This week Republican Leadership introduced a new plan to fund education in the State of Kansas.  This is the third plan for school finance introduced this session. The plan is a one-year stop gap fix. The Republicans are not convinced that the ruling of Judge Bullock, which found the current school finance formula was not fair to all Kansas students, will be up held by the Supreme Court of Kansas. The plan provides $28.5 million from existing state resources to increase at-risk and bilingual student funding and a teacher mentor program.  It also gives local school districts the ability to raise $62.6 million in local property taxes and allows fifteen districts to further increase property taxes to make up for a higher cost of living.
The plan does not identify a source for the $28.5 million from state funds and opponents are concerned that the property tax increases will hurt the poorest Kansans.  This property tax increase comes from a local school board’s ability to assess the state-wide 20-mill levy for schools on the first $20,000 of assessed value on residential property, which is currently exempt. I believe that the use of property taxes as a major source of education funding will only serve to increase inequities in the formula.  I also contend that this plan would not be a viable solution to the current lawsuit against the state.
Work will have to be done this session to ensure that the state’s comprehensive transportation plan is able to be completed with no cancellations of projects.  Governor Sebelius introduced a plan earlier this session to shore up the highway program and to ensure proper funding throughout the implementation of the plan.
This plan has yet to be passed out of the House transportation committee to be heard on the House floor.  Meanwhile, several other plans have been introduced to address the comprehensive transportation plan.  One plan would have allowed for the reinstatement of a sales tax revenue immediately and at a greater amount for highway funds.  Opponents of this plan feared that this amount of sales tax being allocated to highways could put other programs in jeopardy.
A plan introduced this week uses a combination of $150 million in bonds, as well as sales tax revenue to shore up the transportation plan.  The plan also relies on an additional $300 million in federal monies to fund the highway plan.  The Secretary of Transportation believes this amount of federal aid is over-estimated. Opponents of this new plan fear that the reliance on federal funds before those funds have been approved could be detrimental to the highway plan.  Revenue estimates on the sales tax transfer to the highway plan also differ between the Governor’s plan and the new plan.
The House passed a bill last week requiring all libraries in the state to use a filter on computers that  blocks pornographic websites.  The bill also prohibits libraries from checking out R-Rated movies to minors under eighteen.  This bill will now move on to the Senate for debate.
Many librarians are opposed to this bill saying it forces unnecessary regulation on state libraries. Some libraries currently use filter software, provided at no cost by the state library system. Additionally, opponents object to the eighteen year age limit on the renting of R-Rated movies, since minors that are seventeen can currently view R-Rated film in movie theaters. Under an amendment attached in the House, Libraries would not be required to buy a filter unless the state provided the required funding.
Because the House and Senate passed different versions of an enhanced 911 (E-911) bill, a compromise was reached in a conference committee this week. E-911 allows emergency dispatchers to locate a caller when called on a wireless phone.
Currently, if a wireless user calls 911, the dispatcher only sees a phone number, not a location, making it difficult to send assistance.  Land-line users currently have E911 service. The House bill called for a fifty cent fee to be placed on wireless bills, twenty-five cents going to the local area the user lived in and twenty-five cents going to less populous areas.  The Senate bill added an additional twenty-five cents to go to wireless companies.  The final compromise allows for a fifty cent fee, with a only a twenty-five cent fee for Sedgwick, Shawnee, Johnson, and Wyandotte counties. Now that a compromise bill has been reached, it must again pass both houses before going to the Governor for approval.
The House appropriations committee passed a $10.2 billion budget this week.  This budget keeps state spending at the same level as last year and omits budgets for school finance and transportation.
The budget follows Governor Sebelius’s budget recommendations for the most part, with only a few exceptions.  The committee did endorse the 3% cost of living increase for state employees, but changed the Governor’s funding plan for Smart Start, a program providing services to parents of children age five and under.  The Governor allocated an additional $6.8 million to Smart Start, but the current budget adds $4.3 million plus $2 million for family preservation programs and $500,000 for children’s mental health services.
