HOUSE CONTINUES SCHOOL FINANCE DEBATE
This week legislators had several opportunities to debate the school finance issue. A property tax bill was amended to include the first year of the Governor’s Education First plan, a $30,000 minimum salary for teachers, and an increase in the standard deduction for married couples filing jointly. An amendment providing the funding for the Governor’s plan failed. The bill failed in final action on Wednesday.
Although the bill failed, many hope that this will open up the debate on school finance and the House can continue to work toward an education funding solution. Additionally, the amendment calling for funding increases provided in the Governor’s Education First Plan did pass the house on a voice vote, despite the bills ultimate failure. This shows a willingness on behalf of the legislators to increase funding to schools.
On Thursday, the House debated an alternate plan for school finance, House bill 2807. 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 and shift more school tax burden to property taxes. It provides no restrictions on money raised locally through property taxes.
BILL ESTABLISHES CHILD ADVOCACY CENTERS
Child Advocacy Centers across the state will be established with the passing of House Bill 2569. These centers will work to assist children that have dealt with sexual, physical, mental, or emotional abuse. These centers have to meet several criteria, but all non-profit centers meeting those criteria would be eligible for state funding. House bill 2568, also passed this week, provides for the establishment of the Children’s Advocacy Center Fund. This fund would be administered by the Attorney General and would be used to pay for the operations of qualified centers. The fund would receive $100 payments from defendants convicted of a certain crimes where the victim was a minor.
Rep. Jan Scoggins-Waite, former Executive Director of the Crisis Center of Dodge City states ”As one who was integral in getting Meadowlark House Child Advocacy Center started in Dodge City I am thrilled to see this legislation come before the House. Meadowlark House was, as I recall, the third Child Advocacy Center in the State of Kansas and continues to be a vital force in providing services for children in our community. Legislation like this will assist other communities to develop or enhance their Child Advocacy Centers.”
CONCEALED-CARRY WEAPONS BILL PASSES HOUSE
The House of Representatives passed a bill last week to allow Kansans to carry concealed weapons. House bill 2798 passed 78 to 43. The bill will now go to the Senate 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.
The bill prohibits concealed weapons from many locations, including police stations, prisons, courthouses, polling places, government offices, establishments that serve liquor primarily, schools, and mental health facilities.
In the committee testimony, many rape victims testified in support of this bill. These women currently carry concealed guns illegally to protect themselves. Several amendments were offered for the bill on the house floor. One amendment, which failed, would have allowed cities that currently prohibit concealed weapons to hold a referendum on concealed weapons. If the people voted against concealed weapons, the city would be exempt from the bill.
Another failed amendment would have revoked the permit and weapon of someone found to be carrying a concealed weapon in one of the prohibited locations or a business that has specifically barred concealed weapons. Proponents worried that the amendment did not provide appropriate punishment for people who made violations. Opponents believed that the amendment went too far by taking one’s weapon as well as their permit.
BILL TO DELAY STREAMLINED SALES TAX PASSES HOUSE
This week, the House passed a bill to help businesses comply with the Streamlined Sales Tax passed last session. The bill was amended on the House floor to include a provision allowing for a one-time $1000 tax credit for small businesses to cover the cost of complying with the streamlined sales tax. Another provision added on the floor would have allowed the Department of Revenue to waive interest and penalties for businesses making a good faith effort to comply with the law. A third provision raised the monthly filing threshold, thereby allowing thousands of businesses to file four times a year instead of twelve times as is current practice.
An amendment offered by Rep. Bruce Larkin, of Baileyville, would also allow small businesses, when the law is fully implemented by Congress, to keep 0.5% of sales tax collections to cover collection costs.
Following a lengthy debate, the House passed House Bill 2599 this week, which delays implementation of Kansas’s Streamlined Sales Tax Law until Congress has acted on this issue. The Streamlined Sales Tax Law, which calls for destination-based sourcing has caused some problems for small businesses, causing several legislators to call for its repeal.
Destination-based sourcing requires businesses to charge sales tax based on the point of delivery, rather than the location of the business. This is a complete change in sales tax collection in Kansas. Kansas has joined into the Streamlined Sales Tax Project, the combined effort of 40 participating states and the business community working to establish uniformity among the several states’ sales tax laws.
After last session, Governor Sebelius asked for a moratorium on implementation of the law in order to give businesses time to learn how to comply. At the same time, the Department of Revenue was updating its technology to ease implementation and collection. Software is now available on the Department of Revenue’s website that allows a business to figure sales tax by using an address. Many Kansas businesses have already taken the necessary steps to become compliant with this law.
