Monthly Archives: February 2004
LEGISLATIVE SESSION REACHES TURNAROUND
Saturday, February 28 is what is known in the legislature as “Turnaround Day.” It is the official half-way point of the Legislative session. This day marks the deadline for passing House bills out of the House of Representatives and Senate bills out of the Senate. The two chambers swap bills at this point. There are certain bills that are exempt from this deadline, such as budget and tax bills.
The second half of the session will begin next week. At that time the House will be primarily discussing bills relating to the state budget and bills that have been approved by the Senate. While the session is now at its midpoint, there is much work left to be done. The legislature is still grappling with serious issues, including school finance and health insurance, and there will be many difficult decisions to be made in the coming weeks.
CONCEALED-CARRY WEAPONS BILL MOVES TO FULL HOUSE
The House Federal and State Affairs Committee passed a bill this week to allow Kansans to carry concealed weapons. The bill will now go to the full House for debate. The bill allows Kansans to carry a concealed weapon after paying a $150 application fee and passing a background check by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Permit holders are also required to complete a firearms safety and training course. After the background check and training, the KBI would issue a permit. In the committee testimony, many rape victims testified in support of this bill. These women currently carry concealed guns illegally to protect themselves.
BILL TO ACCELERATE APPEAL ON SCHOOL FINANCE RULING PASSES BOTH HOUSES
The House passed a bill this week allowing the December 2003 school finance ruling by a district court to be appealed without a final ruling. This bill, Senate Bill 324, passed unanimously in the Senate earlier this month. On December 2, 2003, Shawnee County District Court Judge Terry Bullock ruled that the State of Kansas’ current school finance formula is unconstitutional. His ruling stated that money is unfairly distributed among Kansas school districts, putting poor and minority students at a disadvantage. Judge Bullock delayed his final decision until July 1, 2004, calling on the Governor and the legislature to fix the school finance formula during the upcoming session.
Because the final decision has not yet been made, Judge Bullock’s decision cannot be appealed until after this legislative session. This bill would allow an appeal to the State Supreme Court when a district court issues a preliminary order on whether a law violates the Kansas Constitution’s Education Article. The provisions of the bill would expire in July 2006.
Several legislators have stressed that this bill should not serve as an excuse to fail to correct current problems in the public education funding system. This bill will now move on to Governor Sebelius for her signature. She has said that she will sign this bill.
EDUCATION PLAN TO BE HEARD ON HOUSE FLOOR
The House Education Committee passed House Bill 2807, which proposes a new school finance formula. This bill locks into place the current system for distributing funds for education at the existing spending levels, including local option budgets, and eliminates at-risk weighting, and low-enrollment weighting.
The bill will then allow local communities the ability to choose a spending level locally and spend to that level, given appropriate support from taxpayers. This bill provides little state control on statewide educational spending and each district will set the level of funding for their district. Opponents of this bill are concerned that it will further increase disparities between wealthy and poor school districts. It provides no restrictions on money raised locally through property taxes.
This bill is expected to be debated the week of March 9.
GOVERNOR’S EDUCATION FIRST PLAN FAILS IN SENATE
Governor Sebelius’s Education First plan for school finance was rejected 25-14 in the Senate this week. This education spending plan resolved issues raised in last year’s ruling by a district court that education spending in Kansas was inadequate and unfair to Kansas students, especially disadvantaged students.
The Governor’s plan would have raised taxes in order to increase education spending by $300 million over the next three years. Additional resources would have been targeted to early education programs, including all-day kindergarten, at-risk and bilingual students, as well as helping to increase teacher salaries and provide mentoring for new teachers.
KANSAS BIOSCIENCE AUTHORITY ACT PASSES HOUSE
The House of Representatives passed the Kansas Bioscience Authority Act this week which aims at creating 40,000 new jobs in the state by 2015 through the growth of a bioscience industry in Kansas. While producing new medical, agricultural, pharmaceutical, and other products, bioscience investment also creates jobs for chemists, physicists, and business leaders.
