Dear , 


We are now a full month into the legislative session and with just two weeks to go until "turnaround," we are going to see a flurry of activity as many bills are being passed out of committee and onto the floor.    Turnaround is the halfway point in the session in which most legislation must be passed out of one chamber in order to be considered in the other. 


This week, the work has been exclusively in committees as we had no votes on the Senate floor.   However, I do want to talk briefly about the legislative process.


As the media zeroes in on bills that might seem controversial at first blush, it's important to remember that nearly all legislation is amended or altered - sometimes significantly - through the legislative process.   Introduced bills really are just ideas - any legislator can call the Revisors office and get a bill introduced, but that does not mean it's final or even likely to pass.   The multi-step process - committee introduction, a hearing, being passed in committee, being passed on the floor, and then repeating that process in the other House - serves an important filter to virtually ensure legislation is properly vetted before ever reaching the governor's desk to be enacted into law.


On the flip side, due to the large amount of bills we consider, it can be difficult to track them all so if you have a piece of legislation important to you, I urge you to continue to keep a close eye on it, particularly when it's in a committee - as that is when most bills die or at least get altered considerably.  Here is a link to the Kansas Legislature's website.


In that respect, here are a few bills that are most noteworthy that are in committee right now:

Local Elections Date - SB 171

As I have mentioned in a previous newsletter, the turnout in local elections is often so poor that less than 10% of the people vote, sometimes even less than 5%!   In addition, the small amount of time candidates have to file and then run for office makes it very hard for challengers to put together a campaign that will reach the voters who are actually going to vote.   

For instance, not many people even realize there is a primary coming up on March 3rd
- and that you can vote in now by advance - that will narrow the field for mayor in Shawnee.    

SB 171 would move spring elections from March and April to August and November, thereby making them in tune with when voters normally expect elections.  Not only will this increase turnout, it will also increase competition as more candidates will be likely to file.  This will bring city and school issues more into the public view and this can only be a good thing.

Unemployment Benefits - SB 154

Members of the Senate Commerce Committee reviewed the structure of state unemployment benefits and the contribution rates of employers.   This bill is the final piece of a multi-step reform effort to fix our state's unemployment insurance system, with the focus being on creating a fair and predictable forecast for employers paying into the system.

It's important to remember that this system was once broken where employers actually paid more into the system than they did in taxes!  In recent years, some short-term fixes were enacted while a more permanent solution was crafted by those on all sides of this important issue. 
A number of businesses from across the state are working together to determine the best proposal that adequately funds benefits without over-taxing employers.   SB 154 completes the task of implementing "fixed" tax rates and tables into statute so employers will have much more predictability in budgeting and business planning.

Hearings on SB 154 will continue in committee on Monday, February 16.  This is the kind of effort that may not generate many headlines, but it is important work that will have a real impact on businesses throughout Kansas.  While there is still work to be done to reach a compromise this year, it was important to note here.


Uncork Kansas Bill - HB 2200

Over the years, you may have followed the attempt by grocery stores to amend state law to allow them to sell full strength beer, wine and liquor.  While their past efforts have not been successful, this week the House committee on Federal and State Affairs held three hearings on HB 2200, which is commonly referred to as the "Uncork Kansas" bill.

If passed, the bill would allow grocery stores to sell full strength beer, wine and liquor starting in January 2018. The bill would cap the number of liquor licenses at its current level, requiring grocery stores like Dillon's and Hy-Vee to purchase a license from existing liquor stores. The bill would also allow liquor stores to sell other items like food with their beer, wine and liquor.

To keep the cities and counties from losing revenue, and in some cases increasing their revenue, the bill creates a "cereal malt beverage sales tax fund," where 3% of the beer sales tax would be distributed to cities and counties based on their population.

Small liquor stores have concerns they would lose their businesses which were built on current state laws. On the flip side, the new system would be more market-based and would increase convenience for consumers and lead to increased competition, benefiting the consumer and the economy.

On this particular issue, I see both sides very well and we must be very judicious in how we approach this legislation.   The current system is not really 'broken", though it is certainly not perfect - so we can be careful in how we make any changes.

Material Harmful to Minors - SB 56

Last week, the bill which would protect children from harmful materials was passed out of committee with only one "no" vote. I hope it will receive a vote on the Senate floor soon. 

Governor's Executive Orders

Wednesday, Governor Brownback released two executive orders, one rescinding previous executive orders and one encouraging employment practices for veterans and disabled individuals.

One order rescinds nine previous executive orders that abolish specific inactive councils, task forces, committees, boards and advisory councils. Most notably, of the revoked orders, is one removing the protected classification for state employees for sexual orientation and gender identity - a decision which brought on much press.

