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Here are some of the bills already filed for Kansas' 2021 legislative session

Titus Wu
Topeka Capital-Journal
Rep. Ron Highland, R-Wamego, is sponsoring HB 2004, which would create the right to appeal an involuntary discharge or transfer from an adult residential care facility.

The Kansas Legislature is set to kick things off Monday, from which then policies and laws will be debated over in the next four to five months.

Timing is important when it comes to passing legislation, as lawmakers saw last year when the legislative session was cut short due to COVID-19 concerns. The earlier a bill is introduced, the higher the likelihood it will make the most progress by session's end.

As of Thursday, more than 50 bills have been filed before session has even started. There will be more to come on a whole range of issues, as lawmakers likely have until mid-February to introduce legislation.

Here are some of the more noteworthy or interesting bills filed so far.

Sexual extortion

The first pre-filed bill could become one of the more attention-grabbing ones. Sponsored by Rep. Stephen Owens, R-Hesston, HB 2001 would create the crime of sexual extortion and add it to the Kansas Offender Registration Act. 

Sexual extortion, a Severity Level 4 or 7 felony in the bill, would be defined as "communicating by any means a threat to injure the property or reputation of a person, commit violence against a person, or distribute an image or video of a person that is of a sexual nature or depicts such person in a state of nudity" with the intent of or causing someone to engage in a sexual activity or produce media of a sexual nature.

Last session, the same bill passed the Kansas House but died in the Senate because of a shortened session. 

This time around, it's likely to get renewed attention as incoming Rep. Aaron Coleman, D-Kansas City, has gained notoriety for his past history of circulating revenge porn and alleged abuse of an ex-girlfriend. 

Aaron Coleman, representative-elect of the 37th District, sits in a Democratic caucus at the Statehouse.

“It is of particular importance as a person who has committed this atrocious act will soon be sworn into the Kansas House. We cannot allow this kind of behavior to continue without very serious consequences," Owens said.

Owens' bill is likely to get bipartisan support, as both Dems and Republicans have called on Coleman to resign.

Discharge from adult care facilities

HB 2004 would create the right to appeal an involuntary discharge or transfer from an adult residential care facility.

As it turns out, it is relatively common for adult care homes nationwide to simply evict or kick out hard-to-care-for residents, particularly those who are poor or with dementia, the Associated Press reported.

"There's no recourse for those folks. And so this bill is an attempt to correct that wrong," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Ron Highland, R-Wamego. "At least there should be another path to it. Either contest, or at least have that facility make arrangements with somebody that can better handle that patient."

The bill lists out the specific conditions on which a resident can be discharged, requires the resident and legal representative be notified and explained why the discharge is taking place and creates a path for appealing that discharge.

Highland thinks this bill will have a good chance of passing, but it'll likely face opposition from nursing homes. According to AP, The American Health Care Association says the discharge process is lawful and necessary to remove residents who can't be kept safe or who endanger the safety of others.

A constituent had brought this issue up to Highland, he said.

"It flabbergasted all of us then. I didn't know about it until my constituent brought it forward," he said.

COVID-19 immunity for adult-care homes

Arguably the most important of the pre-filed bills thus far, HB 2024 would grant immunity from civil liability to adult care homes for all COVID-19-related claims, except in cases of gross negligence and reckless conduct. 

Sponsored by five Republicans, the bill changes settled language last year on adult care home immunity in HB2016, last year's omnibus bill dealing with the COVID-19 emergency. Currently, facilities only have "an affirmative defense to liability," and only if they are acting according to public health guidelines. 

Nursing homes are hotspots for the virus, and the governor's office had preferred using the "affirmative defense" language instead of "immunity" like they did with other businesses, said Rep. Fred Patton, R-Topeka, who chairs the Judiciary Committee.

But Patton said them being hotspots doesn't necessarily mean lower standard of care. Rather, it "just so happens" that there are more high-risk individuals living in the facilities and more likely to catch the virus.

"If these care facilities are complying with all the guidelines and directives they've been given, then they shouldn't be at more risk for litigation than a business or health care provider would be. And so that's the discussion that will take place," said Patton.

But Rep. Louis Ruiz, D-Kansas City, thinks blanket immunity except in cases of gross negligence will face likely opposition from his fellow Democrats.

"There's certain precautions that people can make to safeguard. And that's probably our stance," he said. "The people who are the employers, the owners need to bear some responsibility along those lines."

Other bills of note

There are also a slew of bills related to criminal justice reform, sponsored by the Joint Committee of Corrections and Juvenile Justice Oversight. Many deal with ways to help offenders re-integrate into society with incarceration alternatives, such as diversion, early discharge or specialty courts. 

The current bills pre-filed were actually passed from committee last session, with some that made it to the Senate, said Rep. J. Russell Jennings, R-Lakin, chair of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice committee. There will be many more bills related to criminal justice to come.

Many of the other pre-filed bills of interest will face significant opposition. Particularly with those sponsored by Democrats, they will face an uphill climb in a GOP-supermajority Legislature. 

Rep. Christina Haswood, D-Lawrence, pre-filed three bills, two related to Native American issues. She is the Legislature's third-ever Native American in its history. 

One would change Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day and the other would provide for training for law enforcement on missing and murdered indigenous people.

Other bills include increasing the minimum wage, requiring students to pass a civics test and removing the authority of the secretary of state to prosecute election crimes, among others.

This is one of a package of stories previewing the 2021 Kansas Legislative Session. Follow Andrew Bahl, @andrewbahl, and Titus Wu, @tituswu100, on Twitter for coverage of the session.