This bill will facilitate public and private investment in companies who start bioscience enterprises in the state. Bioscience is an emerging industry across the nation and proponents hope that this bill will help put Kansas on the forefront of this industry.
An amendment to require 75% of construction jobs that arise from this bill to go to Kansas residents failed on the floor of the house on Wednesday. Proponents of this amendment hoped it would provide quality, good-paying jobs for Kansas contractors and workers. Opponents were concerned that Kansas contractors and workers would not have the necessary expertise to complete jobs.
The bill will now move on to the Senate for approval.
ANIMAL IDENTIFICATION BILL PASSES HOUSE
A bill requiring livestock to be part of a statewide identification plan passed in the House of Representatives this week. The bill allows the Kansas Livestock Commissioner to create an animal identification program to become effective when the federal government requires animal identification. The President has urged Congress to pass legislation requiring animal identification. This law would give the Livestock Commissioner the authority to implement such a program.
Animal identification aids in the tracking of specific animals should there be any incidences of disease, such as BSE, also known as mad cow disease. Opponents are concerned that an animal identification program would be quite costly and is an overreaching extension of government power.
TIME LINE FOR REPORTING OPEN MEETINGS VIOLATION EXPANDS
A bill to increase the time one has to report a violation to the open meetings laws was passed by the House of Representatives this week. Current law only allows 10 days to report a violation. The original bill extended the time period to 180 days. Before being passed in committee, the time period was shortened to 21 days. The bill was successfully amended on the House floor to 60 days.
This bill is in response to the Wichita City Council’s actions regarding the contract of the former city manager. The council adjourned their scheduled meeting, but continued conversations and came to an agreement in the lobby. People were unaware of the discussion until after the 10 day period to report the violation.
BILL ALLOWING CAMPAIGN FUND TRANSFERS GOES TO THE HOUSE
A bill was passed in the Senate this week allowing candidates for state office to transfer campaign funds when running for another office. The bill will now move to the House for approval.
This has been a common practice in Kansas, but was called into question last year when former State Representative Carlos Mayans transferred campaign funds from his House account into an account for his bid for mayor of the City of Wichita. A Kansas Supreme Court decision found this to be unlawful because it is not specifically addressed in Kansas’ campaign finance laws.
Most were surprised by the court’s decision, as the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission and the district court had both approved the transfer of funds. The bill is expected to be worked in the House soon.
BILL TO INCREASE SPEED LIMIT PASSES SENATE
A bill was passed in the Senate this week that would increase speed limits on four lane highways in rural areas from 70 miles per hour to 75 miles per hour. This bill would affect speed limits on Interstates 35 and 70.
Economic development has been cited as a reason for such a change. Currently, many travelers bypass Kansas’s I-70 for Nebraska’s I-80, which currently has a 75 miles per hour speed limit in rural areas. This has allowed many businesses to spring up along I-80, including shopping, restaurants, and service stations. Many believe that this law would bring similar development along Kansas highways. However, some believe traffic is shifting away from I-70 because of the extremely rough condition of I-70 in Missouri.
STATE QUARTER DESIGN NEARING COMPLETION
Last week the United States Mint released four coin designs for the Kansas State Quarter that will be released in 2005. A bill passed last session set up the procedure for choosing the State Quarter. Last year, designs were received from people all over the state. These designs were narrowed down and five were passed on to the mint for drafting.
Four designs were returned from the mint last week. One design, a painting by Kansan John Steuart Curry, was not accepted by the mint due to copyright issues. The four designs all depict important pieces of Kansas heritage, including sunflowers, buffaloes, and wheat. Three of the four designs include an outline of the state. The final design will be chosen by Kansas High School students on an online vote. The new state quarter will go into circulation by August of next year.
CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT WOULD REDEFINE MARRIAGE
The House Federal and State Affairs Committee passed a concurrent resolution this week seeking an amendment to the Kansas Constitution. This amendment would redefine marriage to only include one man and one woman as well as deny any relationship other than a marriage to be entitled to the benefits of marriage.
