TURNAROUND MARKS MID-SESSION
This Saturday is the legislature’s annual “turnaround”, the deadline for most bills to clear their house of origin. Although it was relatively quiet early in the week, legislators debated more than 50 bills Wednesday and Thursday.
The Senate will be off this coming Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, we’ll begin debating bills sent over from the House of Representatives. Conference committees will also begin meeting on bills that have been approved by both chambers.
All House and Senate sessions are open to the public. And live broadcasts of Senate and House proceedings can be found at www.kslegislature.org. To hear legislative proceedings, just click on the “Listen in Live” link.
I am honored to serve as your Senator. My office is located in room 124-E. Please feel free to visit or contact me at 785-296-7387 if you should have any questions.
FORFEITURE LAWS EXPANDED
On a voice vote, the Kansas Senate approved a bill allowing police to seize and sell vehicles used to flee or elude a police officer.
During floor debate, two amendments were proposed. The first would have required that a vehicle be driven at least ½ mile after an officer indicated to pull over to be eligible for seizure. The second would have required any money garnered from the sale of forfeited vehicles be dedicated to the Crime Victims Fund. Both amendments failed on a voice vote.
Having passed the Senate, the bill will now be sent to the House for further debate.
SENATE VOTES ON IN-STORE LIQUOR SAMPLINGS
The Senate on Wednesday approved a bill allowing liquor stores to offer samples of certain products to customers before purchase. Currently, state law prohibits the consumption of alcoholic beverages inside stores. As a result, proprietors hold tasting events nearby, but not inside their establishments.
Once signed into law, customers will be allowed to sample one individual portion, limited to one-half ounce for distilled spirits, one ounce for wine, and two ounces for beer or malt beverage.
KS DEMS TAX PLAN FAILS ON PARTY LINE VOTE
During debate in the House of Representatives this Tuesday, an amendment was offered to provide $45 million in property tax relief to Kansas communities in the next fiscal year.
Initially a part of Democrats’ Kansas First proposal, the amendment would apply $45 million of the state’s $351+ million surplus in the next fiscal year to the Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction Fund (LAVTRF). In the past, the Legislature has transferred money into this account for the purposes of distribution to each of the state’s 105 counties. Local units of government are then required to use the funding for reductions in the local property tax rate. No such transfer has been made since 2004.
I have been a staunch supporter of this plan since it was introduced in January. A 2011 study by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation concluded that Kansas ranks 21st in favorability for individual income tax rates, 32nd for sales tax rates, and 41st for property tax rates. Additionally, the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Research has confirmed that property tax rates have increased over 65 percent over the last decade.
Incomes have remained stagnant or declined over the last decade, while property taxes have skyrocketed. Middle class families and seniors on fixed will benefit much more from a property tax cut than an income tax cut. If we want to restore the American Dream, we must ease the burden on local homeowners.
The Ward Amendment failed 41-76 on a party line vote.
OUTCRY FROM DISABILITY COMMUNITY OVER KANCARE
One of the legislature’s most heated debates this session continues to revolve around a controversial plan to privatize the state’s Medicaid system. The proposal, introduced by Governor Sam Brownback in November, would create a new administrating system called “KanCare.”
Changing over to a privately-operated managed care system for Medicaid would be the largest transaction in state history. And it would affect the way 350,000 Kansans receive needed medical care.
This week alone, I’ve received dozens of e-mails and phone calls from the disability community, which is concerned how a privatized care system would affect thousands of developmentally disabled recipients. In general, these organizations are worried that the long-term needs or their clients can’t be appropriately met by a private program. They also believe the new system won’t address the nearly 5,000 developmentally disabled Kansans still waiting to receive in-home care.
Every year, Medicaid costs continue to grow approximately 7.5 percent. We all agree that we need to do something. But the process must proceed slowly and thoughtfully.
The legislature needs ample time to find a solution that will result in cost savings while also protecting the livelihood of our elderly and disabled neighbors.
HOUSE PASSES NEW STUDENT RESTRAINT REGULATIONS
Following a lengthy debate Tuesday afternoon, the House of Representative approved House Bill 2444, addressing the seclusion and restraint of children in schools.
This topic has been the subject of debate for several years. It provides strict limitations on the use of physical restraint of students, the use of seclusion rooms for those students, the design of seclusion rooms, and reporting to parents on the use of seclusion and/or restraint.
Further, the bill prohibits teachers from restraining or placing a student in seclusion unless that teacher has completed a training session designed by the State Department of Education.
BILL CHANGES SYSTEM FOR SELECTING ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGES
On Monday, a bill was introduced before the Kansas Senate that would change the way administrative law judges are chosen. Currently, the judges who handle workers compensation cases are selected by a nominating committee made up of 50% business advocates and 50% labor advocates.
If the new bill (HB2531) is enacted, two nominating committee members would represent workers while five members would represent the business community.
Last year the Kansas Legislature made substantial changes to workers compensation laws for the first time in more than two decades. This bill would undue all of that work, and set up a compensation system that rewards big businesses over our state’s injured workers.
This bill does not recognize the dignity and worth of those workers who’ve been injured due to no fault of their own. I will not support the measure.
BOAT TAX WILL BE ON NOVEMBER BALLOT
Kansans will have an opportunity to vote on a Constitutional amendment in November, authorizing a change to the way watercraft are taxed in Kansas.
All watercraft, both motorized and human-powered, are currently taxed at 30% of fair market value. In contrast, recreational motor vehicles are taxed based on weight and age.
Because of this discrepancy, and the fact that most other states tax at a much lower level, many Kansans register and store their boats outside the state. A more reasonable tax would provide an incentive for boat owners to register and pay taxes in Kansas.
AMENDMENT ADDED TO SCHOOL FINANCE PROPOSAL
On Monday, a Republican State Senator offered an amendment to the governor’s proposed school finance plan, adding $41.8 million to at-risk funding. The new money would be distributed based on free lunch student counts in grades K-3 and reading and math proficiencies in grades 4-12.
While it’s imperative that our public schools receive the funding necessary to meet the needs of at-risk, bilingual and special needs students, I would oppose this approach. Because funding is based on student proficiency, schools would have their at-risk funding reduced as students become better at reading and math. It would be a disincentive for schools to improve and make it more difficult to sustain success.
The Senate Education Committee has yet to take action on the amendment.
TAX INCENTIVES TO HELP KANSANS OBTAIN TECH DEGREES
To help prepare the nearly 17,000 students enrolled in one of our state’s 13 technical education programs each year, Kansas legislators have introduced a bill that integrates on-the-job training into our long-term solution for economic development.
House Bill 2433 will target middle-class Kansans struggling to pay for needed job training by offering students enrolled in a post-secondary education course an individual income tax credit mirroring federal education tax credits. Students receiving one of two federal tuition tax credits would also receive a credit equal to ten percent of that amount on their Kansas income tax return.
Proponents of the bill include the Kansas Board of Regents, the Kansas Association of Technical Colleges, and the Kansas AFL-CIO.
If enacted, this bill would help ensure that Kansans are not turned away from a job simply because they can’t afford to attend a technical college. It’s an incentive that will pay dividends as more Kansans obtain the education and skills they need to find a high-wage job and more companies are lured to our state.
I will be attending the annual Washington Days Convention in Topeka this weekend. The convention will kick off Friday evening with a rally led by Wisconsin State Senator Chris Larson. Senator Larson was one of 14 state senators who fought Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union legislation.
A banquet will be held Saturday night with special guest speaker former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.