Loud Light’s Kansas political recap: arctic blast, unemployment benefits, and a surge in gas prices
The Pitch has partnered with a local political awareness organization called Loud Light. Their goal is to engage and empower individuals from underrepresented populations to build community power. And impact decision-makers. Each week of the year that the Kansas statehouse is in session, they release a short video recapping what the legislature is up to. Knowing the nitty-gritty of what’s happening with your representatives is the only way to stay involved with the way local government affects your life. You can donate to support Loud Light’s work by clicking here. Here is this week’s video transcription:
Hey I’m Davis Hammet with Loud Light. Here’s what happened in the 6th week of the Kansas legislative session.
Cold Weather Impacts Power Grid
Many states including Kansas faced historic cold temperatures that caused demand for electricity to outpace the ability to produce it. The Southwest Power Pool, a regional power grid operator, issued an emergency that resulted in rolling blackouts to reduce demands on the system. This has not occurred in over 80 years and was intended to prevent a broader uncontrolled collapse of the power grid. As more information comes out we’re learning how much of the energy infrastructure failed in subzero temperatures because it isn’t weatherized to hold up in these conditions. On the production side natural gas pipelines froze, frozen coal is less efficient, and machines broke down. On the demand side most buildings are energy inefficient and have insufficient insulation to retain heat. Politicians such as Sen. Thompson (R) quickly tried to blame the complex problem on wind energy, but Evergy, the state’s largest utility, reported wind energy outperformed expectations because Kansas windmills are built to withstand the cold.
Gas Price Surge
The cost of natural gas in particular skyrocketed during the extreme weather event to a hundred times its normal price. Gov. Kelly (D) is urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to investigate the event and immediately intervene to protect Kansans from paying exorbitant electricity and gas bills resulting from the price surge.
Unemployment Limit (SB177)
Kansas workers used to be eligible for up to 26 weeks of unemployment. In 2013, Republican lawmakers reduced it to only 16 weeks with extra weeks based on the unemployment rate. At this stage in the pandemic workers who lost their job are eligible for 20 weeks, but Republican legislators are pushing a bill to immediately take away an entire month of unemployment eligibility. The plan is aimed at forcing workers back onto the labor market and comes from the Kansas Chamber which heavily finances Republican political campaigns.
Pres. Biden (D) issued an executive order in January creating a special enrollment period on the HealthCare.gov insurance marketplace. Uninsured or underinsured Kansans can visit the site until May 15th to apply.
Gov. Kelly (D) announced a $200 million rental assistance program using federal aid designated for housing stability during the pandemic. You can visit kshousingcorp.org for more details.
Child Advocate (HB2345)
A bill was heard to establish an Office of the Child Advocate as a watchdog group over the state’s foster care system. The office would act as an independent agency for complaints, investigations, and recommendations on improving the child welfare system which became plagued with high profile failures during former Gov. Brownback’s (R) tenure.
One of the several proposed medical marijuana bills will have a house committee hearing on Wednesday and Thursday. The committee will have to work through different perspectives on qualifications, access, production, and tax rates. Several young democratic representatives introduced an alternative bill to instead just legalize marijuana for adults and regulate it similarly to alcohol.
Coming Up (Payday Loan Interest HB2189 / “Fairness in Sports” SB208)
Most bills need to pass out of a committee by this coming Friday to stay alive this year. This week will see hearings on the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” which would subject girls to genital inspections to play public school sports, payday lending reform to cap interest on small loans at 36% annually, and many others as legislators scramble to move bills before the deadline. Over the next couple weeks we’ll have a better picture of the legislature’s priorities.
Stay tuned, stay engaged, and until next time, thank you so much Kansas!