There is currently a Kansas statute that defines a marriage as a civil contract being two individuals of the opposite sex, yet several courts in other states have ruled similar laws unconstitutional. Proponents believe that a constitutional amendment would prevent that from happening in Kansas. Opponents have stated that amending the constitution is a serious action that should not be undertaken without a clear need.
The resolution must be passed by a two thirds majority in the House of Representatives and a two thirds majority in the Senate. If it passes both houses, it would be placed on the ballot for Kansas voters decide. The measure would have to be passed by a simple majority of Kansas voters in order to be added to the constitution.
BILL TO INCREASE SPEED LIMIT UP FOR DISCUSSION
A bill in the Senate would increase speed limits on four lane highways in rural areas from 70 miles per hour to 75 miles per hour. This bill would affect speed limits on Interstates 35 and 70. Economic development has been cited as a reason for such a change. Currently, many travelers bypass Kansas’s I-70 for Nebraska’s I-80, which currently has a 75 miles per hour speed limit in rural areas. This has allowed many businesses to spring up along I-80, including shopping, restaurants, and service stations. Many believe that this law would bring similar development along Kansas highways.
Research shows that such an increase would be unlikely to cause an increase in crashes on Kansas Highways. Generally, crashes are the result of changing speeds, not the speed limit. Additionally, Kansas experienced no statistically significant increase in crashes on interstates when the speed limit was changed from 65 miles per hour to 70 miles per hour, according to the Department of Transportation.
HIGHWAY PLAN COULD BE IN JEOPARDY
Governor Sebelius presented a plan in January that would ensure that all projects contained in the 1999 Comprehensive Transportation Plan would be completed. That plan included a restructuring of the Transportation Plan’s debt with the issuance of State General Fund bonds and the reinstatement of a sales tax transfer in fiscal year 2007. This sales tax transfer has not been made for the past two years.
Since the Governor’s proposal, several plans have been introduced as a solution to this problem. The Governor and Secretary of Transportation Deb Miller warned this week that only the Governor’s original plan provided enough construction funding to prevent projects from being cut.
One plan would remove the bonding from the plan, which could cause up to $550 million of projects to be cut. Another plan would remove both the bonding and the sales tax transfer, which could require $750 million in construction cuts. A third plan would increase the sales tax transfer over the next several years and could require up to $360 million on cuts. Additionally, such a plan puts the state general fund at risk by providing a sales tax transfer before that is feasible.
Most agree that projects promised in the 1999 plan should be completed on time, as promised. The Secretary has already redesigned and scaled back many projects to reduce the cost of the program.
LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE PRISON SENTENCE PASSES TO SENATE
A Senate Committee passed a bill this week that would make a life sentence with no possibility of parole an option in capital cases. Currently, state law provides for a “hard 50″ sentence where someone would still have the option of parole in 50 years. The life sentence with no possibility of parole would replace the “hard fifty.” Currently, studies show that juries may be more likely to recommend death sentences because of fears that a person found guilty of a capital case may be released from prison. This bill would take away that fear.
Another argument for this law is that it would decrease the expense associated with capital cases. Costs in death penalty cases are traditionally higher than cases that do not involve capital punishment. In these cases, the state generally picks up about 85% of the costs, at an average cost of $1.2 million per death penalty case.
PROGRESSIVE AGRI-TOURISM BILL OFFERED
Progressive legislation was introduced this week which is intended to promote rural tourism and rural economic development in Kansas. HB 2844, represents a two-prong approach to boosting agri-tourism in rural Kansas. The bill copies provisions of the automobile reparations act, providing meaningful liability protection for agri-tourism operators–especially from frivolous claims. According to the proposal, an injured consumer may bring an action against an agri-tourism operator only if the operator failed to exercise reasonable care and the consumer requires medical treatment costing $2,000 or more.
The second part of the bill provides a tax credit for start up agri-tourism businesses to help them afford liability insurance. Rural Entrepreneurs can claim a 25% tax credit for the cost of their liability insurance in the first two years of business. In years three through five, the available credit will be 15%, up to a maximum of $2,000. If the business is not profitable in the startup phase, the credit can be carried forward for three years.
