We are now more than a week into the second part of the legislative session, and our work continues in various committees as well as on the Senate floor. Important reforms, such as the property tax lid, are proceeding down the legislative pike. In the meantime, we continue to vote on a variety of non-controversial items that are passing with little or no opposition. Here is a summary of our recent activity:
Last year, the Kansas Legislature imposed a cap on the amount a local unit of government could increase property taxes without going to a vote of the people. However, the legislation would not go into effect until 2018 and local governments have been rushing to increase taxes ahead of time to beat the clock. Since passage of the property tax lid bill last year, 17 counties have increased taxes.
As a result, action is needed to curb this abuse and this week, the Senate Assessment and Taxation committee dedicated two days of meetings to hold a hearing on SB 316, a bill that would move up the effective date of the property tax lid to 2016. It provides the right of citizens to vote if property taxes are set to increase beyond the rate of inflation.
There was a similar cap in place prior to 1999. According to the Kansas Realtors Association, counties have increased property taxes by an average of 117% from 1997 to 2013 or 7.3% annually. Additionally, during this same time period, cities have increased their property tax burden by 97.1% or 6.1% annually. These are alarming increases when the inflation rate averaged 2.4% annually and the state's populations grew only about .6% from 1997 to 2013.
Therefore, the property tax burden on Kansas residents has increased by three times the rate of inflation. The impact is pronounced, hitting hardest those on fixed incomes, even taxing some people out of their homes.
Several representatives of the business community, including the Kansas Association of Realtors, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, National Federation for Independent Business and the Realtors of South Central Kansas, testified in support of the bill that would keep property taxes to a minimum. One public entity, the Sedgwick County Commission, testified in support of the measure.
All other public entities (including organizations funded by those public entities), testified in opposition to the bill, including Johnson County Commissioner Ed Eilert, stating a need for additional revenue for his economic development projects. There were also complaints about the timeline for any required election, stating that it was unworkable. However, Sedgwick County commissioners stated they authored an amendment which would address that issue.
The timing issue will be worked out. I believe people should have a right to vote on property tax increases and government officials pushing for the increase should have to make the case as to why it is necessary. Here is a graph demonstrating the massive hike in property taxes:
Kansas Property Tax, Inflation and Population Trend (Statewide)
Source: KansasOpenGov.org, Kansas Policy Institute
Across Kansas and throughout the country, some of our best teachers feel trapped by a particular union contract negotiated more than 40 years ago, with no realistic way to end that representation, or at least be able to change to different representation for the purpose of negotiations. To address this concern, SB 469, as amended, would allow teachers to have elections every three years to certify whether they believe they are receiving adequate representation.
The current law allows a change of representation but it is a burdensome process, especially by employees within a large school district. A petition would have to be signed by at least 30% of the employees in the bargaining unit before an election could take place. The bill would modify this process by ensuring a secret ballot election every three years. It would require a majority of votes cast to change representation, and the majority of the members in the union must vote.
This bill empowers teachers by allowing them to choose which organizations represent them. Teachers should have the right to choose who represents them at the bargaining table and requiring regular elections is a fair way to ensure the voice of all teachers is consistently heard. Not surprisingly, the Kansas NEA opposed the bill. However, the measure was recommended favorably for passage and will now go to the full Senate for consideration.
PUBLIC RIGHT TO HUNT, FISH AND TRAP
HCR 5008 would amend the Kansas Constitution, and grant the public the right to hunt, fish, and trap wildlife. Such a right would not modify existing statutes relating to trespass, eminent domain, or other private property rights. In addition, the change would be subject to reasonable laws and regulations to promote wildlife conservation and management. The concurrent resolution passed in the House last month, receiving well beyond the 2/3 majority required. The Senate will likely take up the resolution within the next couple of weeks. Here is how the amendment would read:
"The people have the right to hunt, fish, and trap, including by the use of traditional methods, subject to laws and regulations that promote wildlife conservation and management and that preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section shall not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to trespass, property rights or water resources."
The vote would take place during the November 2016 General election and would add a constitutional safeguard to protect wildlife and promote conservation. Kansas has a rich sporting tradition that has spanned generations. This language will help preserve this heritage for future Kansans and allow the state to continue its conservation efforts.
Currently 19 states have passed a constitutional amendment to protect the right to hunt and fish. HCR 5008 passed out of committee and awaits floor action. If the Kansas House has already approved the proposal. If the Senate reaches the 2/3rds majority without making any amendments, the measure will be sent to the Kansas Secretary of State's office to make arrangements for the public vote.
Student Online Personal Protection Act-SB 342
- This bill enacts the Student Online Personal Protection Act and would prohibit operators from knowingly engaging in targeted advertising, using information and student identifiers, selling or renting student information to a third party, or disclosing student information. The Senate passed the bill with a vote of 39-0.
