Usually, at this time, we are still meeting in Topeka. However, this year, the regular session was shorter, concluding last Thursday. We are now adjourned for a month, returning April 27th for the Veto Session, where we will complete our work on several issues, including the budget.
We made significant progress on a number of issues, including:
- a positive resolution to the school finance issue that will keep our schools open and is fair to Johnson County - in the short term.
- moving up the effective date of the property tax lid, which is important to stop the local government rush to hike your property taxes.
We voted on a wide array of bills which were not covered in the media, including an important protection of first amendment rights for campaign workers. This bill, which I address in more detail later, prohibits cities from using no soliciting laws to protect incumbent politicians. Campaign activity is crucial to our liberty and has always been protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Challenges remain, of course. The House was not able to pass a bill repealing Common Core and we weren't able to send judicial reform to a vote of the people.
There remains an effort to raise your taxes, which we must resist. It is also imperative that we remain vigilant towards the reduction of the size and scope of government.
Finally, I introduced a bill, SB 513, titled The Student Physical Privacy Act, which addresses the recent nationwide leftwing push to allow transgendered individuals to use bathrooms of the sex to which they "identify". This bill protects the privacy and safety of all students by requiring that students use the bathroom of their biological gender. I also address this issue in more detail later in the newsletter.
Here are the details of what we accomplished prior to first adjournment:
School Finance - Keeping Schools Open & Fighting for Local Control
If you've followed the school finance issue the last 25 years, you understand that the one constant that's been a part of that debate has been litigation.
Even with our repeal of the old and broken school finance formula last session, that cycle of litigation continued when the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in the latest Gannon v. Kansas decision that the state's education block grant needed to be better equalized. If those changes were not made by June 1, 2016, the court set that date for a potential shutdown of Kansas schools.
S Sub HB 2655, which I supported, addresses the Kansas Supreme Court's equalization demand by using a formula that has already been approved by the courts. The bill involves only 0.5% of the total K-12 budget distributed, and will provide stability for the 2nd year of the state's temporary education block grant.
For Johnson County, this bill is good news as HB 2655 also holds districts harmless (no districts lose funding). It narrows the disparity gap between school districts considerably. We will have to keep a sharp eye towards local funding in future appropriations.
Earlier in the week, the Senate considered another school finance package, SB 512, which could have met the court's ruling, but was not considered a viable option by the Legislature. Over 100 school districts would have seen a cut in funding.
HB 2655 equalizes the school funding formula according to court instruction, provides predictable funding for school districts and protects Kansas students from a potential school shutdown by the Kansas Supreme Court. Neither the state's leading teachers' unions, nor the Kansas Association of School Boards opposed the legislation. The Shawnee Mission School District testified in favor of the bill.
To advance more independent authority, the Legislature granted the Kansas Department of Education (KSDE) the responsibility for overseeing the "Extraordinary Needs Fund," which allocates state money to school districts experiencing unanticipated enrollment increases or low property tax evaluations due to oil and gas prices. Previously, the Legislature administered the fund, but many felt the full-time staff at KSDE was better suited for this purpose as opposed to a part-time Legislature.
To be clear, as noted by a number of Senators during floor debate, HB 2655 is a short-term solution to avoid unnecessary school closures the Supreme Court threatened to bring about. It is not a new funding formula. The Legislature will continue to study and move towards the creation of a school funding formula that prepares Kansas students for success and a life in pursuit of happiness.
Making Teachers Unions...about Teachers
Over 93 percent of public education union members have never had the opportunity to vote on their union representation!
This week, the Senate passed SB 469, which makes changes to the Professional Negotiations Act, where public professional employees' organizations (unions) would hold staggered elections every three years to certify the adequate representation of a majority of employees.
The scope of this applies solely to K-12 and community college bargaining units. The Secretary of Labor would be responsible for holding these elections between January 1st and April 1st of each year. If a union receive votes from a majority of the votes cast by the represented employees, then the union shall continue to represent the employees. This legislation empowers members of teachers' unions, giving them the ability to vote about whether they want to be represented by a particular union. Teachers deserve the right to have a voice in deciding who best represents their interests.
The bill passed the Senate 22-18. I voted yes.
