Kansas House passes bills dealing with flat tax, abortion, wind turbines, energy, fentanyl
TOPEKA — House lawmakers passed a flat tax proposal with bipartisan support, following weeks of debate on the topic and criticism that the policy would mostly benefit corporations and the state’s wealthiest residents.
The Republican-engineered tax proposal would get rid of Kansas’ tiered tax system and implement a 5.25% income tax rate for all individuals above a certain threshold, starting in tax year 2024. The tax would apply to single filers making more than $6,150 and $12,300 for married individuals filing jointly.
The flat tax plan would also reduce taxes for corporations and financial institutions starting in tax year 2024, reducing the corporation tax rate to 3%. Under the bill, banks would have their tax rate reduced from 2.25% to 1.625%. percent. Other corporations, such as savings and loan associations, would have taxes reduced from 2.25% to 1.61% starting in tax year 2025.
Speaker of the House Dan Hawkins, Majority Leader Chris Croft and Speaker Pro Tem Blake Carpenter sent out a joint statement announcing the bill’s passage. The statement referred to the legislation as “a comprehensive tax plan that fortifies Kansas as the most desirable state in our nation to live, work, start a business and retire.”
Several House Democrats broke rank to vote with Republicans on the bill, due to provisions that would lower property taxes and completely do away with the state’s food sales tax by the end of this year.
House Minority Leader Rep. Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat, spoke in support of the bill due to its proposed property tax relief. Under the bill, residential property valued up to $80,000 would be exempt from a statewide property tax beginning in tax year 2023. Currently, residential properties valued up to $40,000 are exempt.
Other Democrats still stood against the bill. Reps. Jerry Stogsdill, Christina Haswood, Sydney Carlin, Brad Boyd, Melissa Oropeza and others issued a joint statement against the flat tax proposal.
“By adopting a flat tax, the House is saying that it will only give hardworking Kansans a tax cut if wealthy Kansans receive their tax cut first,” the statement read. “Tossing out Kansas’ decades-old progressive income tax is structurally imbalanced and fails to offset the higher effective tax rate middle and working class Kansans pay in sales and property taxes.”
The bill passed 96-28. An earlier Senate version of the bill passed 22-17, with a 4.75% flat tax income rate and without the other provisions.
Lawmakers quickly passed a bill requiring health care providers to tell people undergoing medication abortions that it may be possible to reverse them, though this claim is not supported by strong scientific research.
House Bill 2439 would require doctors to tell their patients it is possible to reverse the abortion pill and potentially face jail time if they refuse to tell patients about the “abortion reversal” process. Under the bill, facilities that prescribe or dispense mifepristone would have to display a notice telling patients that medication abortions may be reversible.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes medication abortion “reversal,” calling it scientifically unsound, unproven and unethical. Similar legislation has been vetoed by Gov. Laura Kelly in past years.
Rep. Melissa Oropeza, a Kansas City Democrat, said Kansans had already made their wishes on reproductive rights clear by voting down a proposed abortion amendment.
“Aug. 2, 2022, the state of Kansas spoke loud and clear on how Kansans would like to keep health care decisions with the patient and their health care provider,” Oropeza said.
The bill passed, 85-39.
House lawmakers took final action on Senate Concurrent Resolution 1603, voting 87-37 to ask President Joe Biden to support the domestic oil and gas industry.
The resolution was introduced on the House floor Tuesday by Rep. Chuck Smith, a Pittsburg Republican who said Biden needed to expand domestic energy production in the state, help with oil pipelines and consider “geopolitical tensions.”
The resolution passed despite criticism from Democrats who said Biden was already focused on growing domestic energy.
Wind turbine lighting
Lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to “restore the night sky,” supporting a wind turbine mitigation bill meant to reduce the appearance of blinking red lights on wind farms.
House lawmakers spoke Tuesday about the lights being a nuisance to Kansans. The lights are meant to prevent low-flying aircraft from flying into wind turbines, but several lawmakers said this was an unnecessary precaution.
Rep. Lisa Moser, a Wheaton Republican who advocated for the bill, said the night sky should be uninterrupted by the lights.
“To restore the night sky with moon and stars undisturbed in their beauty would be a momentous gesture of goodwill by the wind companies and would benefit thousands of Kansans who live inside the footprint of and under the noticeable umbrella of all existing Kansas wind systems,” Moser said during the Wednesday vote.
She estimated that Kansas was home to about 4,000 wind turbines. Under the bill, new wind turbine developers need to apply to the Federal Aviation Administration for lighting system installations that meet the organization’s regulations starting in July of 2023.
Once approved, the turbine developer needs to install the system within 24 months. Existing wind turbines would apply to the FAA for lighting system installations starting in January 2026.
The bill passed 118-6.
Lawmakers had mixed feelings on a wide-ranging bill that would crack down on fentanyl distribution and manufacturing, but would also expand the scope of the attorney general’s power and increase penalties for people fleeing law enforcement.
Senate Bill 174 would decriminalize fentanyl testing strips, as well as other drug testing strips and increase criminal penalties for manufacturing and distributing fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances. Another part of the bill would add domestic battery and protection order violations to the list of crimes a person can have the intent to commit when committing burglary or aggravated burglary.
If passed, the bill would also give the attorney general authority to prosecute alleged crimes that occurred in two or more counties. Another portion of the bill would make fleeing a law enforcement officer a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on what crime the fleeing person has been charged with.
Rep. KC Ohaebosim, a Wichita Democrat, objected to the bill due to the law enforcement provision.
“My constituents are facing a problem right now with respect to law enforcement and I cannot support any bill that enhances police brutality among African Americans,” Ohaebosim said.
Rep. Boog Highberger, a Lawrence Democrat, also spoke against the bill due to the many provisions bundled together in the bill.
“This bundle of bills may well be just the way we do things around here, but it shouldn’t be,” Highberger said. “The vast and unprecedented expansion of the attorney general’s criminal prosecution authority contained in this package goes far beyond what is needed to address the problem it is purportedly intending to address and I think it will have negative consequences in the future.”
Rep. Chuck Smith, a Pittsburg Republican, said he didn’t like the broad scope of the bill, but felt fentanyl was an issue that needed to be addressed.
“Fentanyl is a tremendous problem in America and I’ll vote yes just because of that, because we’ve got a big problem coming,” Smith said.
Lawmakers passed the bill 84-40.