Highlights — yes, there were some — from the 2021 session

Kansas legislators saw that public schools will continue to be adequately funded and resuscitated the judicial branch with critical funding



May 11, 2021 - 10:18 AM

Gov. Laura Kelly was recently sworn in as Honorary Marshal of Boot Hill Museum. The museum was recently expanded, thanks to STAR Bond funding. Kelly joins other Honorary Marshals Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, Sen. Bob Dole, and Presidents John F. Kennedy and Gerald Ford. Photo courtesy of the Governor's office.

It was a marathon weekend for Kansas legislators as they wrapped up their 2021 legislative session. 

The session was an overall disappointment in that even though they were able to give generous tax breaks that will benefit primarily the wealthy, legislators refused to give rank-and-file state employees a measly 2.5% raise or expand Medicaid.

Still, there were rays of sunshine.

Those in public education can breathe a sigh of relief that schools will be fully funded over the next two years. 

To their advantage,  several threats failed to materialize, including:

• Discriminating against transgender student athletes;

• Requiring high schoolers to complete civics and financial literacy courses in order to graduate; 

• Allowing more public tax dollars be directed to private schools through Education Savings Accounts;

• Requiring gun safety programs using a curriculum designed by the National Rifle Association; 

• Directing COVID-19 relief to prop up schools, which, as a result, would have put any and all federal funding at risk. Congress took great pains to guard against such temptation by saying the funds can not be used to fund pension programs nor general budget obligations, and,

• Allowing private health clubs to escape property taxes, thus shrinking the local tax base that supports schools.

The workaround for this latter item is that legislators did allow for property tax rebates for any business that can prove financial hardship during the pandemic and declared state of emergencies going forward.

Under the plan, counties will be required to give the rebates to businesses that were shut down or restricted during such emergencies.

The proposal was tied to a statewide property tax that is expected to raise $752 million for public schools for the 2021-22 year. 

The state constitution prohibits the levy from being imposed for more than two years at a time.

What prompted the rebate idea was a last-minute effort to sneak in a property tax exemption for private health clubs on the premise that  they face “unfair” competition from municipal recreational facilities and nonprofits such as YMCAs.

Spearheading the effort is Rodney Steven, a Wichita multi-millionaire who owns Genesis Fitness Clubs — and resents paying taxes.

According to tax records, Steven owes more than $560,000 in property taxes across several Kansas communities.