Protecting Kansas Taxpayers
A consistent complaint by constituents over the years has been the degree to which property taxes go up nearly every year, without much justification or reason. To address this concern last year, the Kansas Legislature adopted a property tax lid, which requires a public vote if local governments want to increase property taxes at a rate exceeding inflation.
However, that bill did not take effect until 2018 and many localities rushed and are still rushing to increases taxes ahead of the deadline. It is infuriating there is a blatant disregard for the spirit of the law, particularly when facts demonstrate that over the last 17 years, the property tax burden on Kansas residents has increased by three times the rate of inflation.
Kansas Property Tax, Inflation and Population Trend (Statewide)
Source: KansasOpenGov.org, Kansas Policy Institute
Since passage of the property tax lid bill last year, 17 counties have increased taxes. With 76 percent of all voters in our state supporting the property tax lid, it is clear that Kansas taxpayers desire and deserve the right to vote on property tax increases.
This follow-up bill to last year's lid will eliminate the opportunity to pass increases to property taxes after January 2017 without a public vote.
Without passage of this year's legislation, the policy would not have gone into effect until 2018; this bill proposes to move the date to 2017. The bill also makes some other changes to the exemptions that were included in the legislation last year. An amendment on the floor which would exempt emergency services spending from the lid was adopted on the floor with a 22-17 vote. I voted against the amendment because there were already several exemptions in the bill and I viewed it as yet another huge loophole. Local government should already be prepared in their budgets for emergency services. If an emergency was severe, we could trust the people to vote for what they deemed to be a necessary increase.
The Senate passed the Property Tax bill 24-16. I voted yes.
SB 437, also known as Simon's Law, would require parents or guardians to give written permission before a medical professional withdraws life-sustaining treatments or administers a do-not-resuscitate order for those under the age of 18. The bill would require healthcare facilities to put into writing all procedures and policies relating to life-sustaining services upon the request of the parent or guardian. The law's name serves as a memory to the life of Simon Crosier of Missouri, an infant child diagnosed with Trisomy 18, who passed away following a do-not-resuscitate order instituted by doctors without consent of either of his parents. SB 437 has the support of Kansans for Life and no entities testified in opposition to the legislation.
SB 437 passed 37-3. I voted yes.
Funding for Community Health Centers but none for Planned Parenthood abortion providers
SB 436 ensures federal funding granted to the state does not go to organizations that provide abortions. The grants can be awarded to qualified local, state, or county health centers that offer comprehensive primary and preventive care. This system was already in place since 2011 as a provision in the state's budget and will now be codified into law. The funding is steered toward entities such as safety net clinics that do not provide abortions, while entities such as Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are given the lowest priority. Since 2011, abortion providers have not received federal family planning funds in Kansas. The legislation was sponsored by 27 Republican Senators who believe taxpayers should not have to subsidize abortions.
SB 436 passed with a vote of 32-8. I voted yes.
Interstate Medical Licensure Compact
HB 2456 allows Kansas to join the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact. The Interstate Compact allows physicians an expedited way to gain a license to practice in multiple states without federal oversight. The bill creates a database for all those licensed within the program and creates a commission to oversee the compact. Doctors with multi-state licenses would also be subject to discipline through the compact in all states where they are licensed. HB 2456 will allow access to doctors from across our state line. The legislation would also increase access to medical care in the case of natural disaster when relief workers come from outside our state. Currently 12 states have enacted legislation to adopt the interstate compact.
HB 2456 passed with a vote of 40-0.
GROUNDS FOR JUDICIAL & EXECUTIVE IMPEACHMENT
While the House was not able to pass judicial selection reform, the Senate made progress in defining impeachment through SB 439, which also has provisions for impeachment in the executive branch as well. Justices of the Kansas Supreme Court and constitutional officers of the executive branch could be impeached for the following, each of which has been used to impeach justices in the past:
- Indictable criminal offenses
- Breach of the public trust
- Breach of judicial ethics (justices only)
- Failure to perform adequately the duties of office
- Attempting to subvert fundamental laws and introduce arbitrary power
- Attempting to usurp the power of the legislative, judicial, or executive branches of government
- Exhibiting discourteous conduct towards litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers or others with whom the justice deals in an official capacity
- Exhibiting wanton or reckless judicial conduct
- Exhibiting personal misbehavior or misconduct
- Failure to properly supervise, administer or discipline judicial/executive branch personnel
- Such other actions in accordance with Article 2, Section 28 or the Kansas Constitution
The bill passed the Senate 21-19. I voted yes.