The budget exceeds the Governor’s original budget by only $1.5 million.  It leaves $107 million in cash reserves at the end of the next fiscal year.  The Senate Ways and Means committee is expected to vote on a budget proposal next week.  Decisions on education and transportation are expected to be made later in the session.
The House tentatively passed several bills March 18 included in the Governor’s Economic Development Plan. Senate Bill 417, the Rural Business Development Tax Credits, provides for tax credits to be awarded to individuals and businesses that give money to establish regional business development funds.  This bill would allow $7 million in tax credits across the state over three years.  These funds would provide capital for entrepreneurial efforts in rural communities.
Senate Bill 393 sets up the Kansas Center for Entrepreneurship, which is a resource center ensuring collaboration and efficient use of resources with existing economic development agencies across the state.  This center will also manage the Kansas Community Entrepreneurship Fund, which will provide funds to rural and low-income communities for entrepreneurship. The Angel Investment Tax Credit, Senate Bill 480 ,  was also passed, creating Angel Networks that provide seed and start-up capital for entrepreneurial ventures.  Senate Bill 520, also passed, is the Kansas Downtown Redevelopment Act, which promotes, stimulates, and develops downtown areas in low income and rural communities.
Senate Bill 394 makes changes to the IMPACT program, which is funded through state withholding taxes.  It gives the Secretary of Commerce the ability to make direct investments in educational and workforce development institutions.  It will redirect existing dollars that are currently used to pay the administrative costs of schools into a workforce training trust fund. These funds will then be reinvested in our schools for the purpose of infrastructure, human capital, and training expertise programs.
These bills will have final vote in the House on Friday.  If they pass, they will move on to the Senate for debate.
A bill being heard in a house committee would make the use of racial profiling by a law enforcement officer a misdemeanor.  The bill would create a citizen review board to review complaints made by citizens and would give officers found in violation demerits, or suspend or remove them from service.
This bill would also require law enforcement agencies to report data to the attorney general. Opponents believe that agencies are already addressing the problem, without the added expense and manpower necessary to report to the attorney general.   The bill would require that law enforcement agencies set up training and educational programs for officers regarding racial profiling.
The legislature ordered a study on racial profiling in 2003 and the study found that African-Americans are twice as likely to as white people to be pulled over by police.  Several other studies have found similar results.  Many legislators believe that this statistic makes it imperative to end the practice of stopping people based solely on race.
The Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee is currently working on the Governor’s Expanded Gaming Opportunity Act.  The committee has started making changes to the bill that would increase the share of gaming revenue for horse and dog track owners.  An amendment was passed allows the number of slot machines allowed at tracks to be increased from 2.500 to 4,000.
The Expanded Gaming Opportunity act calls 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.  Exclusive rights means that they would be the only group allowed to have a casino in Kansas that is not on a reservation.  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.
Bills in both the House and Senate would make low-income grandparents eligible to receive state support for caring for their grandchildren.  Currently, grandparents caring for grandchildren can become licensed foster parents and receive the same support other foster parents receive, $608 per month.  If they do not become licensed, low-income grandparents can only receive $140 per month from Temporary Assistance for Families.
This bill would allow grandparents to receive 70% of the amount licensed foster parents receive without having to become licensed, about $456 per month.  This would be available to grandparents whose incomes fall below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. This will give many grandparents the financial means to continue caring for grandchildren, keeping families together.
The Senate version of this bill passed this week.
The Kansas Open Records Act, which provides for public access to all governmental records is currently being reviewed in the Senate Federal and State Committee. The bill H2889 sailed through the House with a final vote of 123-2. However, the Senate Federal and State Committee has been slow to act on the bill. Testimony was heard on March 18 with final work on the bill on March 19, 2004.
Currently there are exemptions to the law that deal with the compensation and employment contracts of personnel at public institutions. All exemptions to open records are slated to expire in 2005 unless the Legislature takes action. The House amended the section on personnel records and made public actual compensation and employment contracts. Also included in the bill is a provision that requires public notification of any donation that is made directly to any public official or employee.

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