The second half of the regular legislative session moved along quite swiftly this week as we debated and voted on a number of pieces of legislation. Near 40 in total, most of these bills were non-controversial in nature, but the number reveals the breadth of the subjects we cover here in Topeka - well-beyond the headline-grabbing subjects you read and hear about in the press. Each of these bills, even the non-controversial ones, requires significant time to craft and navigate through the process, and demonstrates the large amount of work we accomplish in a short period of time. Later in this newsletter, I will list these bills.
In the meantime, weightier topics continue to work their way through the process as well, including on issues of education funding and establishing a lid on the growth of property taxes. We have also been handling the issue of STAR Bonds, which we are attempting to reform and has required both the rare step of overriding a veto by Governor Brownback as well as the passage of an additional piece of legislation to deal with the matter.
All of this adds up to an incredibly busy week in Topeka as we work towards the end of the regular session in a week. Here are the details...
When attempting to achieve fundamental reform on an issue as critical to our state like education, there is nothing more frustrating than the feeling you are taking one step forward and two steps back.
Last year, as you know, the Legislature repealed the long-maligned school finance formula, the most significant legislation to solve our school finance issue in a quarter-century. That repeal led to the block grant system, which would allow us the time to construct a new formula based on the principles of local control and innovation, providing flexibility to local school districts while giving local school boards the responsibility that comes with it.
However, earlier this year, the Supreme Court again inserted itself where it did not belong, and now we find ourselves actually discussing the absurd notion of bringing back the old formula! All of this would be done in an attempt to comply with the court edict, which violated the separation of powers.
Therefore, the Senate Ways & Means Committee held hearings and passed out a proposal designed to address the Kansas Supreme Court's most recent school finance ruling in Gannon v. Kansas.
In SB 512, the Legislature's attorneys attempted to draft a bill that mirrored the details the court put forward in their ruling. Overall, the legislation shifts about 1% of overall state K-12 funding. However, over 100 school districts would see a cut in their education funding due to the redistribution of funds. It was noteworthy that the Kansas Association of School Boards and the state's leading teachers' unions did not oppose the legislation.
SB 512 is scheduled for debate on the Senate Floor for Monday morning. The legislation is not expected to be approved, but the public debate will be helpful in determining where this issue is headed. It is understandable the public is frustrated when judges are pressing for this mayhem instead of allowing the peoples voice to work through their legislators.
Another issue making its way through committee is the legislation regarding the property tax lid we adopted last year, and would move up the effective date so local units of government do not further abuse the system.
Local units of government are increasingly out of control when it comes to their reliance on massive property tax increases, which disproportionately impact the poor and elderly. These increases place a substantial burden on those on fixed incomes and others who are attempting to simply make ends meet.
The Senate Tax Committee, of which I am a member, passed out S Sub for HB 2088,
which requires local units of government to get voter approval if they increase property taxes above the rate of inflation and population growth, with a few exceptions. There were some compromises made, a few with which I opposed, but were necessary to get the bill moving forward for debate on the Senate floor. This legislation will continue to receive significant attention as it makes its way through the process next week. I look forward to supporting this measure on the floor of the Senate.
HCR 5024-Keeping Terrorist Prisoners Out of Kansas
Moving on to issues we debated and voted on, the Kansas Senate passed a resolution that urges the President of the United States to obey the U.S. Constitution, follow the laws of the land, the will of the American people, and not transfer terrorist prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to the United States. It pertains specifically to the threat to move terrorists to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
The resolution states that transferring detainees from Guantanamo to Fort Leavenworth will put Kansas at risk from terrorists around the world. The facilities at the Fort were not built to hold and care for the detainees and local law enforcement would see their burdens significantly increased. The transfer would put Kansans at risk and could also have a negative economic impact on the greater Kansas City area. The resolution asks the Secretary of State to send copies to President Obama, Vice President Biden, and the Kansas Congressional delegation.
passed with a vote of 32-7. I voted yes.
HCR 5008-Constitutional Right to Hunt and Fish
Last week, I mentioned HCR 5008
, which would add the right to hunt, fish, and trap to the Kansas Constitution. The measure needed to receive 2/3rds majority in the Senate and will now be sent to the citizens of Kansas for a vote.
If adopted this fall by the people of Kansas, it would add the following language to the constitution:
"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 amendment would have the practical effect of adding a constitutional safeguard to protect wildlife while promoting 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 passed with a vote of 36-0. Since the Kansas House has already approved the amendment, the measure is now being sent to the Secretary of State's office for a public vote in November 2016's General election.
As you have likely read or heard in the media, the issue of Star Bonds is a hot topic this session. To give a brief summary, the Senate Ways & Means and Commerce Committees spent a significant amount of time examining the economic development program. As a conservative generally opposed to government involvement in the private economy, I have a number of concerns related to the fundamental wisdom of these programs, particularly in light of the revenue situation we face in Kansas and the prospect of tax increases on the backs of small businesses and families.
