Monthly Archives: February 2005

USED CAR SALES TAX REPEAL PASSES HOUSE
During the 2004 session, a law that changed the way in which sales tax is figured on used automobiles purchased from individuals was approved.  Many were concerned that some Kansans were intentionally under-reporting the value of used cars in order to avoid paying their fair share of our state’s sales tax.  A bill to repeal this law has cleared two major legislative hurdles.
Under the law passed last session, which went into effect on July 1st, sales tax for a vehicle purchased from someone who is not a licensed auto dealer is determined by the higher value between the stated selling price, or the property tax value of the vehicle, as classified by the state.
The change in the used car sales tax law has created more uproar than any other piece of legislation passed last session.  The law disregards good-faith price negotiations between buyer and seller based upon the actual condition of the vehicle.
The bill to repeal this change passed the Senate unanimously.  The House has now also passed the bill.  If the Senate accepts the House amendments, the bill will go to the Governor for her signature.  If the Senate rejects the House amendments, the bill will be discussed in a conference committee.
SCHOOL FINANCE UPDATE
At a statehouse conference, Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis presented the results of the cost study the Kansas Department of Education conducted on 55 school districts in Kansas.  The Kansas Supreme Court ruling on school finance ordered the legislature to develop cost analyses in their determination of funding for Kansas schools.  The information from this study was presented to the Senate Education Committee, but House Leadership had stated that they were not going to present these findings in House Committees.  This is why some House members invited Deputy Commissioner Dennis to present his findings at an informal meeting open to all legislators.
Steve Weathorford then gave a presentation on the importance of maintaining the state’s current credit rating.  Kansas is currently rated an AA+, the highest in its category.  Although Kansas has maintained its high rating throughout the budget crisis over the last several years, the credit reporting agencies have put Kansas on a negative watch list.  If the legislature were to do something to endanger this rating, it could mean that Kansas would have to pay more on future debts.  If the credit rating were to go down to an A, debts could cost the state 3% more than at the current rating. The rating reflects the quality of our financial management.
Senate Education Plan
The Senate Republican Leadership offered a new plan for increased funding for education this week.  The plan would provide a three-year increase in state aid for K-12 education of $125 million the first year, $146 million the second year, and $142 million the third year.  This plan increases weighting for at-risk and bilingual students.  It would provide an increase in funding for all school districts in the state.  It would also increase the local option budget cap from 25% to 30%, a burden on local property taxes.
The bill does not provide a clear source of revenue for funding.  In the first year, funding is proposed to come from existing revenue sources, most likely decreasing the State General Fund ending balance.  In following years, new sources of revenue would be needed. The plan also calls for the creation of a 2010 Commission, which would be charged with the task of continually reviewing the state’s educational needs.  The commission would be able to hold hearings and provide reports to the legislature regarding the future of education in Kansas.  The Senate plan also calls for an increased role for the Division of Legislative post Audit in monitoring school districts’ finances and providing recommendations for improving efficiency and cost savings.  The plan calls for Legislative Post Audit to work in conjunction with the 2010 Commission.
House Select Committee on School Finance
The Select Committee received a report from the Subcommittee formed to create a school finance oversight committee.  The Democrats on the Select Committee submitted a “Minority Report” objecting to creating the committee as an “investigative committee,” and to the partisan makeup of the committee.
The objection to creating an investigative committee as an oversight committee is that such a committee has subpoena powers and the power to go into executive (closed to the public) sessions and the power to keep testimony before the committee secret.  The Select Committee agreed to eliminate the section of the report that would create the proposed committee as an investigative committee.
The other objection was to the proposed membership of the committee.  There was objection to creating an oversight committee that is overly partisan.  The report also allowed the committee to be made up entirely of legislators and there is no provision for membership from educators, parents, or other members of the public directly involved in public schools.  Also, the report did not allow for appointments from the State Board of Education and the Governor.  This committee is to be the watchdog on school finance, monitoring and evaluating base state aid and weighting in the formula.  To create a committee that is likely to controlled by the Legislature and even more narrowly, by a segment of the Legislature, will cripple the committee and the Legislature is likely to end up back in court.
NEW GAMING PROPOSAL OFFERED
Casino gambling has returned to the legislative arena.  Introduced in the Senate, a new bill would allow three state-owned casino resorts and video lottery at five racetracks and several veterans’ organizations.
Proponents of the bill say that it could raise up to $150 million in revenue for the state, which could be used to solve the current education crisis.  Under the proposal, the casinos would be owned by the state, as required by the state’s constitution.  There could be one casino in Wyandotte County, one in Sedgwick County and one in either Crawford or Cherokee County.
This bill is supported by several pro-gaming groups, including the Kansas Greyhound Association, the Kansas Thoroughbred Association, Kansas Quarter House Association, resort developers and race-track owners.  The passage of this bill will compete with the approval of the $50 million gaming compact that was negotiated between Governor Kathleen Sebelius and the Kickapoo and Sac and Fox tribes.
MILITARY BILL OF RIGHTS UNVEILED
The past several years have shown us how important our support of a strong military is to our state and nation.  As promised in her State of the State address, Governor Sebelius unveiled a Military Bill of Rights that is designed to ease the financial burden of service for our men and women in uniform and their families.
