Senior citizens, firefighters, the governor and lawmakers took a victory lap in Topeka on Friday on bills expanding grandparents’ rights to seek custody of their grandchildren and to extend health benefits for the families of firefighters killed in the line of duty.
“It was just a great day,” said Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, who had introduced both bills and fought for their passage. “It was a bipartisan camaraderie to get this legislation passed.”
Friday’s event was a ceremonial signing of the bills, which had technically been signed into law last month to comply with constitutional deadlines.
The seniors’ bill, Senate Bill 250, requires judges to give grandparents consideration to become caregivers when their grandchildren are removed from their homes for abuse or neglect issues.
Judges can still send the children to state or foster care, but would have to file a written report on why they bypassed the grandparents and share those reasons with the grandparents.
The bill was a high priority for the Silver Haired Legislature, a group of seniors who meet annually at the Capitol to recommend bills to the Legislature.
Several members joined in the ceremony and brought their grandchildren to meet the governor, including the speaker of the Silver Haired Legislature, Wendell Turner of Wichita.
The firefighter bill, Senate Bill 262, extends health benefits for 18 months for the surviving spouses and children of firefighters killed on the job.
Faust-Goudeau said she thought it was the least the state could do.
“These are the people who run into burning buildings to save our lives,” she said.
Participating in the ceremony were about 10 uniformed firefighters and four other lawmakers who had fought for the bill — Sens. Ruth Teichman, R-Stafford, and Allen Schmidt, D-Hays; and Reps. Clark Shultz, R-McPherson, and Bob Grant, D-Frontenac.
In addition to the ceremonial signing, the governor also signed into law several of the final bills passed by Legislature, which concluded its annual session Friday.
Among those bills were:
• House Bill 2729, which allows Kansans to purchase an annual pass for state parks when they register their vehicles. The bill originally would have ended a 50-percent discount for seniors and the disabled, but that discount was added back through an amendment.
• House Substitute for Senate Bill 60, which makes it a crime to refuse a test for driving under the influence for motorists who have been convicted or refused a test before.
The bill also allows some motorists whose licenses are suspended or revoked to obtain a license to drive small motor scooters.
• Senate Substitute for Substitute for HB 2333 — A bill that makes changes in the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System to reduce projected future shortfalls.
• Substitute for HB 2382, a five-year extension of the law authorizing Sales Tax and Revenue (STAR) Bonds, a financial tool used by local governments to provide subsidies to spur economic development.
• Senate Substitute for HB 2390, which phases out the state’s KAN-ED Internet system and requires colleges, schools, libraries and hospitals to transition to commercial broadband providers.