2005 SESSION ADJOURNS
The Legislature adjourned the 2005 session at 2:50 a.m. Sunday morning, May 1, 2005 after finalizing an $11.4 billion state budget, a 5 percent increase over the current year. Included in the budget is a two-step pay raise for state workers, with 1.25 percent effective in July and another 1.25 percent in January. The first 1.25 percent must be funded from current agency revenues, which will be difficult for many state agencies. The increase in January is funded in the 2006 budget. This was an area of contention. The governor’s original budget provided for a 2.5% increase for state employees for the whole year.
The Legislature finished the session with eight days to spare out of 90 that traditionally are budgeted. House leaders said with pride it was the shortest session in 33 years and therefore saved the state $600,000. Unfortunately, every penny of the savings may be needed to cover a special session should the Kansas Supreme Court order the Legislature this summer to bolster funding for public schools.
The court currently is reviewing a $142 million school plan lawmakers passed this year. A special session for the first time in decades is a strong possibility.
EDUCATION PLAN NOT SUSTAINABLE
Legislative leaders have said that HB 2247, their solution to the school funding lawsuit, would be sustainable in the future with no new revenues. They are relying on revenue growth to sustain the increased funding.
Budget outlooks reflecting increases in revenue, but not all likely increases in SRS and Aging caseloads, predict that in fiscal year 2007, the state would have an ending balance of only $6.4 million dollars. The plan would lead to a deficit of $244.6 million in fiscal year 2008. Based on this data, this education plan is not likely to be sustainable with current funds. In order to remain financially solvent, the State must have a positive ending balance. Bad fiscal management could lower the state’s credit rating and cause further fiscal problems in the future.
LIQUOR CONTROL ACT MADE UNIFORM
A law passed late in the session will make the State’s Liquor Control Act apply uniformly to all cities and counties. Fourteen cities and one county have opted themselves out of the state’s Liquor Control Act and are currently allowing the sale of liquor on Sundays. This follows a March 2003 ruling in Wyandotte County that said if a law was not uniformly applied to the whole state, communities are allowed to apply “home rule” power over the issue.
Action on this issue has been called for because if local governments are allowed to exert “home rule” authority on the Liquor Control Act regarding Sunday sales, they could also do the same for other parts of the law, including the section setting the legal drinking age at 21. The bill would make the Act uniformly applicable to all cities and counties after November 15, 2005. The bill would allow retail liquor stores in all cities unless an ordinance is adopted to prohibit such stores. The bill also would prohibit sales of alcoholic liquor and cereal malt beverage (CMB) on Sundays unless a city ordinance or a resolution is adopted to allow such sales. A protest petition followed by an election could be held to reverse the city/county ordinance or resolution.
This new law would authorize any city to adopt an ordinance on or before February 15, 2006 to prohibit retail liquor stores within the city. The voters could have a protest petition to have an election on whether to permit such sales. A subsequent election may be held to reverse previous prohibition of such sales.
The bill authorizes cities and counties to enact ordinances or resolutions to approve or disapprove the sale of alcoholic liquor and CMB on Sunday other than Easter and the sale of liquor on Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. These ordinances and resolutions would be subject to protest petition followed by an election.
If ordinances or resolutions or voters approve selling alcoholic liquor and CMB on Sunday and holidays, sales in those cities and counties would be prohibited before 12:00 noon or after 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, or Easter, and before 9:00 a.m. or after 11:00 p.m. on any day where sales are permitted.
This law would also prohibit alcohol without liquid (AWOL). Farm wineries would increase ownership of winery outlets from two to three per winery. Production would be increased to 100,000 gallons and free sampling would be permitted at special events.
SECOND ENROLLMENT COUNT DATE FOR SCHOOLS
The House passed a bill this week that allows school districts a second date to count students if there is an increase of 25 students or 1% of total enrollment. This allows for an increase in funds to accommodate new students. The increase must be the result of increases in enrollments of dependents of full-time active military personnel or military reserve who are engaged in mobilizing for war, international peacekeeping, national emergency, or homeland defense activities.