Also, several large online retailers, such as Amazon.com, Toys R Us, Babies R Us and Target are remitting sales tax on Kansas orders. When fully implemented, the Streamlined Sales Tax law will also assist cities, school districts and the state by capturing an estimated $71 million to $150 million that is lost in sales tax revenue to these out-of-state companies. That is money that could be used to strengthen our schools and provide essential services to Kansans and hold down taxes for Kansas residents.
It is expected that the implementation delay will fail in the Senate, as many Senators have expressed their support for streamlined sales tax.
MARRIAGE AMENDMENT PASSES HOUSE
The House passed a concurrent resolution this week seeking an amendment to the Kansas Constitution. This amendment defines marriage to only include one man and one woman. There is currently a statute in the books that states the same thing, yet several courts in other states have ruled similar laws unconstitutional. Opponents 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. Therefore, we should wait to see what happens in the courts to see if such an amendment is necessary in Kansas.
The resolution received the necessary two thirds majority in the House of Representatives and a two thirds majority is required in the Senate. If it passes both houses, it would be placed on the ballot for Kansas voters to decide. The measure would have to be passed by a simple majority of Kansas voters in order to be added to the constitution.
STATE CAR AUCTION SURPASSES $1 MILLION GOAL
In response to recent findings of underutilized state vehicles by the Department of Administration, Governor Sebelius authorized a sale of state vehicles to both the public and local unit of government. As of this week, this sale has brought in $1,163,123 for the state with the sale of 287 vehicles. A second auction will be held for car dealers will be held March 18 for the sale of an additional 242 vehicles.
Last fall, the Department of Administration audited the state car pool and found that there were 135 state vehicles not being used. The Governor then disbanded the state motor pool, ordered a moratorium on the purchase of new cars, and decided that excess cars would be sold.
BILL INTRODUCED TO RESTRICT USE OF UNDOCUMENTED LABOR
A bill has been introduced in the Commerce and Labor committee by Representative Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, that would toughen current Kansas statutes regarding the employment of illegal immigrants or their use as independent subcontractors. Throughout Kansas, small businesses that employ trained and skilled workers are losing business to unscrupulous subcontractors that hire illegal immigrants as independent contractors. This problem is particularly pervasive in industries including the housing construction, roofing, and plumbing industries and is rapidly spreading throughout the commercial construction sector, as well.
The amendment raises the current penalty from a class C non-person misdemeanor (up to one month imprisonment and a $500 fine) to a Class A non-person misdemeanor (up to one year imprisonment and a $2,500 fine). Any subsequent violations cited for the employer would result in an additional fine of $25,000. This bill also establishes a hotline within the Attorney General’s office that would be able to accept tips from Kansans about businesses using undocumented labor.
Proponents believe that this will increase success for law abiding businesses and remove the unfair advantage those employers with undocumented workers have. This amendment would also help prevent employers for exploiting undocumented workers and paying them sub-standard wages. Many have expressed concern that major industries in the state have opposed the proposal.
A related bill offered earlier in the session by Rep. Nile Dillmore, of Wichita, stipulates that any business found to have employed illegal aliens would be prohibited from receiving contract work with any level of government in Kansas for a five year period. Additionally, the legislation includes a clawback provision which would result in the loss of any tax incentives or abatements for those employers for five years and would require that money already received from the state be repaid. This legislation was opposed by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
IN COMMITTEES THIS WEEK…
Ethics and Elections – The committee is holding hearings on Senate Bill 479, which changes Kansas Election Law to make Kansas compliant with the Federal Help America Vote Act of 2002. Kansas must become compliant with this law in order to receive federal funds for elections. The committee rejected accessibility amendments requested by disability advocacy organizations.
Tourism and Parks – The committee will be hearing Senate Bill 334 regarding agritourism. Economic Development- The committee had hearings this week on Senate Bill 520, establishing the Kansas Downtown Redevelopment Act. Corrections and Juvenile Justice- The committee is holding hearings on Senate Bill 422 which provides a life sentence without parole as an alternative to the death penalty. They are also holding hearings on House Bill 2439 redefining metal retardation for death penalty cases.
Judiciary- The committee is holding hearings on Senate Bill 460 which prohibits the use of taxpayer identification numbers for receiving drivers’ licenses. They will also hold hearings on Senate Bill 256 which provides victims compensation for Kansans that were victims of crime outside of the United States.