Budget Stabilization Fund - Efficiency Study Recommendation
46 states have a rainy day fund and it is important that Kansas have budget stability.
creates a budget stabilization fund within the State Treasury by July of 2017, which is one of the recommendations from the recent statewide efficiency study.
The fund would receive money from the interest earned from the Pooled Money Investment Portfolio. This is preliminary and I am cautious towards the implementation, but during the 2016 interim, the Budget committee would hold a study on funds in other states and develop a plan to appropriate money for the stabilization fund. The funds would not be allowed to be spent unless appropriated by the Legislature or through the approval of the State Finance Council. It is my contention that the Legislature should also stop using revenue estimates to determine future spending (which has proven to be consistently wrong over the last several years), but instead use last year's spending as a baseline.
SB 509 passed with a vote of 37-3. I voted yes.
ELECTION ACTIVITIES - Protecting Free Speech
Last year, the city of Lenexa made an effort to ban political campaign workers and candidates from contacting voters, which would protect incumbent politicians. To ensure Kansas law protects the First Amendment rights of voters, political volunteers and candidates,HB 2558 would not allow a Kansas municipality to prohibit or regulate election activity including: canvassing, polling, soliciting, or otherwise approaching private residences for the purpose of distributing campaign literature or campaigning for a candidate for an elected office. This is an issue that cuts across party lines as all voters and campaign volunteers are impacted by this.
The bill passed the Senate 39-0. I voted yes.
ASSISTING VICTIMS OF IDENTITY THEFT
SB 424 would grant the Attorney General the limited authority to assist victims of identity theft, identity fraud, and similar crimes. Particularly, victims of such crimes would be assisted through obtaining refunds in relation to fraudulent or unauthorized charges, canceling fraudulent accounts, correcting false information in consumer reports caused by identity theft or identity fraud, correcting false information in personnel files and court records, obtaining security freezes, and more.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously 40-0.
Student Physical Privacy Act
, The Student Physical Privacy Act, has been introduced, but has not yet had a hearing. I am hoping, with enough emails and phone calls to Senate President Wagle, that it will receive a hearing.
First, I think it is important to understand the terms associated with the now popular issue of transgender rights. The term transgender refers to a person whose expression, behavior or sense of their gender does not conform to what is usually associated with their biological gender. This is different from a person who is considered "transsexual". A transsexual person is someone who thru the use of hormones and surgical procedures, can become recognized as a member of the sex opposite that of their sex at birth.
I asked that the bill be introduced, because several parents and students are terrified about a specific situation, where public school administrators have made clear that a biological male, past puberty, is allowed to roam freely around the biological females' shower area with see-through curtains, because he identifies as female. When the girls expressed fear to a particular administrator, they were told they could leave the showers. I have to ask, whose privacy rights are being trampled here? Clearly, this is a public safety and security issue.
Parents have a right to be concerned. Yet there are some in our society who are so caustic and incendiary without bothering to get the facts first, that these parents are afraid to say anything publicly, or speak to the administrators for fear of retribution to their children. That's a shame and it cries out for justice.
Some feel that it should be left to school administrators to handle these types of situations, but a combination of public safety and privacy rights call out for protections in this case, particularly given it involves our publicly-funded institutions. No one should ever feel like they are in danger, and sometimes our school administrators don't handle these situations properly. The truth is, we can do both -- we provide accommodations for transgendered students, while still ensuring the safety of all students. I hope we can move this bill forward during veto session.
The Senate has passed over 100 bills this year; some are in consideration by the House, some have been signed by the governor or are on his desk awaiting his signature. If you have a concern or question about any bill, please let me know.
As the session winds down, campaign season heats up. I am running for re-election so I can keep fighting for conservative principles in Topeka and ensure the good work we have done does not get undone. In the coming months, I'll be coming by your door and I look forward to hearing your views.
In honor of your liberty,