Supporters of the bill point out that this law is not ground breaking. The courts already have a history of cases in interpreting and applying this type of liability protection.
BILL WOULD HELP BUSINESSES WITH WORKERS COMPENSATION RATES
Legislation introduced this week in the Kansas House of Representatives would reduce the rate of workers compensation premiums for employers who participate in a workplace safety consultation. The bill, HB 2816, would allow employers to request a workplace safety consultation. Upon completion of that review and with the recommendations of the report, the employer would receive a discount on workers compensation insurance premiums.
“This proposal is a win-win proposition,” explained Rep. Jim Ward, who introduced the bill. “The bill will promote both safer workplaces and reduce workers compensation insurance premium costs for businesses.”
FRAIL ELDERLY WAIVER HELPS PEOPLE MAINTAIN INDEPENDENCE
Home and Community Based Services are available to individuals who may not be able to remain in their home without extra help. The frail elderly waiver provides those services to low income seniors ages 65 and older. This waiver provides funds to pay for services that keep elderly people independent. By providing certain services, people can stay in their own homes instead of moving to a nursing home.
In addition to the personal benefits the frail elderly waiver provides, home care is significantly less expensive than nursing home care. The average annual cost of providing home care is $11,424 per person. The average annual cost of nursing home care is $30,412. Cost savings associated with home-based care become especially important when considering the increasing number of elderly Kansans. The percent of Kansans age 65 and older is higher than the national average. The 65+ population is also expected to increase from 356,229 in 2000 to 600,000 by 2025. Additionally, the 85+ population is expected to increase from 51,770 in 200 to 72,590 by 2025.
The frail and elderly waiver is important as it assists the elderly in maintaining their independence and remaining in their homes and communities.
GOVERNOR’S GAMING BILL IN SENATE COMMITTEE
The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee is currently holding hearings on the Governor’s Expanded Gaming Opportunity Act. They are currently hearing from proponents and opponents of the bill. The opponents have included religious groups, convenience store owners, and bowling alley owners. This plan will call for a board that will review proposals for state-owned casinos. State-owned casinos, though owned by the state, would be managed by outside parties, such as developers and tribal groups. The Kickapoo and Sac and Fox tribes have already made a proposal for a resort casino in Wyandotte County near the Kansas Speedway. In their initial proposal, the tribes asked for exclusive rights to a casino in the state. The governor has reiterated that she does not want to provide any one group with exclusive rights. The Governor and her staff continue to negotiate with the Kickapoo and Sac and Fox tribes. The Woodlands Racetrack has also expressed interest in building a resort casino at their racetrack.
In addition to a Wyandotte County destination casino, there are also proposals to allow video lottery machines at race tracks, and fraternal and veterans’ halls. These video lottery machines would operate much like slot machines, but would be connected to the Kansas Lottery computer system.
GOVERNOR’S EDUCATION FIRST PLAN IN SENATE COMMITTEE
The Governor’s plan to increase base aid to public schools has been passed out of the Senate Education Committee this week and is ready to move on to the full Senate for debate. The Senate Tax Committee had previously removed a section of the Governor’s plan that would have increased the mill levy by one mill in 2006 and one mill in 2008. With that provision removed, the committee passed the bill to the Education Committee. The Education Committee has reinstated that provision. The provision will be included in the bill when it goes to the Senate floor.
IN COMMITTEES THIS WEEK…
Commerce and Labor- The committee is continuing to hold hearings on Senate Bill 181, which would change certain provisions in workers compensation law. This includes changing the burden of proof of a preexisting injury to the employee, where in the past it had been on the employer. It also denies workers compensation benefits to injured workers who have been laid off for reasons other than their injury.
Taxation- The committee is continuing hearings on the streamlined sales tax legislation passed last year. There are several proposals to either repeal or delay the implementation of this law. Federal and State Affairs- The committee will be holding hearings on licensed concealed carry of firearms legislation.
Economic Development- The committee is holding hearings on the bioscience authority and development act to develop a bioscience industry in Kansas.