Liquor License Changes-SB 379
- This bill amends the Liquor Control Act to remove the one-year residency requirement for microbrewery, micro distillery, and farm winery licenses. The Kansas Grape Growers and Winemakers Association requested the bill because the requirement limits their ability to sell their business to out-of-state investors. While the bill originally only impacted farm winery licenses, the committee amended it to also include microbrewery and micro distillery licenses. This bill passed the Senate 39-0.
CLEP Credit Hours-SB 388
- This bill requires the state Board of Regents to adopt a policy on awarding credit hours based on College Level Examination Program test results before January 1, 2017. Amendments to the bill were adopted in committee which would require a credit-granting recommended score for the institutions to award the credit. The bill passed the Senate with a vote of 39-0.
Eyewitness Identification Policies and Procedures-SB 428
- This bill requires all law enforcement agencies in the state to adopt a detailed and written policy regarding citizen identification of persons during a criminal investigation. The agencies would be required to collaborate with a county or district attorney to adopt policies relating to eyewitness procedures and the policies would be required to include identification of the procedures the agency should employ when asking a citizen to identify a person during a criminal investigation. This bill passed the Senate 38-1. I voted against this bill as we heard testimony in committee these procedures and policies are already in place and the bill was unnecessary.
Fireworks and Fire Extinguisher Fee Elimination-SB 459
- This bill would repeal the authority for the State Fire Marshal to charge certification, licensing, permitting and inspection fees to the fireworks and fire extinguisher industries in Kansas. The State Fire Marshal brought this bill forward because fireworks and fire extinguisher industries were the only groups that were charged fees and they will be regulated with existing resources. The bill passed the Senate on a vote of 38-1. I voted yes.
Fire District Audits-SB 476
- This bill would allow the Bourbon County Commission to order an audit of any fire district located within the county. The bill passed with a vote of 39-0.
Fire District Service Areas-HB 2438
- This bill changes the law related to fire districts and would allow all or part of any city adjoining the boundaries of any fire district proposed or organized under this act to be included within the fire district. This bill was specifically introduced to address issues in Johnson County, where the Johnson County Fire District No. 1 provides protection services to the City of Gardner, who wishes to be included in the fire district. Johnson County Fire District No. 2 also serves the City of Spring Hill, who will now be included in the fire district. The bill passed the Senate 39-0.
Kansas saw a record turnout at last weekend's caucus. There were 102 caucus sites and over 81,000 people came out to vote. Many locations saw turnout increase four to five times more than the 2012 caucus. As of today, there are still a number of provisional ballots yet to be counted. The provisional ballots have an outside chance of changing the number of delegates awarded.
The statewide initial results
KS has 40 Delegates Total
- Cruz: 24 delegates -- 16 statewide, 8 for winning each Congressional district
- Trump: 9 delegates -- 6 statewide, 3 for a 2nd place in three Congressional districts.
- Rubio: 6 delegates -- 5 statewide, 1 for a 2nd place in the 3rd Congressional District.
- Kasich: 1 delegates -- 1 statewide
Delegate Selection Process
Some have asked how our delegates are selected to go to the National Convention. The process has multiple steps:
1. Delegates self-nominate.
Individuals interested in being elected delegate had until Friday, March 11th to nominate themselves. Those filing can run at the Congressional district level, statewide, or oth.
2. Congressional district delegate elections.
In late March, each of the four Congressional district Republican parties meet to select their 3 regular delegates and 3 alternates. The top vote earner gets to select which presidential candidate they would like to be a delegate for, as long as there are spots available for that candidate. For example, in the 3rd Congressional District, there are two Cruz delegates and one Rubio delegate, based on the results in the 3rd District voting on March 5th.
3. Statewide delegate election.
In April, the Kansas Republican Party meets and selects 25 delegates and 25 alternates. The process is the same as at the district level - the top vote-earner gets to select which presidential candidate they would like to be a delegate for, as long as there are spots available for that candidate. Statewide, Cruz has 13 delegates, Trump has 6, Rubio has 5, and Kasich has 1.
4. RNC delegates.
Three RNC delegates are automatic (the State Party Chair, the National Committeeman and National Committeewoman) and pledged to Ted Cruz since he won the state.
Delegates are pledged to their candidate throughout the nomination process unless that candidate releases them.
The Republican Convention is July 18-21 in Cleveland.
As we look at the events in Chicago and around the country the past year, there is much reason to be concerned about the state of our country and the state of our liberty. As we cast our ballots this fall, let's ensure we work to restore liberty to its rightful place in our laws and in the way we conduct ourselves.
In honor of your liberty,