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.