Kansas legislative session closes with pair of overrides, calls for better drug policy

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TOPEKA — Kansas lawmakers wrapped the 2022 legislative session Monday by overturning a series of vetoes from the governor, tying up loose ends on remaining bills and debating a resolution taking issue with proposed Word Health Organization regulations.

A bill approved before the House adjourned the session with minimal opposition would amend the Controlled Substances Act to allow some FDA-approved medications with ingredients derived from marijuana, critical for Kansans with epilepsy. A provision that would have decriminalized fentanyl test strips was removed from the bill at the behest of Republican senators late last month, before the legislature took a long break.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid frequently combined with heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA. When people do not know if or how much of the powerful drug they are consuming, the risk of overdose increases.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr lamented needing to remove the provision but told colleagues the Senate would let the bill die if this version of the bill did not get representatives’ approval.

“The underlying bill will save lives and provide a better quality of life,” the Wichita Republican said.

But Rep. Jason Probst, a Hutchinson Democrat, said both measures were worthy causes, and the House should not have to decide between them as the Senate was forcing them to. He offered a motion to send the bill back to the committee, which GOP representatives rejected.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported 338 overdose deaths in the state from Jan. 1, 2021, to June 30, 2021. Of that total, 149 were linked to fentanyl or fentanyl analogs. The total represented a 54% increase in overdose fatalities from the same six-month period in 2020.

“The idea that we can just tell kids not to do drugs and that will be enough has been proven ineffective,” Probst said. “If it was effective, we wouldn’t be dealing with what we’re dealing with today. We wrote a statute in 1981 thinking it would help. We’re dealing with different drugs. We’re dealing with poison, and it’s time to change the law.”

The bill now goes to Gov. Laura Kelly for approval.

Rep. Susan Ruiz, D-Shawnee, took the opportunity to note the contents of the bill would not be needed if the Senate had acted on a medical marijuana bill already approved by the House. 

In a statement following adjournment of the Senate, Sen. Rob Olson, an Olathe Republican and chairman of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, took responsibility for not getting the medical marijuana measure across the finish line this session.

“I look forward to doing substantial summer interim work with the primary objective of beginning the 2023 Legislative Session with a near-complete product ready to submit to both chambers for consideration and approval,” Olson said.

Both medical cannabis and fentanyl test strips were among a list of five priorities House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer demanded be addressed before the Legislature adjourned. The Wichita Democrat also called for a series of tax relief measures, a constitutional amendment on gerrymandering and additional money for special education.

“Despite much work left to be finished, Republicans are eager to adjourn so they can hit the fundraising trail and focus on re-elections,” Sawyer said “Their first priority needs to be completing the work left on the table. We are public servants, but their focus today is on serving themselves.”

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Before adjourning, the Legislature did overturn a veto of a bill that will prevent the renegotiation of the state’s Medicaid contract and a prohibition on executive branch officials altering election rules without legislative input.

They also sent the governor a tax bill with relief for small businesses hurt by COVID-19.

Both chambers were prepared to have a full plate of work, but the decision by the Kansas Supreme Court to uphold recently drawn congressional and legislative maps lightened their load drastically.

The Senate also passed a resolution based on misinformation and claims that amendments the Biden administration is proposing to the WHO’s International Health Regulations would give its director-general far-reaching authority over U.S. health care decisions. Reading from the resolution, Sen. Mike Thompson said the WHO would make vaccination passports requirements for travel, job requirements and more.

“Such amendments would allow the WHO to unilaterally declare an international health emergency in a member nation,” Thompson said.

fact check by the Associated Press showed the claims asserted in the resolution are untrue.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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