TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT)— Kansas lawmakers are deciding whether the government should pay businesses forced to shut down during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Senate Assessment and Taxations committee started the first round of hearings for two bills on Thursday.
One of the bills, Senate Bill 149, would require county governments to pay property taxes for business shutdown or capacity limitation caused by the county.
“It’s time that we put in some guard rails, so that the needs of our businesses, that have been so severely impacted by COVID, are met,” said Senator Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg.
The House committee held a hearing on their own version of the bill last month, where some county leaders testified in opposition of the bill.
Opponents argue that counties should not be held liable for following state-issued guidance, which allows counties ultimate control over whether restrictions advised by health officers remain in effect.
“If the Legislature does not want Counties to regulate businesses, then it should have the State of Kansas take over all such regulation, and reimburse businesses from State funds.”Testimony from Peter F. Meitzner, Board of County Commissioners of Sedgwick County
Another bill, Senate Bill 286, would require the state to reimburse a portion of property taxes to businesses forced to shut down or limit capacity. It would also establish a COVID-19 governmental use claims fund for small businesses and a loan forgiveness program.
Ranking Minority Member of the committee, Senator Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said as a business owner himself, he’s hoping the state provides more relief to businesses that have been financially impacted by the pandemic.
“It’s ravaged all businesses in the state that have some sort of retail storefront,” Holland said. “I’d like to see some property tax relief, specifically, go to those business operations.”
Holland said the chances of legislation passing to help small businesses is favorable. He said lawmakers would have to decide to what extent businesses are compensated.
The legislation was introduced after a gym owner in Wichita sued the state when he was forced to close last year.
His attorney, Ryan Kriegshauser, said the new legislation would help businesses get back on their feet, after being forced to shut down.
“There are thousands of businesses out there that were affected by restrictions and shutdown orders, and this is an opportunity to resolve all that liability,” Kriegshauser said.
Kriegshauser said businesses are entitled to seek compensation from the state under a statute in the Kansas Emergency Management Act, arguing that most federal funding is going to big businesses, while smaller businesses are still in need.
Lawmakers are planning to continue hearings on the bills next week.