Saturday is this year’s “turnaround” date in the 2006 legislative session. That is the deadline for most bills to clear their house of origin to stay alive in the current session. Certain measures, such as budget and tax bills, are exempt from the turnaround deadline, but lawmakers will be working furiously to push through other measures. Ordinarily we are able to finish on Friday so that we don’t have to work Saturday.
HOUSE SCHOOL FINANCE PLAN INTRODUCED
The House Select Committee on School finance introduced a bipartisan education plan on Thursday to address the school finance lawsuit and the Legislative Post Audit report on education that was presented the first week of session.
The new plan addresses the needs identified in the Legislative Post Audit report, but does so while at the same time granting flexibility in spending by individual districts. Some of the main points of the plan include:
•Approximately $500 million in additional school funding which will be phased in over three years, without a tax increase.
•Year one of the plan includes $175 million in additional monies and sets aside $500,000 for teachers who wish to become certified under English as a Second Language (ESL). These teachers transition teachers into English speaking classes as quickly as practical.
•The second and third years of the plan would distribute an additional $325 million and seeks to target poverty and at-risk students as identified by the LPA study. Accountability for how schools spend taxpayer dollars is a priority.
•School districts will be responsible for determining their own budgets based on a needs assessment and specifying priorities within that budget. Each district will be required to make specific reports on their budget to the Kansas Board of Education.
•Failure by any school district to meet average yearly progress in the first year will be examined by the Kansas Board of Education and the school will be required to reallocate it’s resources in the following year(s) to address problem areas. A failure to meet average yearly progress in subsequent years will be addressed with increasing intervention by state education officials.
•Base Aid Per Pupil will increase by $50.
•The bill does not change the formula for low-enrollment districts.
•This bill fully funds the Post Audit recommendations on the at-risk & urban poverty weightings by the end of the third year.
CLINIC REGULATION BILL PASSES HOUSE
Legislation passed the House this week that would increase regulations and inspections of medical clinics, including abortion clinics. The measure would apply to every clinic in the state that does office-based surgery or other medical procedures. The bill passed the House on final action by a vote of 63-62.
Increased scrutiny of office-based procedures is needed because many procedures once done in hospitals are now done in office settings. Last year, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed a bill that would have imposed additional regulations on abortion clinics. She said she would sign a measure that covered all surgeries performed under anesthesia in doctors’ offices and clinics.
BILL SNYDER HIGHWAY
A bill passed the House this week that names sections of two highways in Kansas as the Coach Bill Snyder Highway in recognition of the retired Kansas State University football coach’s contributions to the state. The bill sent to the Senate applies the new label to K-177 from Interstate 70 to US-24 highway and also to US-24 from Manhattan to the K-13 junction. Private donations would pay for road signs and maintenance.
HIGHER EDUCATION INFRASTRUCTURE
A debate in the Statehouse over how to pay for hundreds of millions of dollars of repairs at public colleges has revealed similar needs at the rest of the higher education institutions. The Kansas Board of Regents has been lobbying for adoption of an increase in the state sales and property taxes and a bond issue to take care of $584 million in repairs at Kansas University and the five other regents institutions.
In the meantime, proposals have surfaced that would include repairs needed at the 19 community colleges and 11 technical colleges throughout the state. One measure that was floated would have increased the statewide property tax to establish a revolving loan fund to pay for repairs at all higher education institutions. While applauded by the community colleges and technical colleges, the regents gave it a big thumbs down.
State universities already have the ability to borrow funds, regents president and chief executive Reginald Robinson said. “But the critical point is they do not have the funding necessary to repay those bonds or loan agreements as proposed in this bill,” Robinson said. The regents contend the backlog of maintenance has resulted from inadequate funding in past years from the Legislature. The regents’ plan is to increase the state sales tax by one-tenth of a cent, increase the property tax by one mil, and issue $150 million in bonds.
