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More than 100 new Kansas laws just took effect. Here's what you need to know

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly signs the SOUL Family Permanency bill into law during a ceremonial event.
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly signs the SOUL Family Permanency bill into law during a ceremonial event. She praised the former foster children for crafting the new law.

New laws passed by the GOP-led Kansas Legislature will change rules for pornographic websites, overhaul civil asset forfeiture, and ban public universities from requiring diversity pledges.

Kansans awoke to a new statutory landscape today after contents of 101 bills signed into law by Gov. Laura Kelly officially took effect.

With turning of the calendar at 12:01 a.m. July 1, incarcerated juveniles in Kansas could be granted work release. Microbreweries would be able to self-distribute beer and hard cider. Public universities must adhere to restrictions on diversity, equity and inclusion policy. Coercing a female to get an abortion could be a crime. Companies delivering pornography online must confirm customers are of legal age.

Motorists could choose from a half-dozen new options for distinctive license plates. Public utilities would be forbidden from relying on eminent domain to locate solar farms. Leaving the scene of an accident would become a more serious offense.

The state unemployment insurance and worker compensation programs would change. The law authorizing issuance of bonds to lure the Kansas City Chiefs or Kansas City Royals to Kansas would be in play. Overhaul of the state’s civil asset forfeiture law also would be final.

Even cosmetic changes occur, including renaming the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs Office to the Kansas Office of Veterans Services. Adoption of House Bill 2760 by the Kansas Legislature and signing of the bill by Kelly won’t alter the agency’s office locations or contact numbers.

“While the agency’s name is changing, its mission and core functions remain steadfast,” Kelly said. “The name change removes confusion with the federal Department of Veterans Affairs and better aligns with the agency’s purpose.”

Education changes

The Republican-led Legislature and the Democratic governor agreed to adoption of House Bill 2105 banning public universities from requiring students, faculty or other employees to disclose views on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. GOP legislators complained DEI policies were interfering with university admissions and hiring decisions, so they delivered a law forbidding pledges of allegiance to DEI.

In K-12 public schools, Kansas statute was altered to allow districts to maintain emergency medication kits that included epinephrine for allergic reactions and albuterol for breathing problems. The bill amended liability protections for any person who rendered emergency care at a school-sponsored event or on school property. It provide a level of immunity from liability for a pharmacist, physician or a mid-level practitioner who distributed or prescribed emergency medications to a school.

Senate Bill 195, approved unanimously by the House and Senate, authorized the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund to establish a nonprofit organization to raise money for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library Book gifting program. The program mails free, age-appropriate books each month to the home of Kansas children until their fifth birthday.

Under House Bill 2703, all children in foster care custody of the Kansas Department for Children and Families would be added to the list of students eligible to receive at-risk programs and services in the public school system. Another new law mandated DCF release certain information related to a child fatality when criminal charges were filed alleging a person caused the death.

The crime log

The enactment of House Bill 2144 created the new Kansas crime of encouraging a person to attempt suicide or kill themselves. A person charged with the felony would have to know the person was suicidal and the oral, written or visual communication must be shown to have substantially influenced the individual.

Legislators were advised during the session the state law could invite challenges on First Amendment grounds because the statute could be viewed as criminalizing speech.

The suicide statute was developed at behest of Jennifer Dennis, who discovered too late her son logged onto an internet chat site to obtain instructions on how to die by suicide. Her son, William, obtained sodium nitrite, drove to a Lenexa model, consumed the substance with water and died.

“William had an undiagnosed mental illness,” Dennis said. “Instead of coming to his parents for help, he went to (the internet chat site) where he was brainwashed by sociopaths.”

In addition, the bill established penalties for people convicted of taking part in “organized retail” crimes. It would permit the attorney general to prosecute cases in which alleged criminal activity occurred in two or more counties.

Attorney General Kris Kobach advocated for the reform to thwart gangs organized to move from city to city to rob stores. The law would apply to theft of goods with a retail market value of $5,000 or more within a one-year period.

Other new state laws raised from $4,000 to $10,000 the treshhold for cases to be considered in small claims court. Compensation for attorneys appointed to represent indigent defendants was raised from $80 to $120 per hour. A separate law provided immunity from prosecution for certain drug crimes when an individual sought or provided medical assistance to a person who consumed a controlled substance.

Business law

As of July 1, the maximum civil penalty that could be imposed by the Kansas Corporation Commission for pipeline safety violations was changed. The new law complied with requirements of the Federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

“The alignment with federal maximum penalty amounts is required if Kansas wishes to maintain enforcement authority over intrastate natural gas pipeline safety,” said Paul Owings, deputy chief engineer in the utilities division at the KCC.

Another state law would require the state’s budget director to independently determine the cost of compliance and implementation for all proposed state rules and regulations. In general, rules and regulations that cost businesses, local governments or individuals $1 million or more during the initial five-year period after adoption would have to be ratified by the Legislature.

As of Monday, railroads operating in Kansas must keep stored rolling cars on sidings a minimum distance from unlit traffic crossings. House Bill 2501 set the safe-zone distance at 250 feet, if that crossing didn’t have electronic warning signals. Exceptions to the law would address railcars awaiting loading or unloading.

Implementation of House Bill 2588 meant telecommunications, broadband and video service providers wouldn’t be blocked from using city right-of-way to construct, maintain and operate poles, cable, switches and related equipment for delivery of services. Their gear couldn’t obstruct or hinder public safety nor interfere with legal use of that ground by utilities or providers, the law said.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 455 declared a public utility would be prohibited from exercising eminent domain to secure property to build a solar-powered electric generation station.

This story was originally published by the Kansas Reflector.

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.
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