A protected class is a characteristic of a person which cannot be targeted for discrimination in the work place (i.e. race, religion, color, etc.). Federal and state law currently protects a number of these "classes" which are relatively uniform and common throughout the country. However, both nationally and at the state level, gender identity and sexual orientation is not a protected class. While some states or municipalities have chosen to add the protection others have not; and, in some cases, the protection has even been added then subsequently removed by voters. It's a controversial and much-discussed topic, which also means there will be efforts to mischaracterize what's truly happening.

A clear distinction needs to be drawn between government regulations addressing employment issues, and the right for Americans to exercise their religious liberties free from government intrusion or defend traditional marriage. The Governor's rescinded order does not impact religious institutions, private business, marriage or other equality topics. At the most basic level, it aligns state government employment protections with state and national law. In his statement as part of this action, Governor Brownback noted that Governor Sebelius unilaterally chose to make this decision for all state agencies; and in his opinion, this is a decision that ought to be left to the legislature to decide. I agree.


While the order has drawn scrutiny and sparked debate, it's important to remember the Governor's action applies only to state government employment, and does not impact any of the other issues typically addressed as part of this subject.  


Senate Bill 71

In recent weeks, I have received several emails in reaction to Senate Bill 71.   To better illustrate SB 71 and the education system presently, I wanted to include an explanation of the bill in this newsletter.

We all want a proper education for our children to ensure their futures, and the future of our state.     I believe it is the goal of each legislator to construct an education system -- both in terms of funding levels but also in how our education system is structured -- that best benefits all involved, whether it be schools, teachers, parents, but most particularly, children.   We must have a child-focused mindset when approaching these matters. 

It is clear the school finance formula is broken.  I would argue it was broken from the outset in regards to the Shawnee Mission School District, and it has gotten worse over the years.  In the short term, we need to repair funding due to the faulty revenue projections and then we must find long-term solutions so we don't find ourselves in this situation again.

Senate Bill 71 would change the way supplemental funds for school districts are computed (local option budget).  This does not decrease current funding, but rather, changes the amount of additional funding schools would get.  Below are graphs on the total state expenditures on education and the amount spent on each Kansas student.  As you can see, spending is at an all-time high, both in total expenditures as well as in the amount spent per-pupil, which is now near $13,000 when all revenues are figured.  


Also below, is a table specifically for the Shawnee Mission School District. This table illustrates how the recently proposed allocations from Governor Brownback will affect SMSD.   Notice that the first two columns are for actual expenditures.  The last column is what SMSD has budgeted for (a wish-list, so to speak).  It is important to observe that when a school district does not receive the amount it has budgeted for, it will claim that that there has been a "cut" in funding.   However, in reality, the school district is receiving more funding than it received the previous year. 

If we use this line of thinking, using the budgeted amounts for 2014-2015, Shawnee Mission is budgeting for an increase in funding of 25.4% over last year.  These figures were obtained from the Shawnee Mission Budget at a Glance. 

Shawnee Mission has also recently reported that they will use a portion of their revenue reserves (which had a balance of $12,281,570 as of July 2014) to address the budget reductions, and will proceed with a plan to cut class sizes.  



Shawnee Mission School District Total Expenditures


2012-2013 Actual

2013-2014 Actual



Total Expenditures

$   315,900,998

$       323,719,577

$      405,951,638

Percent Increase from prior year




$ Increase from prior year


$           7,818,579

$         82,232,061

Amount of Allocation Reduction



$           1,434,510

2014-15 Increase after Allocation



$         80,797,551

% Allocation to total expenditures





Shawnee Mission School District Expenditures - Per Pupil


2012-2013 Actual

2013-2014 Actual



Per Pupil

$                12,064

 $              12,397

$                 15,482

Percent Increase from prior year




$ Increase from prior year


$                     333

$                    3,085


Shawnee Mission School District Salaries


2012-2013 Actual

2013-2014 Actual



Teacher salaries

$                   65,745

$               65,061

$                 66,961

Percent Change




$ change


$                  (684)

$                   1,900





 Administrative Salaries

$                120,655

$             116,066

$               120,824

 Percent change



$          4.1%

 $ Change


$               (4,589)

$                   4,758


Any notion that we are not spending an increasing amount of money on education simply goes against the facts.   

Whether the right school districts are getting the right amount of funding is another matter.  As such, we must have the courage to look at every aspect of how we calculate school finance in this state, rather than simply going back to the taxpayer for more money to add additional funds to the already broken system.

In Closing

I hope you had/have (depending when we send this!) a Happy Valentine's Day.   Though Monday is a holiday, your legislature will be at work as we continue committee work and move closer towards the extensive floor debates which are to follow.   



In honor of your liberty,

Mary Pilcher-Cook

Mary Pilcher Cook


Working in honor of your liberty.
Contact me today!