LEGISLATIVE SESSION REACHES TURNAROUND
Saturday, February 28 is what is known in the legislature as “Turnaround Day.” It is the official half-way point of the Legislative session. This day marks the deadline for passing House bills out of the House of Representatives and Senate bills out of the Senate. The two chambers swap bills at this point. There are certain bills that are exempt from this deadline, such as budget and tax bills.
The second half of the session will begin next week. At that time the House will be primarily discussing bills relating to the state budget and bills that have been approved by the Senate. While the session is now at its midpoint, there is much work left to be done. The legislature is still grappling with serious issues, including school finance and health insurance, and there will be many difficult decisions to be made in the coming weeks.
CONCEALED-CARRY WEAPONS BILL MOVES TO FULL HOUSE
The House Federal and State Affairs Committee passed a bill this week to allow Kansans to carry concealed weapons. The bill will now go to the full House for debate. The bill allows Kansans to carry a concealed weapon after paying a $150 application fee and passing a background check by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Permit holders are also required to complete a firearms safety and training course. After the background check and training, the KBI would issue a permit. In the committee testimony, many rape victims testified in support of this bill. These women currently carry concealed guns illegally to protect themselves.
BILL TO ACCELERATE APPEAL ON SCHOOL FINANCE RULING PASSES BOTH HOUSES
The House passed a bill this week allowing the December 2003 school finance ruling by a district court to be appealed without a final ruling. This bill, Senate Bill 324, passed unanimously in the Senate earlier this month. On December 2, 2003, Shawnee County District Court Judge Terry Bullock ruled that the State of Kansas’ current school finance formula is unconstitutional. His ruling stated that money is unfairly distributed among Kansas school districts, putting poor and minority students at a disadvantage. Judge Bullock delayed his final decision until July 1, 2004, calling on the Governor and the legislature to fix the school finance formula during the upcoming session.
Because the final decision has not yet been made, Judge Bullock’s decision cannot be appealed until after this legislative session. This bill would allow an appeal to the State Supreme Court when a district court issues a preliminary order on whether a law violates the Kansas Constitution’s Education Article. The provisions of the bill would expire in July 2006.
Several legislators have stressed that this bill should not serve as an excuse to fail to correct current problems in the public education funding system. This bill will now move on to Governor Sebelius for her signature. She has said that she will sign this bill.
EDUCATION PLAN TO BE HEARD ON HOUSE FLOOR
The House Education Committee passed House Bill 2807, which proposes a new school finance formula. This bill locks into place the current system for distributing funds for education at the existing spending levels, including local option budgets, and eliminates at-risk weighting, and low-enrollment weighting.
The bill will then allow local communities the ability to choose a spending level locally and spend to that level, given appropriate support from taxpayers. This bill provides little state control on statewide educational spending and each district will set the level of funding for their district. Opponents of this bill are concerned that it will further increase disparities between wealthy and poor school districts. It provides no restrictions on money raised locally through property taxes.
This bill is expected to be debated the week of March 9.
GOVERNOR’S EDUCATION FIRST PLAN FAILS IN SENATE
Governor Sebelius’s Education First plan for school finance was rejected 25-14 in the Senate this week. This education spending plan resolved issues raised in last year’s ruling by a district court that education spending in Kansas was inadequate and unfair to Kansas students, especially disadvantaged students.
The Governor’s plan would have raised taxes in order to increase education spending by $300 million over the next three years. Additional resources would have been targeted to early education programs, including all-day kindergarten, at-risk and bilingual students, as well as helping to increase teacher salaries and provide mentoring for new teachers.
KANSAS BIOSCIENCE AUTHORITY ACT PASSES HOUSE
The House of Representatives passed the Kansas Bioscience Authority Act this week which aims at creating 40,000 new jobs in the state by 2015 through the growth of a bioscience industry in Kansas. While producing new medical, agricultural, pharmaceutical, and other products, bioscience investment also creates jobs for chemists, physicists, and business leaders.
This bill will facilitate public and private investment in companies who start bioscience enterprises in the state. Bioscience is an emerging industry across the nation and proponents hope that this bill will help put Kansas on the forefront of this industry.
An amendment to require 75% of construction jobs that arise from this bill to go to Kansas residents failed on the floor of the house on Wednesday. Proponents of this amendment hoped it would provide quality, good-paying jobs for Kansas contractors and workers. Opponents were concerned that Kansas contractors and workers would not have the necessary expertise to complete jobs.
The bill will now move on to the Senate for approval.
ANIMAL IDENTIFICATION BILL PASSES HOUSE
A bill requiring livestock to be part of a statewide identification plan passed in the House of Representatives this week. The bill allows the Kansas Livestock Commissioner to create an animal identification program to become effective when the federal government requires animal identification. The President has urged Congress to pass legislation requiring animal identification. This law would give the Livestock Commissioner the authority to implement such a program.
Animal identification aids in the tracking of specific animals should there be any incidences of disease, such as BSE, also known as mad cow disease. Opponents are concerned that an animal identification program would be quite costly and is an overreaching extension of government power.
TIME LINE FOR REPORTING OPEN MEETINGS VIOLATION EXPANDS
A bill to increase the time one has to report a violation to the open meetings laws was passed by the House of Representatives this week. Current law only allows 10 days to report a violation. The original bill extended the time period to 180 days. Before being passed in committee, the time period was shortened to 21 days. The bill was successfully amended on the House floor to 60 days.
This bill is in response to the Wichita City Council’s actions regarding the contract of the former city manager. The council adjourned their scheduled meeting, but continued conversations and came to an agreement in the lobby. People were unaware of the discussion until after the 10 day period to report the violation.
BILL ALLOWING CAMPAIGN FUND TRANSFERS GOES TO THE HOUSE
A bill was passed in the Senate this week allowing candidates for state office to transfer campaign funds when running for another office. The bill will now move to the House for approval.
This has been a common practice in Kansas, but was called into question last year when former State Representative Carlos Mayans transferred campaign funds from his House account into an account for his bid for mayor of the City of Wichita. A Kansas Supreme Court decision found this to be unlawful because it is not specifically addressed in Kansas’ campaign finance laws.
Most were surprised by the court’s decision, as the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission and the district court had both approved the transfer of funds. The bill is expected to be worked in the House soon.
BILL TO INCREASE SPEED LIMIT PASSES SENATE
A bill was passed in the Senate this week that 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. However, some believe traffic is shifting away from I-70 because of the extremely rough condition of I-70 in Missouri.
STATE QUARTER DESIGN NEARING COMPLETION
Last week the United States Mint released four coin designs for the Kansas State Quarter that will be released in 2005. A bill passed last session set up the procedure for choosing the State Quarter. Last year, designs were received from people all over the state. These designs were narrowed down and five were passed on to the mint for drafting.
Four designs were returned from the mint last week. One design, a painting by Kansan John Steuart Curry, was not accepted by the mint due to copyright issues. The four designs all depict important pieces of Kansas heritage, including sunflowers, buffaloes, and wheat. Three of the four designs include an outline of the state. The final design will be chosen by Kansas High School students on an online vote. The new state quarter will go into circulation by August of next year.