LEGISLATURE REACHES FIRST ADJOURNMENT
First adjournment of the 2004 legislative session arrives in April, with major education issues yet to be decided. The Legislature will reconvene on Wednesday, April 28 for the “wrap-up” or veto session. During this period, the House and Senate will be considering additional budgetary matters and any bills vetoed by the Governor. The veto session is scheduled to last up to ten days then the House and Senate will adjourn for the 2003 session.
HOUSE PASSES “2004 KANSAS PATRIOTIC EMPLOYER ACT”
On Final Action this Thursday the House passed HB 2752 which contained the provisions from a bill I introduced earlier this year (HB 2818) strengthening the penalties against an employer for knowingly employing illegal aliens. The legislation calls for changing the current penalty from a class C non-person misdemeanor ($500 fine, up to one month in jail) to a Class A non-person misdemeanor ($2500 fine, up to one year in jail). The legislation also provides for an additional monetary penalty of $10,000 for each subsequent employer violation. Finally, it also establishes a hotline within the Kansas Attorney General’s office for receiving tips from the Kansas public regarding potential employer violations and redirecting these calls to local authorities for follow-up investigation and possible prosecution.
My intentions in introducing this legislation are three-fold: 1) to protect honest Kansas small businesses who are having to compete on an unlevel playing field, 2) to protect Kansas citizens and legal immigrants with skills in these affected trades from suffering wage erosion and job losses, and 3) to stop the resulting exploitation of illegals who are used in these situations.
I have received complaints from business owners both within and outside my district regarding the ever-expanding use of illegal labor throughout our state. Small businesses, particularly in the residential and commercial building sectors, are being squeezed by an growing number of unscrupulous operators who knowingly employ illegal immigrants typically in an independent contractor relationship and are thus able to provide much lower bids for contractor services.
Businesses that play by the rules are thus unable to keep their existing employees working, let alone expand for new business opportunities. What is the impetus for ANY Kansas business to pay worker compensation insurance and unemployment taxes, let alone fair wages that drive our economy, when no one will hold the “bad apples” accountable for their actions? By providing a practical enforcement mechanism and imposing harsher consequences, this legislation will force those who skirt the law to change their employment practices and better control their subcontractors.
I want to be particularly clear regarding the following points concerning this legislation:
- This legislation is a small business protection bill; it is not an anti-immigration bill.
- The focus is on employers who knowingly employ illegal aliens. This legislation is not intended to entrap employers who unknowingly may have directly or indirectly employed illegals;
- This legislation, if implemented, would not impose any additional administrative or paperwork requirements on businesses;
- This legislation provides a workable method of enforcement that at present is woefully lacking at both the Federal and State level.
KASSEBAUM & REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP EDUCATION PLANS PASS IN HOUSE
On Wednesday, an education funding plan was unveiled by Rep. Bill Kassebaum (R- Burdick). The plan provides a $155.4 million increase in school funding:
- Increases the Base State Aid per Pupil by $100 ($58.5 million),
- Increases the “at risk” student weighting from .10 to .15 in the formula ($27.1 million),
- Increases the bilingual student weighting from .20 to .22 in the formula ($1.2 million),
- Increases special education funding from 82.2 to 100 % ($54.3 million),
- Increases the “Local Option Budget” to 30% / state contribution ($14.3 million).
I feel very positive about this plan as I believe it is a good first step in addressing some of Judge Bullock’s concerns regarding the current school finance formula. The plan was amended into HB 2940 on Thursday and passed in Final Action by a vote of 72 to 52 on Friday. I voted for the bill.
The additional funding is paid for by a two-tenths of a cent increase in sales tax ($90 million in additional revenues) and a 4.5% personal income tax surcharge ($66 million in additional revenues). There are NO state-leveled increases in property taxes.
This week the House also debated the Republican House Leadership’s education funding plan for the State of Kansas. This is the third plan for school finance introduced this session. The plan is termed 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 upheld 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. Provisions to give local school districts the ability to raise $62.6 million in local property taxes were removed and the plan also allows fifteen districts to further increase property taxes to make up for a higher cost of living. Moreover, the plan does not provide a source for the $28.5 million from state funds.
