After a long and heated debate, the Kansas Senate approved a bill on Friday exempting for-profit health clubs from paying property taxes on the premise that such businesses face unfair competition from nonprofits such as the YMCA.
“We’ve had over 100 health clubs close, much of that as a result of the mega Y facilities coming up and municipals coming up,” said Sen. Jeff Melcher, R-Leawood. “They have lost sight of their mission … they really are just health clubs like any other.”
Opponents of the bill sited the potential for misinterpretation of the amendment, arguing that it opens the door for other for-profit operations that face competition from nonprofits to also seek exemptions. “I think comparing private health clubs to either the YMCA or YWCA quite frankly is offensive,” Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka said. “The Y’s do so much more for the community than do private health clubs.”
Both the bill and the vote have also received widespread criticism because of campaign donations made by the bill’s main proponent, Rodney Steven II, owner of Wichita-based Genesis Health Clubs. In the last election cycle, Steven contributed $45,000 towards various Senate candidates and $22,000 to House members. Senate members decried accusations that the spending affected their decision.
That is not something that’s acceptable to do on the Senate floor. I had no idea who this gentleman was. I had no idea he gave any money to my campaign,” said one member.