However, community colleges and technical colleges are not included in that plan. Robert Edleston, president of Manhattan Area Technical College, told lawmakers that his school is in desperate need of help to make necessary repairs. His students have renovated buildings, and corporations are donating materials, but more is needed, he said, as the demand for services increases. He said that the technical college plans to add almost a dozen new programs to meet community needs, but they have no room in our existing facilities.
He stressed that the non-regents schools shouldn’t be ignored; eighty percent of Kansas jobs require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree,” he said. The executive director of the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees, said the schools she represents have at least $55 million worth of repairs that need attention.
Buildings at regents universities are property of the state, while buildings at community colleges and technical colleges are property of local boards. Under state law, the regents have authority over the six public universities but are in charge of “coordination” of the community colleges and technical colleges.
In 1999, after numerous studies and failed attempts, lawmakers adopted higher education reforms, referred to in the Capitol as Senate Bill 345. The bill restructured higher education governance, changed the way universities were funded and promised increases for faculty salaries. The community colleges and technical schools were placed under the Kansas Board of Regents umbrella.
Budget problems have undermined some of the promised funding increases, but SB 345 helped unify governance of higher education. Reginald Robinson, president and chief executive officer of the regents, said efforts are starting to compose the next set of higher education reforms.
OFFICIALS STUDY WHETHER TAX CREDITS HELP ECONOMY
The state of Kansas provides businesses with millions of dollars of tax credits and exemptions each year, and the question is whether the tax breaks do what they are intended to do. Do they lead to more jobs and investments? Is the Kansas economy strengthened? Kansas Department of Revenue Secretary Joan Wagnon said state officials are starting to collect information that could lead to answers.
The Department has been analyzing two major tax breaks offered to businesses – the high performance incentive program, which is taken mostly by manufacturers, and the business and job development program, which is taken primarily by retail businesses. The high performance incentive program gives a tax credit to qualified companies that make cash investments in training and education of employees. The business and job development program allows tax credits for job creation.
Sixty-four businesses received $12 million in tax credits under the high performance program in the 2003 tax year, the latest for which statistics are provided. Businesses reported investing $190 million. Nearly 500 businesses received $6 million in job development tax credits, leading to nearly 14,000 jobs. The firms in the report are not revealed because of the confidentiality of tax information.
Arthur Hall, director of the Center for Applied Economics at Kansas University, will evaluate the two tax credits. Information required to be reported to the state from the firms doesn’t provide the detail needed to reach certain conclusions, Hall said. But, he said, he used what information was available to try to determine whether the tax credits were enough to alter a business’s decision to expand or increase. He concluded the high performance investment credit had the greatest potential of pushing a company toward making an investment decision. The job development credit, while helping businesses, was not producing the kinds of investment decisions that would benefit the general taxpayer, he said. “My numbers show that the business and jobs credit is a very small credit,” Hall said. “No one is saying, ‘I don’t want this money,’ but it’s not enough money to change the investment behavior,” he said.
The Department of Revenue will seek legislative approval to be able to obtain more data from companies that get the tax breaks.
TAX RETURN CHECK-OFF PROGRAMS
Senator Barbara Allen, herself a cancer survivor, introduced a bill that creates the Kansas Breast Cancer Research Fund through a new check-off on state individual income tax forms beginning in the 2006 tax year. While there is a cost to the state for modification of the tax forms, individual contributions to the fund wouldn’t diminish state tax revenue. It was passed unanimously by the Senate.
Allen is uncertain how much money the check-offs would generate, but existing Kansas check-offs that benefit non-game wildlife and the Meals on Wheels program for seniors have taken in $3.4 million since 1988. Generally, no more than 5% of taxpayers participate in check-off programs. They typically donate $10 each, Allen said. Forty-one states have tax check-off initiatives. They raise $27 million annually for 80 different causes. Eleven states have implemented specific check-offs associated with breast cancer, Allen said. The most frequently diagnosed cancer among women is breast cancer. It is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths among our state’s female residents. In the next year, at least 2,000 new cases will be documented in the state. The disease will take the life of another 400 Kansas women.
