Dear , 

  

I hope you and your family had a joyous Easter last weekend amid the nice weather and comfortable temperatures.  The weekend also marked the end of the regular legislative session.  We are now in a three-week recess before we return for the "veto session" on April 29th, during which some of us still have meetings periodically in Topeka.

 

To start off with some good news - the ban on dismemberment abortions was signed into law this week, which will literally save hundreds of lives in Kansas.  Approximately 600 unborn children a year had their lives taken in such a manner - about 11 lives per week.  While it is true there are other methods of abortion available, this new law will probably have the biggest impact on saving human lives than any other law we have passed in the history of our state.

 

While some issues remain on the table to be resolved, we were able to work through a number of bills and conference committee reports prior to adjournment.   As the media spins these issues as well as the state of the Kansas economy, it can often be a challenge to communicate the actual facts of what is occurring versus the false rhetoric we hear from the Left and the press.

Religious Liberty

 

Before I provide a legislative update as to what is happening here in Kansas, I would like to discuss the current controversy in Indiana over religious liberty, because it very much pertains to a similar discussion we had last year in Topeka.   Right now our country is at a tipping point where we are discussing the government's ability to take legal action based on one's firmly held religious beliefs.    For a fair summary without media spin, I urge you to read this article.

 

Indiana, after having taken a courageous step towards protecting religious liberty and tolerance, buckled under intense pressure from the left.   Sadly we saw this same exact "scorched earth" strategy happen in Kansas last year, when our own Senate leadership fed the narrative that the legislation offered was discriminatory.   This decision to punt under pressure probably emboldened the left in future fights with other states - if they could frighten us into folding our tents in Kansas - the first state to try -- they could anywhere.   Intimidation is working -- and whether you are for or against this legislation - that is a troubling trend for our future ability to discuss any issue that the left deems controversial.


When photographers are forced under threat of fines to shoot weddings they believe are immoral, they become legally coerced to participate in a certain type of speech, and the state becomes the subjective authority of when citizens must act against their will.  The continuing defeat of this RFRA legislation now opens wide the door to attacks against certain speech and beliefs.  We need a defense for free speech and religious liberty, and that is what the law would have done.

 

Forcing someone to take part in something in which that person has determined to be morally wrong creates a crisis in conscience.  The state is forcing the person to choose between obedience to the state or to their moral convictions.

 

Our government does not grant us our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - instead the Founding Fathers gave us a government that recognizes our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as given to us by our Creator.  Our U.S. Constitution was crafted to protect those rights.  This is a very important debate and is crucial to our future liberty.  Please keep a close watch on this subject.


Unemployment Facts

 

As you follow our activities in Topeka, here are some facts to keep in mind:

 

  • Kansas has the 13th lowest unemployment rate in the country, and for the 16th straight month has held its unemployment rate under 5%.         
  • Kansas surpassed all neighboring states except Colorado in private job gains over the year.
  • Private-sector jobs from February 2014 to February 2015 grew by 21,200 - one of the most significant increases in the country.
  • In a state-to-state comparison, Kansas placed 2nd in private-sector jobs growth in February.

This improving economic picture is not by accident.  It has happened because of the change in tax and regulatory climate in Kansas, with signals being sent to small business that government will no longer stand in the way between them and their potential prosperity.

 

Of course, the prison guards of the past - those who want to return to the failed, high-tax, big-government policies of previous administrations - will continue to protest and make it difficult for us to become even more competitive.  But we will continue.

 

In the past few weeks, the Kansas Legislature has been able to pass a statutory structure that de-emphasizes government's incentives to dependency and turns the focus instead to giving individuals a hand up out of poverty, helping persons to learn responsibility and self-reliance, giving them back their human dignity.  I steered this legislation through the Senate health committee and debate on the Senate floor, and I want to thank my colleagues for their hard work in both chambers, as well as Governor Brownback.  

 

Over the last four years, the Kansas economy has grown at a record pace. Since 2011, Kansas has seen jobs grow by over 77,600. Unemployment has also dropped, Kansas has the 10th lowest unemployment rate in the country and March marks the 15th consecutive month that the unemployment rate has been under 5.0%.

 

Here are two graphs emphasizing how job growth is up the last four years, while unemployment has gone down:


 


 


I urge you to consider these facts as you review media reports.


 

 

Other Legislation

 

Here are a few examples of legislation which we adopted this week:

 

Ending Dependency - S Sub for HB 2258

Ending government dependency while keeping a safety net in place is a critical role for state government.

 

For nearly six hours on Wednesday, the Senate debated Senate Substitute for House Bill 2258, which places the authorization of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Family (TANF) program, welfare and food stamps, into statute rather than rules and regulations. The idea behind the change is to encourage welfare recipients to actively pursue job opportunities providing them with work rather than being totally dependent on government assistance. 

 

A few amendments were added to the bill on the Senate floor which modified the amount of TANF cash assistance transactions using automated teller machines, added food assistance to the benefits a protective payee could be appointed to receive on behalf of children, required an electronic check for false information on an application for TANF and other benefits programs and modified the mandatory work participation requirements.

 
Kansas citizens are a generous people and I have heard from several of you many times that you are willing to give a hand-up but are opposed to giving hand-outs that can steep individuals in poverty and dependence.   Work opportunities and challenges that come along with hand-ups increase an individual's self-esteem, increases their independence, decreases depression and gives them a sense of self-worth by giving them a pathway to self-reliance. This is a bill that that promotes human dignity and I strongly defended it on the floor of the Senate.