Both Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley are expecting a large deployment of troops into their area of the state. It is expected to begin in late summer and fall and continue for two years. These deployments will cause a rapid increase in students. Fort Riley is expected to experience the greatest increase in troops, about 3,400 in addition to the 11,600 currently stationed there. This deployment is expected to generate an additional $256 million in economic impact for Riley and Geary counties. Fort Riley currently generates $856 million of the Riley and Geary counties. This increase in deployment will also create an additional 1,200 civilian jobs and bring 4,700 dependents to the area.
BILL PASSED TO STRENGTHEN STATE SEXUAL OFFENDER REGISTRY
Legislation was passed that would expand the state’s sexual offender registry to include all persons previously convicted as sexual offenders. The Kansas sex offender registry promotes public safety by allowing our citizens access to information on convicted sexual offenders living in our neighborhoods. However, the current registry is incomplete because it excludes information of those convicted prior to 1994.
In 1996, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in State v. Myers that only those offenders convicted after the adoption of the sexual offender registration law could have their information included in the state’s registry. Because of that ruling, the current sexual offender registry only includes those convicted of offenses after April 14, 1994. However, in March 2003, the United State Supreme Court subsequently ruled in Smith v. Doe that registries such as the Kansas database could also include offenders who had been convicted prior to passage of the state law.
MILITARY BILL OF RIGHTS PASSED
The past several years have shown us how important our support of a strong military is to our state and nation. Our nation calls more and more upon our National Guard and Reserves and we are secure at home because of the work of our military here and abroad. The Military Bill of Rights, passed into law this session, is designed to ease the financial burden of service for our men and women in uniform and their families.
If a state employee is called to duty and her military pay is lower than her state pay, the state will pay the difference. And all state employees activated for longer than 180 days will receive a $1,000 activation payment, retroactive since September 11, 2001.
The Governor has also called on the Legislature to grant full tuition to Kansas universities, colleges, or vocational technical colleges for dependents of Kansans killed in the line of duty while serving.
These actions, combined with the steps the state already takes, are a way to show our appreciation for the sacrifices made by our service men and women. These steps also encourage more men and women to join the Guard and Reserve. We need swift action to show our military that we support them 100% and are behind them for the long-haul.
“CLUNKER BILL” PASSES
A bill to repeal a law passed last year that changed the way sales tax was calculated on used car purchases from private owners has been signed by the Governor. Refunds are now available from the Kansas Department of Revenue.
The law passed last session was aimed at under-reporting the value of used cars in order to pay less taxes. Instead of calculating sales tax based on selling price, county treasurers were to calculate based on values determined by the Department of Revenue if it was higher than the selling price. This law had no provision to account for the condition of the vehicle, so many people were taxed at a higher rate than the value of the car. If you feel you are entitled to a refund, forms are available at any county treasurer’s office, or online at www.ksrevenue.org/faqs-VehSalesRefund.htm.
BILL TO RECORD VETERANS’ HISTORIES
House Bill 2338 seeks to create a public-private partnership which will vigorously seek out WWII veterans and record their stories. Also, many of these veterans have photos and other items which should be documented and/or archived for historical research purposes. Furthermore, this bill would organize this history into a central place to make it easily available for future research.
WWII veterans are passing away every day (national estimates are 30,000 per month). Many believe not enough has been done to document the history of Kansas veterans and archive their war photos and other items. In addition, the Library of Congress now has a veterans history database that links veterans history libraries across the nation.
Proponents believe that House Bill 2338 will gather stories and document the history of a great generation in a great country in a way beneficial to our children’s children.
FUNDS ADDED TO HELP SMALL BUSINESSES PURCHASE HEALTH CARE
The Business Health Partnership is a not-for-profit entity formed to develop and market an affordable health plan to small businesses. The Partnership is a joint venture between the State of Kansas and business leaders from around the state. The House amended the 2006 state budget to increase affordable health insurance options for small businesses and their employees. The provision funds the Business Health Partnership. The amendment was approved by a vote of 102 to 21.