Under Star Bonds, a municipality, with permission from the Kansas Department of Commerce, can issue bonds to finance a development project or "Star Bonds District" (The Legends Shopping Center is one example). Over the course of the bond agreement, the sales tax generated from the development is designed to go toward paying off the bonds. After the bond agreement has been met, the state receives its share of the sales tax revenue from that point forward. The theory is that with more economic development, the state will receive more revenue in the long run.
However, after the committee examined the program, legislators questioned the level of state revenue that is being lost as a result of these programs, as well as the lack of state oversight in the management of them. Therefore, a proviso was placed on the state budget placing a hold on new Star Bonds projects in Wyandotte County until a reform package is approved by the legislature. The focus was placed on the Wyandotte County projects because some of the revenue sharing in this area raised the most questions.
The governor vetoed the STAR Bonds provision attached to the budget. It is his position that Wyandotte County should not be singled out and he called for a complete reform of the Star Bonds program. The Senate chose to override the governor's veto with a vote of 30-8, meeting the two-thirds majority required. I supported that override and I agree with the governor for a need to reform the entire Star Bonds program.
After this action, the Governor has placed a hold on the approval of any Star Bonds projects throughout the state until a reform package is approved. The motion to override has not been made in the Kansas House at this time. A two-thirds majority is also required in the House to successfully override the veto.
The Star Bonds reform legislation, SB 474
, was debated and approved by the Senate this week by a vote of 34-4 - I voted yes.
In addition, this bill allows the State Finance Council to oversee the sale of the Kansas Bio Science Authority (KBA) and would add an estimated $25 million to the FY 2017 budget. More information about some of the Senate approved reforms can be found at the following link: http://kansascommerce.com/DocumentCenter/View/6889
Below is a list of the other bills we approved this week. If you have any questions about these bills, please let me know. I voted yes on each of these bills, except where indicated.
- Updating a cigarette and tobacco sales and taxation compact between the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and the state of Kansas.
- Updating a cigarette and tobacco sales and taxation compact between Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska and the state of Kansas.
- Substitute for HB 2062 by Committee on Judiciary - Uniform commercial code (UCC) updates; exclusion of consumer transactions governed by federal law; other technical corrections.
- Urging the U.S. President to not send terrorist detainees to Kansas or elsewhere in the U.S.
- Right of public to hunt, fish and trap.
- Amending court docket fees and charges. To provide more clarity about the separation of powers, the Legislature has given the courts the ability to set their own fees.
SB 457 - Nursing home quality care assessment rate and sunset. This increases the cost of nursing home care for private payers and is a redistribution of funds. I voted no. SB 474
- Authorizing the state finance council to oversee any sale of the Kansas bioscience authority or substantially all of its assets. Includes several measures for improved oversight of STAR bonds.
S Sub HB 2112
- Senate Substitute for HB 2112 by Committee on Judiciary - Enacting the host families act, relating to temporary care for children. I sponsored this bill, which does not cost the state any money, yet facilitates volunteer families being able to help other families in a parenting crisis.
Sub HB 2151
- Substitute for HB 2151 by Committee on Judiciary - Grand juries; witnesses to grand jury instructions.
- Increasing the minimum motor vehicle insurance liability limit for property damage.
- Amendments concerning program credits for certain inmates.
- Allowing health insurers to offer policies that require health services to be rendered by a participating provider.
HB 2462 - Increase theft loss value required for felony from $1,000 to $1,250. I voted no. HB 2501
- Clarifying the definition of crime committed with an electronic device.
- Release of information in support of arrest warrants and search warrants.
SB 404 - Authorizing the state board of regents on behalf of Kansas state university to sell certain real property in Riley County, Kansas.
- Secretary for aging and disability services licensure of certain facilities and standards for treatment of certain individuals; background checks.
- Client assessment, referral and evaluation program amendments.
S Sub HB 2131
- Senate Substitute for HB 2131 by Committee on Utilities - Concerning telecommunications.
- Limiting which government officials may receive information technology audit written reports.
- Providing for an Alzheimer's disease awareness distinctive license plate; decals for certain military medals or badges.
- Updating the effective date of the risk-based capital instructions.
- Asbestos control act, state licensing requirements and federal compliance.
- Clarifying facial imaging practices for drivers' licenses.
- Amendments regarding accountant licensure.
- Application fee for restricted motorized bicycle driver's license.
- Reinstating resident tuition and fees for certain military veterans and dependents.
- Creating the student online personal protection act.
- Municipalities; contracts with other municipalities.
- Certain sewer districts; construction contract bid threshold raised.
HB 2480 -- Amendments to livestock brand law. This was a significant increase in regulations. I voted No. HB 2490
- Allowing the secretary of the Kansas department of agriculture to contain chemical toxins and other plant pests for the protection of the public health
- Allowing students early access to the CPA examination.
- Charitable healthcare providers; continuing education credits for gratuitous care of eligible patients. I sponsored this bill. It will encourage health care providers to get involved in delivering charitable care for our most vulnerable citizens.
- Board of regents; updating fees and making amendments to the Kansas private and out-of-state postsecondary educational institution act.
As we move towards the "drop dead date" at the end of this week, expect another long list of bills this week as we vote on a large array of bills again. I look forward to reporting to you on our progress next weekend.
In honor of your liberty,