, Montana, and 22 other sovereign states (are) responsible for protecting the health and safety of all their citizens, both homeless and housed. Their sovereign duties also include defining crimes and enforcing a criminal code within their borders,” the states argued on their brief joined by Kansas.

“They do not always approve of each other’s policies on homelessness, much less the broader set of policies other states choose to pursue in their criminal codes.

“But they all agree these choices are theirs to make—not the federal government’s, and certainly not the federal courts’.”

Here’s a quick roundup of stories centered on last week’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court in the Oregon case: