Dear , 

 

Turnaround is here!   We have reached the halfway point of the legislative session - and actually concluded our votes a day early with a very long day on Thursday - I arrived home at one o'clock in the morning.  Over the past several days, we have worked on a long list of bills dealing with a range of topics.  The House completed its turnaround work midday on Thursday.  Each House (Senate and House of Representatives) now needs to prepare for all the legislation the "other" chamber adopted, as those bills will start to be considered in committees next week.

 

Of course, exempt bills and "bigger" debates such as those over education, taxes, and the budget remain, which could make for a longer second half of the session.  However, that does not minimize the significance of the legislation we did adopt this past week, many of which I will address later in this newsletter.

 

Before I get into the list of bills, however, I wanted to mention a few items that are important as part of the overall debate.

 

February Revenues Up

In recent months, there has been much haranguing about the fact our revenues have been below expectations, with those on the left and in the mainstream media holding these numbers up as proof that the tax cuts we enacted were bad policy.   However, revenues are like a roller coaster - one month they are below estimates and then the next month they are above estimates.  Relying on one month's report to make a political point can be foolhardy. 


Indeed, in February,
revenues were up $22 million over estimates.   While much work remains to ensure a balanced budget, this makes the task a bit more doable.


The Complicated Formula

For many years, conservatives in the Kansas Legislature have repeatedly stressed the need to reform our current school finance formula.  The reason is that the formula for weightings is far too complicated and can be easily manipulated to acquire more funding than projections would suggest.  There are some who receive the funding that contend the formula isn't all that confusing.  


To help illustrate the debate, I present you with this graphic illustration, which describes how the formula is calculated:


 


 

If you examine the illustration, you'll see a number of different and specific items represented in the formula, from vocational education enrollment to bilingual enrollment to declining enrollment.  Raising or lowering the number of students within these categories can raise or lower the amount of money a specific district gets.  This is why you can end up with two school districts with the exact same number of overall students receiving far different amounts of money from the state.


We must reform the formula and change to a new system of funding for our schools which is simpler, fairer, and not as subject to manipulation. 


 

Shawnee Mission School District Intervenes in Lawsuit

Earlier this week, I was glad to receive this notice from the Shawnee Mission School District:

Shawnee Mission School District to File Motion in the Gannon Lawsuit

(SHAWNEE MISSION, KS) − During the regular meeting on Feb. 23, the Shawnee Mission Board of Education approved engaging legal counsel to file a motion to intervene in the Gannon v. Kansas lawsuit. Superintendent Jim Hinson shared with board members that Schools for Fair Funding, the umbrella organization sponsoring the lawsuit, has been granted a hearing by the court to consider reopening the equity portion of the Gannon lawsuit. As part of the argument, Schools for Fair Funding has raised issues that could potentially harm the Shawnee Mission School District.

"We are concerned regarding the potential impact of the remedies that may be sought from this latest argument," said Jim Hinson, superintendent. "If the court grants our motion, it will allow us to ensure our interests are adequately represented because they currently are not fairly represented by the parties involved in the lawsuit. The requested relief is antagonistic to our students and many other students across the state."


 

In his report to the board, Dr. Hinson explained that intervention permits the district to be part of the discussion regarding equity and adequacy in funding for Kansas schools. "The decision to file the motion was not an easy decision, but it is essential to allow us a voice in the discussion regarding school funding. We believe this action is necessary to protect the interests of the students, schools, and taxpayers of Shawnee Mission," said Dr. Hinson.

 

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 VOTES

 

As I noted at the outset of this newsletter, this week was spent mostly on the Senate floor as we debated and voted on a long list of legislation.   Some of the items were not controversial, but we did tackle some issues which included considerable amounts of debate.   I cover these bills below:

 

Constitutional Carry
SB 45 would allow all law abiding Kansans, age 21 and over, the ability to carry a concealed firearm without undergoing the current state permitting process.  If passed, Kansas would join six other states - Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Vermont and Wyoming - with some form of "constitutional carry".  

It's important to remember that current law allows Kansas citizens to open carry a firearm or conceal carry during hunting or fishing trips without a permit.  The bill now expands that right to those who wish to conceal a firearm, yet keeps the permitting process as an option for the purposes of interstate travel or to expedite the background search for firearm purchases.  If a private business owner is friendly to conceal carry, but would prefer firearms to be carried with a state approved permit, the owner has the ability to post a sign stating that desire. The measure was designed to support the 2nd Amendment, while respecting private property rights.

 

SB 45 passed the Senate with bipartisan support by a vote of 31-7.    I voted yes.

 

Amending the KS Uniform Financial Accounting and Reporting Act
Senate Bill 188 amends the KS Uniform Financial Accounting and Reporting Act by requiring that all Kansas school districts post financial documents on its official website on or before November 1st of each year. The bill increases government transparency by requiring the link to the financial documents in question be posted directly on the homepage and be easily recognizable. The following documents must be linked to the website: Budget at a Glance; Budget Summary for the Current School Year, Form 150, and Employee Compensation information.  Additionally, the salaries of the Superintendent, the top ten wage earners in a particular district and the average teacher salary must also be posted online. If a district is found to not be in compliance, they must send notice to the parents of students informing them of the violation and produce the information required under the act.

 

SB 188 passed with a vote of 27-13.  I voted yes.

 

Moving Local Elections to the Fall
Right now, it's snowing outside and it's also very cold.  Yet, there is a major primary in Shawnee on Tuesday in which our citizens are selecting the next Mayor of Shawnee.  Yes, there is an election on March 3rd, and you could have cast an advance ballot beginning on February 11th.  The general election is just a month later, on April 7th - meaning the time between the filing deadline (of January 27th) and the general election is just 10 weeks.  

 

This narrow calendar and weather means that it's very hard for candidates, particularly challengers, to effectively campaign.  This is especially true in larger areas like an entire city or school district.  The result is that not many candidates run and those that do run aren't able to talk to all the voters in such a narrow period of time.  The result is exceptionally low percentage turnout - in the single digits - which means it's very easy for one interest group to essentially control who runs our cities and our school districts.   

 

With this in mind, the Senate approved Substitute for Senate Bill 171.  The measure would move local elections, such as city council and school board, from where it is now to the fall of odd-numbered years.  The primaries would be held in August and the general election would be held on the first Tuesday in November, as they are in even-numbered years for county, state and federal office.  This would begin with the 2017 cycle.

 

Under this version of the proposal:

  • City and school board elections would still be conducted on a non-partisan basis.
  • The time you are allowed to vote would be extended from 5 to 10 minutes.
  • The terms of precinct committee men and women would be extended from 2 to 4 years, with elections occurring in presidential election years.
  • All bond issues and tax increases would have to be approved during a regularly scheduled election.

I hope that the provision extending the terms of precinct committeemen and women is removed from the bill, as I believe it should continue to be two years.  Also, there are some who would like to see elections be partisan or moved to even years along with state and federal elections - both of which I am open to as well.  The critical thing is that we must remove these elections from the spring so citizens can have more input and be more involved. 

 

It will be interesting to see how the House amends this legislation.   Sub for SB 171 passed with a vote of 21-18.   I voted yes.

 

Professional Negotiations Act
Senate Bill 136 revises the way teachers unions and local school boards negotiate teacher contracts. Under the proposal, as amended on the Senate Floor, both parties must negotiate pay, hours, and overtime wages.  The parties would also be allowed to negotiate three additional terms of mutual agreement. If both sides are unable to come to agreement on a contract, they would then go to a third party for mediation.  The bill was introduced to make collective bargaining more effective and efficient and is seen as a small compromise. 

 

SB 136 passed unanimously with a vote of 40-0.   I voted yes.

 

Senate Bill 56
There has been much consternation about the bill that protects children from pornography on leftwing websites and blogs.  It is important to understand what this bill does.

 

SB 56 amends current statute on entities showing material harmful to minors by either promotion or display by including public organizations and removing the affirmative defense for schools K-12, public or private. Current statute gives affirmative defense to schools, universities, and museums. If pornography was distributed to children or displayed in the classroom, it is probable under current law there would be no penalty. The bill does not apply to those materials with literary or scientific value.

Parents should be able to send their children to school without worrying about them seeing inappropriate and pornographic material.  This is not about book-banning or any of the other ridiculous charges that have been levied.  I'm hoping it encourages more parental involvement in their children's educational experience, particularly on such a sensitive subject.

I was pleased to see that SB 56 passed with a vote of 26-14.   I voted yes.

KPERS Bonding
SB 168 allows the Kansas Development Finance Authority to issue bonds of up to $1 billion to the KPERS fund as long as the interest rate does not exceed 5.0%. This would increase the KPERS funding ratio from the current 60.7% level to 66.0%. The unfunded liability would decrease from $7.26 billion to $6.28 billion during 2015. SB 168 would create long term savings to the KPERS fund.   Proponents of the measure argue that the change will essentially refinance the current pension debt with "cheaper debt."   However, it also extends the debt for another ten years.

The measure passed with a vote of 21 to 17.  I voted no.

