HOLLAND INSURANCE PROPOSAL CLEARS HOUSE
A measure to limit premium rate increases on self-insured Kansans and small businesses is one step closer to becoming law after its passage by the Kansas House Friday morning. I was successful in amending this legislation into HB 2366 during debate Thursday. My proposal now advances to the Kansas Senate for consideration.
My amendment requires health insurance carriers to freeze the premium amount, deductibles and benefits for individual health coverage policyholders during their coverage period. I introduced this legislation after receiving complaints from constituents about how insurance companies had raised their premiums numerous times during the coverage period, particularly after they had filed a claim. I believe that this legislation would give consumers a much better chance at planning for and managing their health care costs. This measure should also help to provide stability in premium rates and is an important step toward ensuring affordable health coverage in Kansas.
SCHOOL FINANCE UPDATE
The Legislature is continuing to work on new plans to fix the school finance problem in Kansas. Both the House Select Committee on School Finance and the Senate Education Committee are working on different plans. These plans should be heard on their respective floors next week. The Senate Education Committee passed a plan that would increase funding to schools by $165 million the first year and over $400 million over three years if funded. The plan adds $150 to the BSAPP (Base State Aid Per Pupil) and also increases bilingual and at-risk funding. The plan originally had removed weighting for vocational education, but this was added back into the bill.
This plan also lowers the threshold for correlation weighting, adding money for larger school districts. However, no source of funding is provided for the plan. The House Select Committee on School Finance’s plan adds $80 of new money per pupil to the BSAPP at a cost of $40 million. The plan also folds $19.5 million from career and vocational education weighting as well as money from correlation weighting into the base. Please keep in mind that this is not new money, however, as the plan is simply shuffling existing monies around in the formula. The plan would add about $11 million for bilingual students and would expand the definition of “at risk” children to include those who qualify for a reduced lunch, thus adding another $18.6 million. The plan increases funding for excess costs of special education for FY 2006 to 85%, FY 2007 to 88%, and thereafter at 90% ($17.7 million for FY 2006) and equalizes the first four mills of capital outlay ($15 million).
The plan would also include a 5% increase in the LOB (Local Option Budget) for all districts and allow an additional 5% increase in the LOB for those 16 school districts with the highest cost of living in the state. This would allow the richest districts to lure away teachers from poorer Kansas districts. Neither of these LOB increases would be equalized by the state. This plan does not identify where the state-provided monies would come from. It also relies heavily on local property taxes to fund education. The plan would also add a provision that would require education spending to increase with the consumer price index and to be funded before the rest of the budget.
While I believe that the House Select Committee’s plan misses the mark in addressing the Supreme Court’s concerns regarding education funding, I also believe that the Senate’s education plan is a good start. When crafting a school finance plan, we must ensure funding for this plan in future years without robbing ending balances or the transportation fund. Otherwise, actions like that could threaten our state’s financial stability and credit rating. We must also create a financing plan that will work in the years to come and not simply create a one-year “stop-gap” fix.
COMMITTEE HEARS BILL TO BAN IMPORTED DRUGS
Kansas is currently participating in a multi-state program that helps seniors import drugs through an online service. Many seniors without prescription drug coverage are able to save hundreds of dollars by purchasing drugs from Canada. Opponents of drug importation fear that imported drugs may be susceptible to tampering and be harmful to seniors. Proponents of drug importation say that drugs from Canada are as safe as drugs purchased in the US at lower costs.
The House Health and Human Services Committee passed out favorably for full House consideration a bill that would ban importation of prescription drugs from Canada and other countries to Kansas. Although drug importation is not a permanent solution to the rising costs of prescription drugs, it does provide an affordable and competitive alternative until a solution can be found. As a member of the House HHS committee, I voted against this bill. I support Kansas seniors being able to save their precious hard-earned money by purchasing prescription drugs from foreign countries.
DEATH PENALTY BILLS HEARD IN SENATE
In December 2004, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the current Kansas death penalty statute unconstitutional. The court has stayed the decision while the Attorney General is appealing to the US Supreme Court to hear the case. Two bills are currently in the Senate regarding the death penalty. One bill ends the death penalty completely in Kansas and the other fixes the constitutional problem cited in the Supreme Court decision. Both bills were passed out of committee, and both were referred back to committee when heard by the whole Senate. The Senate did pass a resolution urging the US Supreme Court to hear the Kansas case. Both of the other bills will go back to the committee for further review.
RESOLUTION PASSED IN AGAINST CATTLE IMPORTS
The House passed a resolution urging the US Department of Agriculture to reconsider lifting the current ban on Canadian cattle imports. This ban was instated in response to an imported cow infected with BSE. The resolution calls for a number of criteria to be met before the ban is lifted, including allowing no products from cattle older that 30 months, assurances that Canada’s firewalls against BSE are functioning, including their feed ban, no USDA labels are to be put on imported beef, and that we receive reassurances from our trade partners that re-opening importation will not affect our trade status. I voted in support of this resolution.
HOUSE HEARS BILL MAKING ELUDING POLICE A FELONY
The House passed out favorably on Final Action a bill to make “fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer” an inherently dangerous felony. House Bill 2180 allows prosecutors to charge a person involved in fleeing and eluding a police officer where a person is killed with felony murder. This occurs when a person drives recklessly to avoid the police and causes an accident where someone is killed. Proponents of this bill included the Attorney General’s Office, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, and the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association. I voted in support of this legislation.
BREASTFEEDING BILL PASSED
The full House passed out favorably on Final Action a bill that would make it public policy to support breastfeeding by allowing women to breastfeed infants any place women are permitted. Proponents of this measure say that prohibiting breastfeeding may keep women from breast-feeding their children, which many believe to be beneficial for both mothers and babies. By making it legal to breastfeed in public places, it could help decrease the stigma some associate with breastfeeding. I voted in support of this legislation.