More and more stories continue to surface regarding problems with the Fed’s rollout of the Medicare Part D drug benefit program.  Nationally, thousands of low-income senior citizens have had trouble enrolling in the program.  Kansas pharmacies have been unable to confirm coverage, refills have been limited and telephone lines have been clogged for hours to get information.  Pharmacists are spending hours on the phone trying to get their elderly customers enrolled so that prescriptions can be filled or refilled.
The state has spent over $1 million to provide emergency assistance to pharmacies that were trying to fill prescriptions for seniors.  Thousands of Medicare recipients have sought prescription drugs under the program since its start Jan. 1 only to encounter computer glitches showing they weren’t enrolled.  Governor Sebelius has ordered the state to pick up the tab for drugs until problems in the federal system were ironed out. The state received 14,000 claims in less than a week.
Most of the problems were with 42,000 low-income Kansans who were considered “dual eligible” for Medicare and Medicaid.  All told, 402,000 Kansans are eligible for prescription drug coverage under Medicare. The federal health care program said Friday that 158,000 Kansans had enrolled as of Jan. 13. Many seniors could end up choosing the wrong prescription drug coverage because of confusion surrounding the federal Medicare program.  Medicare began offering prescription drug coverage in November, with 42,000 poor and frail elderly Kansans automatically enrolled. An additional 360,000 seniors are eligible for coverage but must choose among 41 plans by May 15, or face financial penalties.
Seniors have until May 15 to enroll in a plan.  If you need assistance in enrolling in a plan, you can call SHICK at (800) 860-5260 and talk to a trained volunteer in your area who can help you find out which option is best for you or your loved one. Pass this information on to your neighbors, friends, employees, and family members.
The House Taxation committee held hearings on the elimination of the property tax on new business machinery and equipment purchased on or after Jan. 1, 2007. The goal of this elimination is to encourage Kansas companies to invest in new technologies to better compete around the world. Opponents of this tax fear that it will mean a drastic loss in revenue for local governments and a shift of the burden to real estate, including homes and farms.
The State Finance Council approved $210 million in additional bonds in March to complete the state’s 10-year Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP). The CTP was passed in 1999, but in crisis budget years, sales tax revenue was diverted to protect services to elderly citizens and schools. The plan was restructured in 2004.  The plan in 2004 was reliant on federal funds, but a provision allowed bonding if federal funds did not meet the budget to complete all projects.
The State Finance Council includes the Governor, House and Senate Leadership, and the chairmen of both chambers’ budget committee.  The bonding passed by a vote of 8-1. By issuing the bonds, the state will be able to keep the commitment made to communities regarding highway projects.
A bill was heard in the House Judiciary Committee that would provide Kansans with an evaluation of appellate judges and judges selected by the judicial nominating process and appointed by the governor. The idea is to help voters decide whether they should vote to allow judges to remain on the bench when the judges stand for retention.
All seven Kansas Supreme Court justices and 12 Court of Appeals judges, along with 88 of the 161 district court judges, are nominated by a non-partisan process and appointed by the governor. They then are placed on the ballot at the end of each term and the voters vote whether or not they should be retained in their judicial position. Supreme Court Justices have six-year terms; all others have four-year terms. Under the proposal by the Kansas Judicial Council, the Council would appoint a 13-member Commission on Judicial Performance to evaluate the jurists and make public recommendations.
The recommendations would be shared with voters in newspapers and on the Internet and, possibly, through the mail Evaluations would be solicited from attorneys and from jurors.  The critiques would deal with such matters as integrity, impartiality, professionalism, administrative skills and temperament.  It would not discuss with how jurists ruled on various cases. The judges would get the information before it was made public. Only the results of evaluation of judges who stand for retention would be made public.  Elected judges would also be evaluated but the results would be shared only with each judge. That way, the evaluation would be used by the judge to improve their performance but not become a tool for political ads in a contested election.
The proposal was endorsed unanimously by the Supreme Court, the Kansas Court of Appeals, the state district judges association, the Kansas Bar Association and other legal groups. The only concern voiced during the hearings on the bill was the source of funding for the evaluation system. The proposal is to be funded by increasing docket fees by $2 across-the-board, which would raise $770,000. It is estimated that it would cost about $100,000 to publish voters’ guides and place newspaper advertisements to disseminate judge evaluation results. The rest of the cost is for developing the evaluation instruments, circulating them, tabulating them, as well as administrative costs for the Commission’s operation.
Docket fees are paid by litigants who utilize the judicial system. Several conferees, including an organization of collection attorneys, stated that the system is for the benefit of the general public and should be supported by general revenue sources rather than by increasing the costs for those who use the court system.
Missouri, where all judges are selected with a non-partisan merit system and stand for retention rather than elected, has had judicial evaluation by attorneys for some time, but is now considering adding evaluation by jurors.
Senate Bill 62 received a hearing in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee this week. The bill helps Kansas grandparents to provide for the needs of grandchildren who would otherwise be placed in foster care. HB 2410 would provide grandparents with resources to care as foster parents for their grandchildren. This program would provide financial assistance to those grandparents whose incomes are less than 130% of the federal poverty limit. This program would also provide parenting classes to grandparents to help them face the special challenges of being a foster parent
The Legislature is once again considering a bill that would require children ages 4 through 7 to sit in a height-adjusting booster seat.  Similar bills have failed for the last five years.  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.
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 to 13 are required to wear safety belts in the back seat.  This bill would require children 4-7 to sit in booster seats until they are 8 years old, weigh 80 pounds, or are 4 feet 9 inches in height.  However, the bill only prescribes very light penalties designed to encourage parents to use the seats.
For the first time in 30 years, the public can climb up the 296 steps to the top of the Capitol Dome.  These tours were previously only open to special invited guests of legislators, but now the Kansas State Historical Society is offering tours of the dome 6 times per day during the legislative session.
The tour takes visitors up to the fifth floor of the capitol, up past the 7 and 8 floors, which brings visitors above the glass inner dome and under the copper dome 75 feet above.  The tour ends on the observation deck that rings the cupola atop the dome where visitors can enjoy 10 miles of visibility.

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