Local Government- The committee is hearing a bill that will extend the time to pursue penalties on an open meetings violation to 180 days.
TASK FORCE ON MILITARY BASE CLOSURES FORMED
The Department of Defense is planning a 25 percent reduction of the military in 2005 and Kansas has four military bases, all on the list being considered for closure: Fort Riley near Junction City, McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Fort Leavenworth and the 190th Air Refueling Wing at Forbes Field in Topeka.
The Base Realignment and Closure Commission will identify those bases, throughout the United States, which are no longer necessary and make recommendations to the Department of Defense for closure, by May of 2005.
Military bases in Kansas contribute more than $2 Billion a year to the Kansas economy. In an effort to protect the interests of Kansas the Governor has appointed a 24 member Strategic Military Planning Commission. The Commission will coordinate all activities as they relate to the relocating of military operations to Kansas, and or efforts to minimize the effects from any downsizing to the military installations in Kansas.
Commission members include members of Congress, state lawmakers, and military and business leaders from those areas of the state most effected by the closures.
BAN ON PYROTECHNICS PASSES HOUSE
Senate Bill 254 passed the house of Representatives this week prohibiting pyrotechnics, indoor fireworks, unless certain provisions are met. This bill was introduced in response to nightclub fires last year in Rhode Island and Chicago in hopes that similar fires could be prevented in Kansas.
This bill will prohibit pyrotechnics in public venues with a capacity of over 50 people unless the building was equipped with a sprinkler system, built with fire resistant materials, or otherwise exempted by the State Fire Marshall. Certain candles would also be exempted. Further provisions of the bill add pyrotechnics to the list of nuisance statutes. Bars and clubs serving liquor would also risk having their liquor license revoked by the Alcoholic Beverage Control for any violation of this law.
BILL WOULD LICENSE PRIVATE POSTSECONDARY SCHOOLS
House Bill 2493, known as the “Kansas Private and Foreign Postsecondary Institutions Act,” would require private and foreign postsecondary schools to register with the Kansas Board of Regents. Private institutions are those that maintain a physical presence in the state, yet are not a part of the public university system. Foreign postsecondary schools are schools that do not maintain a physical presence in the state, yet still provide instruction in the state, such as the University of Phoenix and other online schools. Current private schools operating in the state would not have to pay licensing fees, but all future schools would be required to file with the Board of Regents.
Schools meeting requirements under this bill would have to file for a certificate of approval from the Kansas Board of Regents. There are also fees established for the certificate of approval. Maximum amounts for these fees are established in the bill. Fees are based on whether a school is a private or foreign institution. The Board of Regents would be authorized, but not required, to set up additional rules and regulations to implement this act.
BILL INTRODUCED TO RAISE STATE MINIMUM WAGE
A bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives to raise the current state minimum wage. While the federal minimum wage is $5.15 per house, the state rate is $2.65 per hour and has not been raised since 1988. Most businesses in Kansas fall under federal minimum wage guidelines. The state minimum wage only applies to small businesses. Most workers in the state make more than the federal minimum wage, but approximately 24,000 Kansans earn less than the federal minimum wage.
This bill would raise that state minimum wage to $7.50 over the next three years. Proponents of this bill state that a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage makes Kansas a more attractive place to live for workers. Opponents argue that wages should be determined by the marketplace rather than the government.
GENETICALLY MODIFIED WHEAT UP FOR REVIEW
A bill is being introduced in the house that would regulate the development of genetically modified wheat. Currently, genetically modified wheat is not regulated in the State of Kansas. This bill requires someone who would like to introduce genetically modified wheat to Kansas to apply for a certificate from the Secretary of Agriculture. After the application for the certificate is received, the Secretary is required to hold public hearings and have a 90 day public comment period before the certificate can be approved and genetically modified wheat varieties can be introduced to the state.
CELL PHONE FEE FOR EMERGENCY SERVICE
The House passed a bill this week that will add fees to cell phone users’ bills to purchase technology for E911 services. E911 allows emergency dispatchers to physically locate a cell phone user after they make a 911 call.