  

S Sub for HB 2258 passed on final action on a vote of 30-10 and the House debated and passed the bill in the afternoon on a motion to concur.   I voted yes. The bill is now awaiting the Governor's signature to become law. 

 

Helping Veterans - HB 2154

Those who serve our country need to know they have an increased opportunity at employment when they begin work in the private sector.

 

House Bill 2154 would establish a permissive veterans' preference in private employment, authorizing a private employer to adopt a policy to give a hiring preference to a veteran who meets the requirements of the job. The bill also provides employment reinstatement protections to any person employed in Kansas who is called to state active duty by Kansas or any other state. Finally, current military personnel, National Guard personnel, veterans, military spouses, and dependents who are attending a post-secondary education institution and are eligible to receive educational assistance under federal law, regardless of their length of residency in Kansas, would be granted in-state tuition and fees.

 

The Senate passed HB 2154 by a vote of 40 to 0. I voted yes.

 

"Uber" Bill - H Sub for SB 117

On Thursday, the conference committee report for House Substitute for Senate Bill 117 was debated in both the House and Senate chambers. Commonly referred to as the "Uber" bill, H Sub for SB 117 creates the Kansas Transportation Network Company Services Act. The act will regulate transportation network companies, such as Uber or Lyft; establish the responsibilities, requirements, and rights of the parties involved; establish automobile insurance coverage requirements for the drivers and vehicle owners when applicable, and provide for driver background checks to be conducted by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI).

 

In the midst of the debate, Uber complained the legislation was overly restrictive and intended to drive them from the state.  A driver would be required to purchase commercial vehicle insurance to cover time periods even when there are no passengers in the car.

 

The conference committee report on H Sub for SB 117passed the Senate on vote of 35-2 and the House on a vote of 107-16. The bill is now on its way to the Governor for his approval.  I voted no.  The legislation was comprised of too much regulation and created too many restrictions.

 

SB 228

This week the Senate passed the conference committee report on Senate Bill 228 allowing the Kansas Development Finance Authority (KDFA) to issue bonds, in one or more series, in an amount not to exceed $1.0 billion, plus all amounts required to pay the costs of issuance. If you recall, both the House and Senate passed similar bills dealing with Unfunded Actuarial Liability for the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System (KPERS) and this report is the result of the agreement that was sent back by the bipartisan committee made up of members from both chambers.

 

Assuming the proceeds of the bonds are received by the end of calendar year 2015, the funded ratio would increase from 60.7 percent to 66.0 percent. The unfunded actuarial liability would be estimated to decrease from $7.26 billion to $6.28 billion at that same point in time. In addition, this action will reduce state costs by roughly $64 million over the next two years.

While bonding this sum is obviously a challenging public policy decision, the reality is that this action allows us to take advantage of historically low interest rates to significantly reduce annual costs, while fundamentally improving the stability of our public retirement system.

 

The conference committee report on SB 228 passed the Senate on vote of 23-16 and the House on a vote of 63-57.  I voted no.  While I understood what we were trying to accomplish, I could not support further bonded indebtedness to this degree.  The bill will now be sent to the Governor's desk for his signature to become law.

 

City Annexation - HB 2003

Another item that was up for debate on Wednesday was House Bill 2003, which would amend law regarding unilateral annexation of land by a city in two ways. First, the bill would require express consent of the board of county commissioners by resolution adopted within 30 days following the date of the city's required hearing on the proposed annexation under certain circumstances. Additionally, it would amend law regarding unilateral annexation of highway right-of-way by making notification language consistent with language authorizing the annexation. Finally, the bill would amend law related to annexation of noncontiguous land by a city, sometimes called "island" annexation.

 

HB 2003 passed the Senate on a final action vote of 24-11.  I voted yes.  This was a very good property rights bill.


 

SAFE Program

Senate Bill 274 (SB 274) increases the fines for adults for not wearing seat belts from $10 to $30 and also amends the boater safety education law for operating a sailboat. SB 274 would take $20 from every $30 seatbelt fine and establish the Seat Belt Safety fund. It would also take 2.74% of all fines, penalties, and forfeitures the district court receives and places it in the fund. The fund would be used to educate Kansas high school students on the importance of wearing their seat belt. The fund expands the Seat Belts are for Everyone (SAFE) program which has been proven to increase seat belt usage among Kansas  high school students.

 

SB 274 passed with a vote of 33 to 2.  I voted no.  While I am strongly in favor of the high school education program, I could not support an increase in fines for not wearing a seat belt.

 

When We Return...

 

The Kansas Legislature will return on Wednesday, April 29th for the wrap-up session.  I will return on Tuesday, April 28th, for an all-day KanCare meeting. Much work remains, and it is my hope that we will see an opportunity to pass a bill moving local elections to the fall.  With the very low turnout this past Tuesday in Johnson County of less than ten percent, we have even more evidence problems exist by keeping local elections in April. Not only is the turnout low, candidates running for offices which cover a large area of ground, such as a school board race, do not have the time to campaign, thus favoring incumbents and making it that much more difficult to achieve change.

 

Congratulations...


 

A very hearty congratulations to Michelle Distler for becoming the next mayor of Shawnee and Eric Jenkins for becoming the newest city councilman from Ward 2!

  

In honor of your liberty,


 
Mary Pilcher-Cook



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

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