The plan failed on its final vote on Wednesday, after having been tentatively passed on Tuesday. After the bill’s failure, the bill was brought back for debate. During this time, several amendments were offered to the bill. The first removed the section of the bill allowing local boards to assess the 20-mill levy on the first $20,000 of a home’s appraised value. This amendment passed, taking away a major source of funding for the bill.
Following the changes to the bill, the House passed the bill on a final vote on Thursday. This plan has received widespread criticism from school boards across the state, many maintaining that the bill’s provisions will further current inequalities in schools. I voted against this bill.
HOUSE PASSES BUDGET BILL
The House passed a $10.2 billion “all funds” budget for fiscal year 2005 this week. This budget decreases state spending by two-tenths of one percent. The budget follows many of the recommendations set out by Governor Kathleen Sebelius this January.
The budget provides for the funding of all state programs, excluding education and transportation, which will be debated at a later time. The budget leaves an ending balance of $108 million. The plan also provides state employees with a three percent pay raise. The most striking change in the House’s budget from the Governor’s is in the allocation of funds for early childhood education. The Governor recommended allotting $6.8 million for the statewide expansion of Smart Start programs, which help families that have young children with daycare and parenting education. The House reduced this amount to $4.1 million, adding $2 million for family preservation programs and $200,000 for infant and toddler health. The Senate is expected to pass a budget very soon. The current budget in the Senate is similar to the House plan. When the legislature come back into session in April, a compromise will be reached.
TRANSPORTATION COMPROMISE REACHED
A bill passed by the House this week will ensure that the state’s comprehensive transportation plan will be completed with no project cancellations. 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.
The plan passed 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.
A bipartisan agreement facilitated the outcome of this bill. It was passed on a final vote of 119 to 6. I voted in support of this legislation.
BILL TO INCREASE SPEED LIMIT PASSES HOUSE
A bill passed this week in the House 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 supposedly 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.
Under this plan there still exists a 10 mile per hour buffer where speeders’ tickets would only show on their driving record if the speeding violation was 10 mph or greater. I voted against this legislation because I am concerned about the possibility of having 18 wheelers traveling on Kansas interstate roadways approaching speeds of 85 m.p.h.
VICTIMS’ COMPENSATION FUND TO BE EXPANDED
Senate Bill 256 passed the house this week and will expand the victims’ compensation benefits to victims of crimes overseas. The victims’ compensation fund was established to assist victims with expenses that could not be covered by the offender, the federal government, the workers’ compensation system, disability benefits, or some other source.
Jeanette Stauffer, the mother of Shannon Martin, a University of Kansas student who was murdered in 2001 Golfito, Costa Rica, testified before the committee. She and her husband had expenses reaching up to $100,000 after their daughter’s death. Under current Kansas law, crime victims overseas cannot receive benefits unless they are the victim of terrorism, making Shannon Martin’s family ineligible for benefits.
BILL TO “HELP AMERICA VOTE” PASSES HOUSE
A bill was passed this week to put Kansas in compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act. Last session Governor Sebelius vetoed a bill that would put Kansas in compliance with the federal Help America Vote Act, which was passed in response to problems in Florida after the 2000 presidential election.
The governor vetoed the bill last session, because she believed that the bill was more restrictive than required by the federal law, including a provision requiring voters to provide identification to vote. This year’s bill offers a compromise on the identification issue. In this bill, only first time voters would be required to provide identification. Those registering by mail and applying to advance vote by mail could provide a drivers’ license number or the last four digits of their social security number.
There are also concerns about a provision in the bill that would require touch screen voting machines at all Kansas polling locations. This would allow disabled people to cast their vote independently and secretly, which is required by the federal law. Opponents are still leery of paperless voting systems and have concerns regarding security. A second bill was passed that provided resources to help make polling places accessible to disabled people. Both bills were passed this week. I voted for both bills.