Monthly Archives: May 2006
EDUCATION BILL ADDRESSES INTENT OF COURT RULING
In striking down Kansas’ school finance law in January 2005, the Kansas Supreme court ruled that the formula was based on “political and other factors not relevant to education” and instructed the Kansas Legislature to construct a suitable formula based on the actual costs of education. Senate Bill 549, a three-year $466.2 million school finance plan that was passed with bi-partisan support last week, demonstrates that the Legislature can craft school finance laws based on the costs of actually educating a child.
The plan would add approximately $100 million increase in Base State Aid Per Pupil spending over the next three school years ($59 increase in 2006-2007, $58 increase in 2007-2008, and $59 increase in 2008-2009). In addition, $182 million of new spending is being directed specifically towards at-risk children (students who receive free meals) over the same time period. Special education students would receive over $80 million in new funding, and an additional $10 million would be targeted for students who, based on state assessments, are not proficient in reading or math and who are not eligible for the federal free lunch program (2007-2008 school year only).
I believe that a major strength of the bill was the fact that it provides almost $195 million in additional funding for the 2006-2007 school year alone. This is a significant commitment for a multi-year plan in meeting the student performance outcomes-based shortfall (somewhere north of $316 million) as defined by the Division of Legislative Post Audit study. The plan’s out year financing (school years 2007-2008 and 2008-2009) should narrow the gap even further. I also believe that the plan properly directs the money towards those Kansas schoolchildren that need it the most. The Legislative Post Audit Study provided compelling analysis showing that the bulk of increased funding was needed for at-risk students, with even more money required for school districts having a high percentage of at-risk kids.
As part of its $182 million investment towards at-risk children, SB 549 specifically earmarked almost $30 million for these school districts. This plan will go a long way towards closing the achievement gap for children in poverty. It would have been very easy for me, along with many other State Representatives and Senators, to have voted against this bill on the basis that the bill did not do enough for schools in our respective districts. But our votes were not only based on what was good for our districts; it was motivated by being sure that at-risk children received the lion’s share of additional funding as determined by the Division of Legislative Post Audit study. And so, at the end of the figurative legislative day, the Kansas Legislature passed a plan that was, for most purposes, devoid of politics and instead based on the actual costs of educating a child.
POLITICS RUN RAMPANT DURING VETO SESSION WRAP-UP
Simply amazing – here we are on the evening of May 9,the 92 day of the 2006 legislative session, and at long last have a K-12 school finance plan! Considering that we had a special legislative session last summer set aside specifically to address school finance issues, one would think that Kansas Legislative leadership would have sensed the need to put this issue to bed a lot sooner. But as I’ve learned in the world of politics, unresolved legislation at the end of the session provides an opportunity for cutting last minute deals that would not normally survive full legislative scrutiny. An excellent example of this recently occurred with the consolidation of the sexual predator and private prisons bills into a single conference committee report.
State Senator Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, has been a vocal advocate for using private prisons as a cost-effective way of housing the state’s burgeoning prison population. His legislation, however, has consistently run into opposition in the Kansas House as numerous Representatives (including myself) view a private prison’s profit motive as conflicting with the state’s responsibility to provide effective incarceration and rehabilitation services. This year Senator Schmidt decided to try an “end run” around the Kansas House by putting the private prisons bill (which had not been heard by the House) into a House conference committee report containing the popular “Jessica’s Law” sexual predator legislation (which had already overwhelmingly passed in the House). The conventional wisdom was that the House would leave the bills together as no one would want to be perceived as holding up passage of the popular sexual predator bill. House members, however, voted to re-refer the report back to committee and strip out the private prisons language, and the private prisons bill never made it through the House on its own.
Representative democracy is vital to our way of life in America. And a big part of maintaining that integrity is by periodically scrutinizing how the legislative process works. Making legislators accountable requires that an introduced bill needs to be separately heard and voted on in each chamber. Otherwise, we end up providing our elected officials with excuses that in the long run ignore the will of the people.
The 2006 legislative session ended on May 10, 2006. As your State Representative, it is extremely important that I keep you informed of major pieces of legislation enacted during the 2006 session. I hope you will take the time to read this letter and send me your questions or comments about this legislation or other matters that are of interest to you. Your feedback and guidance are essential for me to better represent the collective interests of the 10 District and ultimately all Kansas citizens.
Legislative Highlights of the 2006 Session
K – 12 School Finance (SB 549)
The Legislature passed a three-year school finance plan with increased funding of approximately $466.2 million. Plan components include the following items:
· Total increase in state aid expenditures for the 2007-2008 school year is $194.5 million. Lawrence USD497 would receive an additional $2.848 million, Baldwin USD348 would receive an additional $233,000, Ottawa USD290 would receive an additional $705,000, and Wellsville USD289 would receive an additional $184,000 for the 2007-2008 school year under this plan;
· Increases in Base State Aid Per Pupil spending – $33.45 million for the 2006-2007 school year, $33.8 million for the 2007-2008 school year, and $34.0 million for the 2008-2009 school year; · At-risk and high density at-risk weighting – $72.05 million for the 2006-2007 school year, $61.4 million for the 2007-2008 school year, and $48.7 million for the 2008-2009 school year;
· A new “not proficient” weighting targeted for students who, based on state assessments, are not proficient in reading or math and who are not eligible for the federal free lunch program – $10 million for the 2007-2008 school year only;
· The statutory percentage of special education excess cost increased from 89.3 to 92.0 percent for the 2007-2008 school year forward – $30.3 million for the 2006-2007 school year, $25 million for the 2007-2008 school year, and $25 million for the 2008-2009 school year;
· The Local Option Budget authority would be increased and equalized to the 81.2 percentile – from 27 to 30 percent at a cost of $37 million for the 2006-2007 school year, from 30 to 31 percent at a cost of $22 million for the 2007-2008 school year, and at 31 percent at a cost of $15 million for the 2008-2009 school year;
· A resolution authorizing the adoption of a Local Option Budget above 30 percent would require a school district election.
