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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.

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