After suffering a setback last month, Rodney Steven said there were "many vehicles" to get a bill voted on in the Kansas Legislature that would exempt health club owners from paying property taxes. It appears one of those vehicles worked.
Last week, the Kansas Senate passed amended House Bill 2643 by a 21-17 margin, but not without some more heated debate involving for-profit health clubs and their nonprofit competition—mainly YMCAs that are not required to pay property taxes.
In March, the House of Representatives tabled Senate Bill 72, which the Senate passed in 2013. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that the fitness club tax exemption is now placed in HB 2643, which was written to assist a cement company that has been involved in a tax dispute with a county government.
Steven, the owner of Genesis Health Clubs, Wichita, KS, told Club Industry the bill is now in a House committee.
"The Legislature did not take up conference committee bills at the end of its regular session as they had a complicated school finance issue that took all their time," says Steven, who has been lobbying for tax exemptions for for-profit health clubs for several years.
At the heart of the debate last Friday was the issue of Steven's political contributions to members of the Kansas Senate and House. Steven, the owner of Genesis Health Clubs, Wichita, KS, donated $45,000 to members of the Senate and $22,000 to members of the House during the 2012 election cycle.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Democrat, distributed a list of Steven's contributions during the debate on the measure, The Wichita Eagle reported.
"The people who write the checks end up writing the laws," Hensley said. "He's basically trying to buy a tax break, and I don't think we should allow that to happen."
Sen. Jeff Melcher, a Republican who carried the amendment, defended Steven's campaign contributions.
"It's a shame a taxpayer has to expend so many resources to get tax fairness," said Melcher, according to the Capital-Journal. "The reason that this was brought forward was to create a level playing field."
Steven defended his political contributions last year.
The Kansas Legislature is in recess until April 30. Steven says he will be spending the next three weeks getting support for the bill "and making sure we have the requisite votes for passage."
"We are planning to get a vote the first day or second day of the wrap-up session to approve our bill in the House," Steven says. "That will be either in the conference committee or on a vote on the House floor."
Because this is a House bill, Steven adds, it can go directly to the House floor for a vote without waiting for the conference committee to release it.
"This is the best position we have ever been in," Steven says.