I voted for the bill because I believe the bill honestly attempts to address the funding issues identified in the 2005 Legislative Post Audit study. Hopefully the Kansas Supreme Court will find this plan acceptable and allow the Legislature to start focusing on other important issues.
Sexual Predator Minimum Sentencing Guidelines (HB 2576)
HB 2576 would establish mandatory minimum sentences for first time sex offenders. The bill was supported by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the Kansas Department of Corrections, the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, and the Kansas Attorney General. Proponents said the bill was patterned after the Florida law named after the Jessica Marie Lunsford Act, more commonly known as “Jessica’s Law.”
The bill would establish a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years without parole (Hard 25) on first-time sex offenders 18 years of age or older and when the victim is less than 14 years of age for the following crimes:
aggravated trafficking (slavery); rape; aggravated indecent liberties with a child; aggravated criminal sodomy; promoting prostitution; sexual exploitation of a child; and an attempt, conspiracy or criminal solicitation to commit the above crimes.
A minimum 40-year sentence (Hard 40) would be given for second-time sex offenders, and a life sentence without the possibility of parole for third-time and subsequent sex offenders (i.e. – aggravated habitual sex offenders). The bill also would establish life-time supervision for the sex offenders noted above who are released from prison by the Kansas Parole Board and provide for life-time electronic monitoring of those offenders. A sentencing judge would be able to depart downward from the 25-year minimum sentence if the judge finds substantial and compelling mitigating reasons which must be stated on-the record following a review of mitigating circumstances.
I supported this legislation because I believe we need to keep sexual predators off the streets and away from Kansas kids. I believe this bill will go a long way towards meeting that goal.
Health Care Pilot Program (Sub. For SB 323)
SPECIAL INTERESTS KILL INSURANCE PLAN FOR SMALL BUSINESS EMPLOYEES
One of the issues I hear about time and again from small business owners is the lack of comprehensive yet affordable health care plans in the marketplace. As the owner of an IT consulting services business, I have always believed that a good health care plan is vital for small business to attract and retain quality employees, resources that are critical for transforming an entrepreneur’s dreams and hard work into a successful business venture.
I, along with Rep. Doug Gatewood, D-Columbus, proposed legislation at the start of this session that would allow businesses with 30 or fewer employees to buy into the state health care program. A maximum of 1,000 small business employees would initially be accepted into the program. The program would be set up as a pilot to manage and determine risk, with a later decision being made as to whether or not to expand the program to other small businesses. I felt that this was a cost-effective way to allow small businesses to leverage the state’s purchasing power in providing health coverage for their employees at no additional cost to the state. The bill subsequently sat in committee for several weeks and never received a hearing.
A few weeks ago, the bill’s language was amended to an insurance bill on the House floor and was finally
able to receive an up or down vote. Unfortunately, insurance and big business interests interceded to kill the legislation. Both Sandy Praeger, the state’s Insurance Commissioner, and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce argued that the proposed legislation would move the state “one step closer to a government-run, single-payer health insurance plan.” All I know is that the legislation, if passed, would have provided affordable health insurance to working Kansans that currently go without coverage.
When it comes to addressing health insurance accessibility and affordability, we need more people in government that are willing to “think outside the box” and, if needed, confront the special interests to build new paradigms for providing health care coverage in this country. Unless we are willing to cosider new and creative alternatives, health care coverage will continue to grow more expensive and less accessible to most Kansans.
Restrictions on the Use of Eminent Domain (Sub. For SB 323)
On June 23, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. New London that the “public use” provision of the “takings clause” of the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution permits the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes without a finding that the private property to be taken is blighted.
I felt that this ruling, if left unaddressed, posed a serious threat to private property owners, so I and a number of other legislators introduced several bills that would severely restrict the use of eminent domain takings. Fortunately, a consensus bill emerged in the final days of the session that addresses most of our collective concerns.
Sub. for SB 323 would prohibit the use of eminent domain for economic development purposes unless the Legislature approves the taking; change certain eminent domain procedures and compensation provisions; and require surveys of land to be taken through the exercise of eminent domain shall be performed by a licensed land surveyor. The bill would provide that taking of private property by eminent domain for the purpose of selling, leasing or transferring it to another private entity including under the tax increment financing law is not permitted unless very a very limited set of circumstances (acquisition of right-of-way for public projects, provision of services of any privately-owned common carrier, etc.).
I supported this legislation because I believe that property owners’ rights should not be trampled by developers working with local municipalities on local economic development initiatives.