The Military Bill of Rights contains the following provisions:
If a state employee is called to duty and his or her military pay is lower than her state pay, the state will pay the difference.
All state employees activated for longer than 180 days will receive a $1,000 activation payment, retroactive since September 11, 2001.
A bill in the legislature would grant full tuition to Kansas universities, colleges, or vocational technical colleges for dependents of Kansans killed in the line of duty.
All state agencies will review their policies and procedures to determine any assistance that can be given to the military and their families.
Kansas will ensure full compliance with the federal law requiring tax returns filing dates and other required payments for military personnel who are deployed.
Members of the Kansas National Guard will receive hunting and fishing licenses and admissions to state parks for no charge.
The Military Bill of Rights was created because it shows Kansas’s strong support of our men and women serving in the military.  This will help foster Kansas’s image as a military friendly state, which will assist Kansas during the Base Realignment and Closure process currently occurring at the federal level.  Kansas’s military bases are vital to the economy and must be protected.
ATTORNEY GENERAL, MEMBERS OF LEGISLATURE ANNOUNCE PLAN TO PROTECT VULNERABLE KANSANS
The Disability Rights Center and a group of legislators held a press conference this week calling for changes to protect vulnerable Kansans from abuse, such as the abuse that occurred in Newton, KS at the Kaufman House.
The Kaufman House case has brought the wrong kind of national attention to Kansas.  Kansas policy makers need to learn from this case and change Kansas law to eliminate conflicts of interests of Guardianship/Conservatorship and better defend persons with disabilities from abuse, neglect and exploitation.  Two Newton residents have been arrested and indicted by a federal grand jury with 34 counts of criminal charges, from compelling mentally ill residents of Kaufman House to perform sexually explicit acts to defrauding taxpayers by billing Medicare for therapy sessions never provided.  These 34 counts carry a cumulative charge of 325 years in prison and $8.5 million in damages.  Given the severity of these charges, hopefully justice will prevail in this case.
In addition to this report of sexual abuse, Mr. Kaufman was also a service provider (therapist) for this woman with mental illness, he was her landlord for housing and had other financial conflicts of interest.  Mr. Kaufman was the:  1) Guardian/Conservator, 2) therapist, 3) landlord and 4) alleged sexual abuser of the woman for whom he was appointed to protect.  These are clear conflicts of interests, but these conflicts are allowed under state law.
Prevent Conflict of Interest with Guardians/Conservators – legislation needs to be made that would prevent Guardians/Conservators from having conflicts of interests with persons with disabilities for whom they are Guardian/Conservator, to prevent conflicts like the Kaufman case from ever happening again.
The Conflict of Interest standards of the National Guardianship Association will be used as the starting point. The NGA states that Guardians/Conservators should avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest and should provide no direct service to the ward, so there is no financial, agency or personal conflict of interest.
Increase Accountability with Small, Unlicensed Group Homes – Require accountability of currently unlicensed group homes (like the Kaufman’s group home) that serve persons with disabilities.
Protection and Advocacy for Kansans with Disabilities – To better protect the rights of persons with disabilities, Kansas should follow the lead of roughly half of the states that provide state support of the protection and advocacy system.  They must include funding abuse, neglect and exploitation investigation and prosecution that is independent of the agency providing disability services.  The funds would provide a collaborative abuse, neglect and exploitation unit as a partnership between the Kansas Attorney General’s office and the Disability Rights Center of Kansas.  Depending on the results of an investigation, funds would then be available to pursue either criminal remedies (through the Attorney General) or civil remedies (through DRC) to address the abuse, neglect, exploitation and rights issues.  Revenues could be obtained through currently unallocated excess court docket fees, which will have no negative effect on the Courts.
BILL LIMITING JUNK FOOD IN SCHOOLS HEARD IN HOUSE COMMITTEE
The House Health and Human Services committee heard testimony this week regarding a bill that would require vending machines in schools to offer nutritional choices for students.  The bill would also prohibit teachers from handing out candy as a reward or incentive to students. Both opponents and proponents testified before the committee.  Proponents cited the growing number of obese and overweight children in schools as a reason to take action.  Opponents cited the need for education and the importance of vendor contracts as a source of revenue for schools. Some also believe that prohibiting a teacher from using candy is an excessive use of state power.
IN COMMITTEES…
House Transportation —HB 2117—requires drivers to use headlights on their car while operating windshield wipers that are in use as a result of smoke, fog, rain, sleet, or snow.
House Taxation—HB 2023—changes the classification of cities for sales tax purposes.
House Judiciary—HB 2114—“dram shop” bill, would hold business owners responsible for accidents caused by people drinking at their establishments.
House Corrections and Juvenile Justice—HB 2061—fixes the state’s death penalty statute.
HB 2076—establishes “Miki’s Law,” which creates a registry of people who have committed felonies using a deadly weapon.
House Health and Human Services—HB2284—makes breast-feeding in public legal.
Senate Federal and State Affairs-SB 77—makes racial profiling by law enforcement officials a crime.

Paid for by Tom Holland for Kansas Senate
Kris Marsh, Treasurer