Kansas Legislature nightly push covers sports betting, budget, KPERS and COVID-19

TOPEKA — The House and Senate rode a wave of votes on Friday, sending Governor Laura Kelly bills legalizing sports betting, investing more than $1.1 billion in the state pension system and blocking government mask mandates for all contagious disease outbreaks.

The 2022 legislature, which plans to return to Topeka in late May to complete the annual session, also passed legislation adding details to the state budget for the fiscal year beginning in July. An unprecedented influx of tax revenue — lawmakers had a $3 billion surplus to work with — enabled lawmakers to craft a state budget designed to keep nearly $2 billion in reserve in the treasury. or bad weather funds.

Fate of the Senate Bill 84 creating the ability for state-owned and tribal casinos to be in the sports betting business was unclear until the Senate voted 21-13, which involved moving from six Republican senators. The same bill easily cleared the House on a vote of 73-49. The gambling expansion measure passed with the support of both Republicans and Democrats.

Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, said the bill would bring sports bets made through offshore platforms or on the black market under state law. It would bring Kansas in line with more than 30 states that had some form of legal betting on sporting events and bring jobs to the state, he said.

“Kansas is already betting on sports,” said Sen. Jeff Pittman, a Democrat from Leavenworth who also voted for the bill. “Many do it on illegal platforms that take money out of the state. Sports betting isn’t for everyone. It’s just another avenue for avid gamblers.

Opponents claimed the bill violated contracts with the four designated state casinos, endangered the welfare of adults and youth, produced a paltry amount of state tax revenue, and set aside questionably most of that money into a special fund to lure the Kansas City Chiefs. Kansas.

“We are going to destroy people’s lives,” said Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson. “We don’t know their names at this time. We don’t know what they look like. But we know it will happen.

The Senate and House also passed Kelly a bill that would transfer $1.125 billion from the state’s general fund to the Kansas public employee retirement system. Under Senate Bill 421, the state would repay $253 million owed to KPERS for payments withheld by the Legislature in fiscal years 2017 and 2019. The bill also provided for $853 million to be deposited with KPERS by June and another $271 million by December.

Critics of the legislation said they welcome investments in a pension system serving more than 315,000 Kansans, but would prefer some of that money to be spent on ending the 6.5% sales tax immediately. of the state on groceries. Another idea rejected by the Legislative Assembly was to cut a check to KPERS retirees in the form of a 13th monthly benefit check at a cost of $143 million.

“We could afford to do this,” said Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City. “I think we wronged them. We have not moved in the right direction. »

Senator Richard Billinger, Republican for Goodland and chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said debt repayment to KPERS and initial contributions to the system would free up more than $460 million over the next five years for d other government priorities. He based that projection on KPERS portfolio returns of 7.75%, but KPERS advisers said a high return was unlikely.

“We promised that when they retired they would receive a certain amount of money,” Billinger said. “I’m working to make sure that when they retire, they get every penny they’ve been promised. Nothing less.”

The KPERS bill was approved in the House 106-10 and by the Senate 26-10.

Meanwhile, the Legislature sent the Democratic Governor a revised state budget in Bill 2510 that would leave the state with a cash balance of more than $1 billion in June 2023 and with $750 million dollars in a fiscal stabilization fund. The votes were 33 to 7 in the Senate and 95 to 22 in the House.

“Our guideline and course of action for this year was to pay down debt, put money aside, and have one-time investments,” said Rep. Troy Waymaster, a Bunker Hill Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “That’s what we looked at when we looked at the budgets this year, given the surplus we had at the start of this session.”

He pointed to a budget provision removing $332 million in bond debt owed for the dredging of the John Redmond Reservoir, the construction of a building at the University of Kansas Medical Center, the development of the National Bio Facility and agro-defense in Manhattan and the KBI’s crime construct. Washburn University laboratory.

The Legislature passed a separate bill that would phase out the state’s 6.5% grocery sales tax by 2025. One-time budget investments were made in universities , community colleges, technical colleges, and the Kansas State Fair with money tied to federal economic aid. grants in Kansas, Waymaster said.

“We’ve put ourselves in a great position in the event of a downturn,” said Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-Kansas City. “We have a lot of money set aside in a rainy day fund. We have an excellent closing balance and we are paying down the debt.

Near the end of a long workday that lasted until 2 a.m. Friday, the legislature sent the governor Senate Bill 34. It would prohibit any government or local entity or official from imposing a mask mandate in response to an infectious disease outbreak.

The measure inspired by opponents of blanket vaccination requirements passed 64-53 in the House and 23-17 in the Senate.

Sen. Kellie Warren, the Leawood Republican seeking the GOP nomination for attorney general, said the COVID-19 pandemic had opened a Pandora’s box that violated Kansans’ individual liberties. The legislature conducted hearings that produced testimony about the government’s overreach in the workplace, schools and churches, she said.

“What we’ve heard isn’t pretty,” Warren said. “This bill is reasonable.”

Rep. John Eplee, an Atchison Republican and family physician, joined Republicans and Democrats in both houses who said expanding restrictions created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic into a sweeping health ban public in terms of all infectious diseases was irresponsible.

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