E911 service is already available to land-line phone customers, but nearly half of all calls coming into emergency dispatch centers are from cellular phones. Technology to provide E911 service would be purchased from revenue collected by adding a 50 to 75 cent fee to cell phone users monthly bills. Land-line customers already pay similar fees. Because the House Utilities Committee amended the bill that passed the Senate, this bill will now move on to a conference committee made up of members from both houses.
CHILD SAFETY SEATS BEING CONSIDERED
A bill in the Senate Transportation Committee would require children ages 4-7 to sit in a booster seat while passengers in cars. Child booster seats are proven to increase safety by raising children up to a height where a seatbelt fits properly. The Kansas Highway Patrol has been urging this legislation for the last five years, but it has yet to be passed into law.
Many legislators say that the public does not want this kind of legislation because they do not want any further government mandates. Currently, front seat riders are required to wear safety belts and children younger than four must ride in a car seat. Children ages 4-13 are required to wear safety belts in the back seat. This bill would also increase that age range to 4-17.
WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM RECEIVED FUNDING
After lengthy discussions between the Kansas Department of Human Resources and the United States Department of Labor, Kansas officials have received approval to use federal funds for workforce development. The Kansas Workforce Development Loan Program was first introduced in the legislature during 2001. The program was finally approved during the 2002 session, but has been unfunded since that time.
The Workforce Development Loan Program helps Kansas student pursue a technical education and also help to retain the well-trained workers who are being educated in Kansas schools. This program provides an incentive for students to remain in Kansas after graduation.” The Department of Human Resources identified $100,000 in federal funds sent to Kansas by the Federal Department of Labor as part of the Workforce Investment Act. Following a series of discussions between Federal and State officials, the state’s request to allocate those unspent funds to the Workforce Development Loan Program was approved.
This first $100,000 serves as a pilot project that will allow for growth in the program, eventually granting Kansas access to additional federal funds. The federal government praised Kansas for this innovative approach.
The Workforce Development Loan Program will provide forgivable loans for those pursuing a technical field through one of the state’s community colleges or vocational schools. Upon graduation, twenty-five percent of the loan will be forgiven for each year that the student remains in Kansas, working in the field for which he or she was trained. After the fourth year, the loan would be completely forgiven.
BILL TO BE INTRODUCED TO “HELP AMERICA VOTE”
Last session Governor Sebelius vetoed a bill that would put Kansas in compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act, which was passed in response to problems in Florida after the 2000 presidential election. Kansas must become compliant by the end of this year, or forgo $25 million in federal funding.
The governor vetoed the bill last session because she believed that the bill was more restrictive than required by the federal law, including a provision requiring voters to provide identification to vote. This year’s bill offers a compromise on the identification issue. In this bill, only first time voters would be required to provide identification. Those registering by mail and applying to advance vote by mail could provide a drivers’ license number or the last four digits of their social security number.
There are also concerns about a provision in the bill that would require touch screen voting machines at all Kansas polling locations. This would allow disabled people to cast their vote independently and secretly, which is required by the federal law. Opponents are still leery of paperless voting systems and have concerns regarding security.
This bill is expected to be introduced next week.
SENATE COMMITTEE HEARS GOVERNOR’S GAMING PLAN
The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee began hearings this week on the Governor’s plan for state-controlled gaming in Kansas. The Expanded Gaming Opportunity Act will allow for up to five world-class destination casinos across the state. Additionally, the Expanded Gaming Opportunity Act would authorize the Kansas Lottery to place up to 2,500 Video Lottery Terminals at the five Kansas pari-mutuel tracks. The Kansas Lottery would also be authorized to place a limited number of Video Lottery Terminals at veterans and fraternal organizations.
Senators in the committee voiced concerns about the composition of the commission created by the bill to authorize gaming. Governor’s staff members said that changes could be made to parts of the bill. This bill is estimated to take in $60 million per year from slot machines at parimutual tracks and $30 from a large casino. The commission will continue hearings next week.