 

High School Activities Bill
S. Sub. For SB 60 allows any student the opportunity to participate in the activities the school district offers, even if they do not attend the school full time. For example, homeschooled students would now be allowed to participate in public high school activities. In SB 60, the student would be required to comply with all academic requirements, provide an immunization record, and provide proof of insurance if a school district requires it.  The student would be subject to all the age and eligibility requirements of the Kansas State High School Activities Association and would also be required to pay any fees to participate in these activities. Finally, a student can only participate in schools activities if he or she lives within the boundaries of a particular school district. Activities include band, orchestra, and sports.  

 

This bill is a common sense way of recognizing that we are all paying taxes into the school district, encouraging our youth to participate in extracurricular activities, and also fair to the schools by putting in place the same requirements to participate such as fees and immunizations.

 

SB 60 passed with a vote of 30-9.   I voted yes.

 

Judicial Selection Transparency
SB 197 would make the Kansas Supreme Court nominating commission subject to the state's open meetings act and open records act.  Currently, the public has no window - let alone a voice - in how the selections take place for the highest court in Kansas.  Under the state's current Judicial Selection process for the Kansas Supreme Court, candidates are chosen by a panel whose majority is made up of lawyers - and these lawyers are chosen via election amongst members of the Kansas Bar Association. 

SB 197 would make the selection process more open by making the names of the individuals participating in the election available to the public.  Additionally, the general public could learn how a commission member votes on each judicial candidate once elected. The measure would also allow the governor to fill vacancies among the nominating commissions' members. Currently, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court fills the vacancies on the commission. An amendment added during the Senate debate would require the sitting governor to disclose the names of applicants to the Kansas Court of Appeals ten days before the appointment is made public.

 

The bill passed with a vote of 35-4.  I voted yes.

 

Background Checks for Teachers
Senate Bill 70 would require teachers who are applying for their initial license or a renewal to undergo a background check by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI). The teacher's fingerprints would be taken and submitted to the KBI and the State Board of Education would be prohibited from issuing a new or renewed license to those teachers who refuse to get fingerprinted. All school employees will be required to submit fingerprints to the KBI every five years. Those who commit crimes and are licensed employees of the school district would have their license revoked. 

SB 70 passed the Senate with a vote of 29-10.  I voted yes.

 

Election Fraud
Senate Bill 34 would grant prosecutorial authority to the Secretary of State by allowing him or her to prosecute those who have committed election related crimes.  SB 34 also creates a separate crime of voting more than once and imposes hefty fines on those who commit such crimes.  Additionally, SB 34 amends the election bribery statute by exempting organizations that provide a product worth less than $3.00 to voters, such as buttons and stickers.  It also increases the crime level for those who tamper with an election.

The Secretary of State is the chief election officer and should have the ability to pursue these specific types of cases rather than leaving it to one of the many other jurisdictions in the state that may already be overloaded with cases.

SB 34 passed with a vote of 23-17.   I voted yes.

 

SB 159

In SB 159, when there is probable cause that illegal drug activity is taking place in the home and an officer reasonably believes the safety of a child in the home is threatened, the officer shall take the child into custody. 

 

Into this bill, I amended the Safe Families Act, which came from SB 148, a bill I had introduced earlier in the session. The Safe Families Act allows a parent to execute a power of attorney to delegate to another person (attorney-in-fact), any powers regarding the care and custody of their child for up to one year.  The parent could revoke the power of attorney at any time.

 

The attorney-in-fact, or what I prefer to call the "supporting family," would exercise parental or legal authority without compensation.  The supporting family would not be subject to foster care licensing and other legal requirements.

 

70% of the 400,000 children in foster care systems in the nation are there because of neglect - not sexual or physical abuse. 

 

This Safe Families program encourages neighbors to help neighbors, and could be a significant step forward in helping children and struggling families in Kansas.  It gives parents, who may not have any other family in the area, a way to ask for help without fear that their children could be taken away and get sucked into the governmental system.  It gives law enforcement and government agencies another tool to use before things spiral out of control for a family.  It gives churches an opportunity to get involved and help find volunteer supporting families.


This is a proper role for government - to facilitate and not regulate where it is not needed.  Government does not have the inherent capacity to do the work of charity.  As much as we try to craft policy carefully to help our most vulnerable citizens, government continually falls short and simply cannot match the concern and love of human beings who can mentor and stand by families who are suffering.  This legislation gets government out of the way so charity can lead the way.

 

I am pleased to report that SB 159 passed with a vote of 30-4, 6 passing.   I voted yes.
 

