The director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the state's attorney general Tuesday praised investment of $1 million for creation of a new investigation unit to confront rapid escalation in computer crime perpetrated against Kansans.

The FBI's internet crime center reported losses by Kansas victims of cybercrime mushroomed from $3.9 million in 2015 to $17 million in 2018.

KBI Director Kirk Thompson said insertion of the funding in the state budget signed Monday by Gov. Laura Kelly would allow the agency to assign six agents, an agent supervisor and a crime analyst to a unit dedicated to investigating computer-based offenses.

"In the last several years, the incidence of cyber threats affecting Kansans have grown enormously. So has our need to support our law enforcement partners with these complex investigations," Thompson said.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt said the KBI must respond to growth of online criminal activity while confronting illegal activities blurring traditional jurisdictional boundaries. The KBI unit will work with federal law enforcement agencies to develop a rapid response to cyber intrusions, ransomware and malware attacks and malicious data breaches.

The KBI agents also would collaborate on computer-oriented cases with the attorney general's consumer protection division and the fraud and abuse division.

"It is critical for the KBI, our principal statewide criminal investigation agency, to build capacity that can help protect Kansans from these evolving threats to persons and property," Schmidt said.

Meanwhile, state Insurance Commissioner Vicki Schmidt said the budget bill signed by the governor would begin the process of returning $16 million unlawfully swept by the Legislature from a special fund in the insurance department.

The adjustment was borne of legal action in 2018 by then-Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer to block then-Gov. Jeff Colyer from seizing fees paid by the insurance industry to support regulatory efforts. The 2017 Legislature  voted to remove $8 million from the insurance fund last fiscal year and another $8 million in the current fiscal year to support general operations of state government.

The 2018 Legislature rescinded the second sweep, but Colyer used line-item veto power to nix it. That led Selzer to court, which created tension in the 2018 Republican gubernatorial campaign that prominently featured Colyer and Selzer as candidates. 

Under the settlement agreement, $16 million seized over the two-year period would be repaid to the regulatory fund within three years.

"This case was a classic example of government overreach," said Vicki Schmidt, who took office in January. "Insurance agents and companies should not be on the hook for general state expenses."

On Monday, Kelly vetoed an unscheduled $51 million appropriation to the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. She allowed a $5 million increase in state aid to community mental health centers in the fiscal year starting July 1, but vetoed immediate infusion of $1.8 million to the centers. The governor also vetoed $1.2 million for a child reading program.

Virginia Macha-Crossland, vice chairwoman of the Kansas Republican Party, said Kelly's decision to allow $5 million rather than $6.8 million in new state aid to the health centers "will overwhelm the mental health services in rural areas."

Keeping the Kansas Promise Coalition, a coalition of public employee organizations that includes state, county and city employees and school teachers, said the KPERS veto was not a concern because they were confident the governor was committed to balancing needs of the pension system with the effort to restore state funding of essential services.

The coalition praised action in March by the Legislature and Kelly to allocate $115 million to cover a KPERS payment missed in 2016 when then-Gov. Sam Brownback were struggling to balance the budget. That repayment bill was sponsored by Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, R-Galena, and passed unanimously by the House and Senate.

"We also appreciate the governor’s commitment to getting the state back on a firm financial footing following eight years of fiscal crisis," said coalition spokesman Jake Miller. "We support these efforts to ensure future obligations of KPERS are met and the restoration of critical state services continues."