The tax return check-off would be a convenient way for Kansans to support research on the prevention, treatment and cure of breast cancer at the state’s only academic medical center. It also would nourish a broader goal of attaching a National Cancer Institute designation to the university’s cancer center. An NCI designation, held by such institutions as the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., is a “good housekeeping” seal indicating a facility maintains the highest standards in research and care.
And successful completion of the 10-year NCI designation process would bring to Kansas the kind of clinical trials that patients like Senator Allen have to travel to other places to obtain. People in this area of the country could be part of a medical crucible from which new approaches to therapy emerge and new hope is given to the sick. Women in Kansas should not have to travel to Texas or Minnesota or Boston to obtain the highest standard of care. Kansas women deserve to receive the best cancer care available right here in the Midwest, at home with their family and friends to support them.
A second check-off contained in SB 384 would set up the Kansas Military Emergency Relief Fund. This would allow Kansans to make gifts to an aid program — food, housing, utilities, medical services — for needy Kansas military personnel and their families.
MEDICARE PART D ASSISTANCE
Congressman Jerry Moran, R-Kan., unveiled a plan for helping Americans enrolling in Medicare’s new prescription drug plan. Moran, who represents the western part of the state in Congress, called it the Medicare ABC for D Act, which would bring “accountability, bargaining and compassion” to the Part D prescription coverage implemented last month. Seniors across the nation have had difficulty navigating coverage options, resulting in problems obtaining medicine. ”The program was intended to help seniors, but with the complexity and confusion surrounding it, that has not been the case,” Moran said in a news conference here at the Statehouse. “This legislation is a comprehensive approach to improving the program.” His bill would:
• Give seniors more time to pick a plan by moving the enrollment deadline from May 15 to Dec. 31.
• Mandate insurance companies register in each state they offer Medicare drug plans.
• Allow the federal government to negotiate for better drug prices for Part D participants.
• Provide $200 million in new funding for outreach and education on Part D.
Moran doubts his bill will pass Congress, but he said he is optimistic a reform package will become law. ”This is not a Kansas issue. It’s an issue across all 50 states. The pressure is on to do something,” he said. “On the other hand, there is a bit of a defensive mode in Washington in which those who proposed this plan are talking about what a great plan it is.” In defiance of House Republican leaders, Moran voted last year against the prescription drug program.
So far, the state of Kansas has spent $3.5 million to cover the cost of 51,000 prescriptions for 14,000 people who encountered problems with the new program. Sandy Praeger, Kansas insurance commissioner, joined Moran at the news conference and said she supported his ideas of postponing the enrollment deadline and requiring insurance companies to register with state officials. More than 40 plans are available to Kansans. ”It’s really important that we have the opportunity to intervene on behalf of our consumers,” she said.
ABSTINENCE-PLUS SEX EDUCATION
Students, teachers, parents and pastors converged on the Statehouse this week to insist on a law requiring abstinence-plus sex education in Kansas public schools. The issue fell to the Senate Education Committee because the Kansas State Board of Education allowed a mandate in place since 1987 that local school districts offer human sexuality classes to expire. Most districts have continued teaching sex education, but there is nothing to prevent all 300 from dropping the curriculum.
Under Senate Bill 508, local school boards would continue to provide age-appropriate abstinence-plus instruction in elementary and secondary schools. Information offered to students would deal with abstinence and sexually transmitted diseases, especially AIDS. The bill includes an opt-out feature for students who want to be excused. Nothing in a district’s curriculum could be construed as teaching birth control methods.
Debra Rukes, director of the Topeka YWCA’s teen pregnancy prevention program, said the reality is that students need abstinence-plus programs in school. Two-thirds of teens have sex by the time they are high school seniors, and 30% of women get pregnant by age 20, she said. Erick Jensen, a science teacher in Kansas City, KS said schools must counter misguided peer advice. A surprising number of students think pregnancy can be avoided if they have intercourse while standing up, he said. ”Having factual, medically accurate and age-appropriate curriculum and materials will help alleviate the urban legends.”