SB 181

SB 181 would amend the procedures regarding restrictions of patients' access to any new prescription-only drug under the Medicaid program and would establish meeting requirements for the Medicaid Drug Utilization Review Board (Board).  This legislation allows Medicaid patients to receive any new medication released by the FDA in a much faster timeframe, yet protects the patients and taxpayers with proper oversight when there is a desire by providers to use the drugs in a manner that has not met FDA approval.  An example is the Hepatitis C drug, Solvadi, which cost $84,000 for a three-month regimen of treatment.  While the drug's use for Medicaid patients is appropriate without oversight in some cases when used according to FDA guidelines, it needs drug utilization review in others.

 

The bill passed 39-1.  I voted yes.

 

SB 123

Currently, state law does not allow any oversight or control of mental health drugs for Medicaid patients.  If a provider prescribes a mental health drug, it must be given to the patient.  SB 123 repeals this law and would allow state agency oversight like any other prescription drug for Medicaid patients.  Patients who are stable on their current medications would have been able to continue their prescribed treatment without any concerns.

 

The current law is hindering efforts at improving health care outcomes, and in some cases directly jeopardizing the health and safety of Medicaid patients.  These are powerful drugs with significant side effects and can often be used to control patients in a manner that is an affront to their human dignity.  A federal government report shows that Kansas is 46th worst amongst all states in psychotropic drug use on senior citizens with dementia symptoms.  In addition, there has been a tripling of the number of children on antipsychotics in the past fifteen years.  These children are at high risk for long-term side effects, including weight gain, diabetes, tardive dyskinesia, muscle rigidity and permanent cognitive changes of agitation and delirium.

 

According to a survey done on Kansas Medicaid patients, 6,288 children (or 33.4% of the survey population) received two or more drugs concurrently for 60 days or longer, 1,645 children received 3 drugs concurrently for 60 days or longer and 504 children received 4 drugs concurrently for 60 days or longer.  Some of these children are under the age of 5.

 

I am disappointed the bill failed 15-25.  I voted yes.

 

SB 97 - Supervised Contact with Animals in Zoos

SB 97, as amended, would allow members of the public specified physical contact with dangerous regulated animals (excluding bears and non-native venomous snakes) as detailed below:

  • For dangerous regulated animals weighing 10 pounds or less, members of the public would be permitted to come into "full contact" with the animal. The bill defines "full contact" as a situation in which an exhibitor or handler would maintain control and supervision of the animal while temporarily surrendering physical possession or custody of the animal to another person; and
  • For dangerous regulated animals weighing 40 pounds or less, members of the public would be permitted "incidental contact" with the animal. The bill defines "incidental contact" as a situation in which an exhibitor or handler maintains control, possession, and supervision of an animal while permitting the public to come into contact with it.

A dangerous regulated animal could only be used for contact with the public if the exhibitor:

  • Evaluates the animal and ensures it is compatible with the intended uses of the animal;
  • Takes reasonable sanitary precautions to minimize the possibility of disease or parasite transmission which could adversely affect the health or welfare of members of the public or wildlife; and
  • Exhibits the animal in a manner that prevents injuries to members of the public or wildlife.

The bill would require all dangerous regulated animals to be maintained under strict supervision and control in order to prevent injuries to members of the public and it would be a requirement that before a member of the public could come into physical contact with the animal weighing between 10 and 40 pounds, a statement would have to be signed that includes, "The handling or petting of a dangerous regulated animal is inherently dangerous and may result in scratches, bites or other injuries."

 

Additionally, dangerous regulated animals removed from confinement would not be allowed to run at large or be tethered outside.  Finally, institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums or the Zoological Association of America would be exempted from reporting and license compliance that is required of local animal control authorities.


 

More about this bill:
During the committee process, the Director of Tanganyika Wildlife Park, located in Goddard, Kansas, presented testimony in favor of the bill, noting that many of Tanganyika's animals are used for live interactive demonstrations on Jack Hanna's various television appearances, along with other appearances on various daily and late night talk shows. The Director of Tanganyika stated the current law restricts accredited Kansas zoos from using small cats for educational interactive experiences. By passing the bill, Tanganyika would be able to offer visitors a supervised, up close, and personal experience with the cats while they are small. Additionally, the Director stated the bill would remove cheetahs and clouded leopards from the dangerous animal list, as they have been unfairly grouped with all the big cats that are also listed on the dangerous animal list.  Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Director Emeritus Jack Hanna and representatives of the Zoological Association of America, Dallas Zoo, and Nashville Zoo provided written testimony in favor of the bill.

 

SB 97 passed 23-17.   I voted yes.

 

 

In Closing


 

If you have any questions about any of the above bills or any bill I didn't address above, feel free to contact me if you want to know more or how I voted.   You can also review the Senate journals on www.kslegislature.org for a full list of the bills we debated and voted on.


 

 

In honor of your liberty,


 
Mary Pilcher-Cook



Mary Pilcher Cook
913-396-9306
mary@pilchercook.com

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