Kansas ABLE Bill Heads To Conference Committee


By John Celock

Kansas legislation that would create savings accounts for children with disabilities is headed to a conference committee to iron out last minute details between the House of Representatives and state Senate.

The state House voted Monday morning to send an omnibus banking bill that includes the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act to a conference committee to discuss the final legislative package. ABLE is one of three bills that senators placed into a legislation dealing with the state’s money transmitter act last week. The Senate’s move rescued ABLE from legislative death after a Democratic move to attach Medicaid expansion to the bill provided a likely death sentence.

House Financial Institutions Committee Chairman Pete DeGraaf (R-Mulvane) told The Celock Report that he motioned to send the bill to a conference committee to discuss the bills attached by the Senate.

“I have questions I need to get ironed out,” DeGraaf said.

DeGraaf said he expected ABLE to be included in the final version of the bill that will come out of conference. He noted that the overall bill passed with unanimous support in the Senate and has backers in the House. The bill was proposed earlier this year by Rep. Erin Davis (R-Olathe) and state Treasurer Ron Estes (R).

“I think there is a lot of support in the House and the Senate,” DeGraaf told The Celock Report. “I am saying with 90 percent surety it will pass.”

In addition to ABLE, the Senate added in changes to the state’s mortgage code and a bill relating to allowing state chartered banks to utilize interactive teller machines. The Senate appointed their end of the conference committee on Monday afternoon.

The bill was one of several sent by the House to conference committee on Monday. Among the others is a bill that would create a new pension system aimed to helping the state Highway Patrol retain officers.

DeGraaf said the conference committee will allow the top House and Senate lawmakers on banking policy to discuss the Senate changes, several of which did not receive discussion in the House Financial Institutions Committee. ABLE was not considered by the banking panel in the House, having been before the House Children and Seniors Committee.

The state level ABLE Act will allow for Kansas to implement the federal ABLE Act, signed last year by President Barack Obama, on the state level. Kansas would become the eighth state where lawmakers have approved a state level ABLE Act. The governors in Massachusetts, Louisiana and Virginia have signed state level ABLE bills into law.

The federal ABLE Act allows for families to set up savings accounts with up to $14,000 a year in deposits for future expenses without a penalty for other programs, including Medicaid and Social Security later in life. Those with the accounts under $100,000 would be eligible for Medicaid and Social Security benefits. Those who have accounts that are over $100,000 would see the benefits temporarily suspended while over the limit but would be able to regain the federal benefits if the account falls below $100,000. States are required to set up the state level accounts as part of the federal law.

The Children and Seniors Committee originally passed the Kansas ABLE bill in early February but the bill did not receive a vote by the full House before a late February deadline for most House bills to crossover to the Senate for consideration this year. House Speaker Ray Merrick (R-Stilwell) kept ABLE alive by assigning it to the House Appropriations Committee in late February. Legislative rules allow for bills that have contact with an exempt committee – a process known as “blessing of the bills” – to head from the House to Senate at any point in the legislative session. Appropriations is one of three exempt House committees, along with Federal and State Affairs and Taxation.

Merrick then sent ABLE back to the Children and Seniors Committee in March for a vote to send it back to the House floor. Earlier this month the Children and Seniors committee ended up not voting to send the bill to the House after Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita) – serving a one-day term as a substitute member of the committee – tried to attach his Medicaid expansion legislation to ABLE. When the amendment was ruled non germane, Ward tried to gut ABLE and replace it with Medicaid expansion, a move that led to committee leaders not sending ABLE to the floor.

Ward has told The Celock Report that he supports ABLE and was not trying to kill it. He said that he had plans for ABLE to be attached to a bill in the Financial Institutions Committee later that day. He said that Democrats were told by staffers though not to try saying that Merrick opposed the bill.

Davis has told The Celock Report that she has heard supportive comments from Merrick and his top aides when she has discussed the bill with them. She also said she was unaware of any plan by Ward to move the bill to another committee.

The Senate resurrected ABLE last week with Sen. Greg Smith (R-Olathe) attaching it to the money transmitter legislation, setting the stage for the conference committee.

Merrick named DeGraaf, Financial Institutions Committee Vice Chairman Jim Kelly (R-Independence) and Rep. Stan Frownfelter (D-Kansas City), the panel’s top Democrat, to form the House side of the conference committee. On Monday afternoon Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee Chairman Jeff Longbines (R-Emporia), Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee Vice Chairwoman Elaine Bowers (R-Concordia) and Sen. Tom Hawk (D-Manhattan), the Senate panel’s top Democrat, were appointed to represent the Senate on the conference committee.

DeGraaf said he expects the committee to discuss the entire bill with legislative attorneys before making a final recommendation to the Legislature. He said the committee will allow House members to discuss the amendments since the original money transmitter bill has grown in scope.

“We want to make sure that we have a chance to talk to the revisor and our counterparts in the Senate to make sure all the areas are discussed,” DeGraaf said. “I don’t expect any problems.”