By Rachel Mipro, Kansas Reflector
TOPEKA< Kan. — Gov. Laura Kelly signed into law a bill establishing Lehigh Portland Trails as a state park, adding the Allen County nature area to the list of 27 other state parks.
The park is built on the site of a former cement plant and quarry and runs along the banks of Elm Creek in Iola. The legislation, which Kelly announced was signed Wednesday, also allows disabled veterans to obtain permanent hunting and fishing licenses at no cost.
“As a previous executive director of the Kansas Recreation and Park Association, I know firsthand how important our parks are to our communities and our economy,” Kelly said in a Wednesday news release. “This bill also helps our veterans overcome financial barriers to participate in all the good our parks have to offer.”
During the April 6 Senate debate on the bill, Sen. Alicia Straub, an Ellinwood Republican, said she was troubled by the project’s location because she felt Lt. Gov. David Toland, an Allen County native, was overly connected to the park project.
“It’s just somewhat concerning that this seems like a pet project of an individual and state government, and that all of these entities and grant programs are all connected to the same person,” Straub said.
Other lawmakers approved of the park, with the legislation passing 35-5 in the Senate and 114-9 in the House.
“As a seventh-generation Allen Countian, I’m glad to see this bill recognizes the beauty, benefits, and economic opportunity that those of us from the area have always seen in the Lehigh Portland site,” Toland said in a news release about the bill signing.
Kelly also announced the signing of six other bipartisan bills on Wednesday.
She signed a bill expanding eligibility for a state retirement program, called the Deferred Retirement Option Program. DROP allows eligible members to opt out of retirement and keep working while their monthly retirement benefit accumulates in a DROP account. Membership was limited to state troopers, examiners, Kansas Highway Patrol officers and agents of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. The law expands eligibility to Kansas police and firefighters.
The bill passed 32-6 in the Senate and 120-3 in the House.
Another bill signing announced Wednesday was Senate Sub. for HB 2058, which amends the state’s sports wagering law. The legislation stipulates that the governor would hold “good faith” negotiations with any federally recognized American Indian tribe that wants to negotiate a sports wagering gaming compact. Another part of the bill uses tax revenue from historical horse race wagers to fund the Kansas Horse Breeding Development Fund and the Horse Fair Racing Benefit Fund.
The bill passed the Senate 26-13 and the House 94-29.
Kelly signed House Bill 2125 as well, which allows tattooing and body piercing businesses to apply for charitable event and demonstration permits, among other provisions.
The Senate approved the measure 38-1 and the House passed it 122-1.
Another signed bill, Senate Sub. for HB 2170, allows people who feel their charitable donations have been misused to take legal action. The bill applies to people who have contributed to or created an endowment fund under certain conditions and later find that these restrictions haven’t been met. Under the law, donors can file a complaint within two years after discovery of a donor agreement violation, as long as 40 or fewer years have passed since the endowment agreement was made.
The bill passed the Senate 37-3 and the House 110-12.
Senate Bill 85, which passed the Senate 36-4 and the House 118-5, creates a framework for Kansas-based travel insurance. The Kansas Travel Insurance Act goes into effect January 2024 and covers travel insurance sold, solicited, negotiated or offered in the state along with policies and certificates delivered in the state. Another part of the legislation stipulates that the Kansas State Employees Health Care Commission is no longer required to offer options for long-term care insurance and indemnity insurance as a benefit.
House lawmakers voted 108-15 and Senate lawmakers voted 40-0 for Senate Bill 119, which clarifies language and documentation requirements for insurance purposes. The legislation is meant to help the Kansas insurance commissioner better enforce the law.