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State Legislature sends omnibus budget bill to Governor

Published: May. 7, 2021 at 6:46 PM CDT|Updated: May. 7, 2021 at 8:02 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - State lawmakers cleared another hurdle toward adjourning their 2021 session Friday, with the Senate approving the omnibus budget bill.

Their 26 to 12 vote followed an earlier House vote clearing the measure, 98-21.

The bill gives an additional $53 million to higher education appropriations. Those for the bill argue it protects federal dollars for both universities and K-thru-12 schools by meeting the so-called “maintenance of effort” requirement to commit the same percentage of spending to schools.

It also includes money to renovate the Docking Building; build a new lab for the Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment in a location to be decided; and restricts requiring vaccine passports to prove COVID vaccination status.

When negotiating the omnibus budget, the House agreed on a 2.5% increase in state employee pay but the Senate did not, so that was left out. However, judges will see increases of 5% for two years, rather than the three years initially proposed.

Both sides of the aisle say it’s not perfect, but it did take bi-partisan agreement.

“Overall it was good,” House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer said. “My biggest disappointment was there’s no pay raise for state employees but we’ll work on that and hopefully get that done next year but I was disappointed there wasn’t one.”

Rep. Tatum Lee-Hawn, R-Ness City, was among those voting against the bill. She said she opposed the judicial pay hike.

“Is the irony lost on anyone else that the very judges’ salaries that we are increasing as a good job, is the same judges that have stepped all over our toes with the massive education funding? This is why we have such a huge budget,” she said. “The judicial branch has infringed on the legislative branch as the keeper of the purse string.”

Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Marla Luckert said the bill will help avert a funding crisis for the judicial branch.

““Today the Kansas Legislature averted a funding crisis for the judicial branch, and our nearly 1,900 court employees and judges gave a collective sigh of relief,” Luckert said. “We thank the Kansas Legislature, legislative leadership, and budget conference committee members for their support in this action... It’s not an overstatement to say the funding approved today will transform our state court system, as it addresses longstanding funding concerns in addition to new ones related to the COVID-19 pandemic... The funding places us in a better position to compete for the talent needed to sustain court operations by addressing employee pay, which had fallen below market by as much as 18.9%.”

Earlier Friday night, lawmakers sent a K-thru-12 school funding bill to the Governor. They still were slated to debate another tax bill before adjourning, which would extend the 20-mill property tax levy for public schools.

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