Escalating health care costs are one of the most serious challenges facing Kansas small businesses. Rising health care costs make it hard for small businesses to survive and make it increasingly difficult for business owners to offer adequate health coverage for employees. Almost 300,000 Kansans are without health insurance. Nearly two-thirds of uninsured Kansans are employed by small businesses. This is a very real problem impacting the daily lives of families across our state. The state must be proactive in seeking affordable options allowing small businesses to provide for the health care needs of their employees.
The costs of health care services provided to those without insurance have an impact on the premium rates paid by insured Kansans. It is estimated that 16% of insurance premium costs are attributable to uncompensated care. The Business Health Partnership has many worthwhile goals, including:
$Redesigning the Department of Revenue Application for the newly-enhanced tax-credit to small uninsured businesses, making it easier for small businesses to take advantage of state assistance in purchasing health care for their employees.
$Better coordinate access to healthcare for disadvantaged populations
$Promote awareness of health insurance coverage options and new efforts to cover prescription drugs for lower-income patients.
SENATE KILLS SUITABILITY BILL
The Senate voted 32-7 to reject SB 181, the”suitable” education definition bill. The bill began in the Senate as a bill to establish a three-judge panel to hear future school finance lawsuits. SB 181, in its original form, changes civil procedure law when the case is a lawsuit involving Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution, the education Article, in two significant ways. A three judge panel is named by the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and then, that three judge panel decides venue, where the case will be heard. The current school finance case was heard in the usual manner when the state is sued, in Shawnee County before a Shawnee County district court judge. SB 181 passed the Senate in that form and when it came to the House, it was referred to the Select Committee on School Finance.
In House committee, an amendment was offered and passed to define a suitable education. This amendment mirrored an effort last session, which listed 17 areas of curriculum that the state would finance, a second tier list (which included library services, for example) which would be optional for state funding. HB 2940 did not pass. The amendment to SB 181 said that the burden of proof for plaintiff school districts in school finance cases would be to prove that the state funding does not cover the curriculum ”were not sufficient to fund the cost of providing the subjects or areas of instruction required by state law, including reasonable and necessary related instruction, administration, support staff, supplies, equipment and building costs.” No public hearings were held on the amendment, and the bill passed out of the Select Committee.
Over objections, the bill was reported out of conference committee with the “accredited schools” language. When the bill came to the floor, it was defeated on the first vote. Then a motion to reconsider was made and the bill was passed with only the bare requirement, 63 votes. When it went to the Senate, opposition was bipartisan, with both Democrat and Republican Senators, including the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, raising concerns that suitability language would “dumb down” schools by narrowing what the state would fund, and establish a burden of proof for school districts to demonstrate that the state funding of inputs to the education of children was inadequate. Senators objected to the fact that, under the language in the bill, districts that sued over funding would have to show the state didn’t provide enough money to fully fund certain courses and programs. Critics worried the language would discourage districts from offering courses not on the list — such as vocational education—deemed important locally. They also were worried and upset that the result would be to take away a remedy for school districts without the necessary funding for remedial programs and programs for helping failing students. In the end, the Senate overwhelmingly rejected the bill.
Early Sunday, both chambers passed SB 43, which contained the language that establishes the three-judge panel. That bill had no “suitability” language, but it did have a provision that allows districts to use the local property tax options in HB 2247 without a protest petition or election.
HOUSE DEMOCRATS STOP EFFORT TO CUT HIGHWAY FUNDING
During House debate, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Melvin Neuefeld, R-Ingalls, offered an amendment to the state budget bill that would transfer $717,000 in funds from the highway fund to the Department of Wildlife and Parks. The unexpected amendment passed. Rep. Bill Feuerborn, D-Garnett, then offered an amendment reversing this transfer. Rep. Feuerborn argued that the legislature has already taken too much money from the highway fund, putting projects in jeopardy. The amendment to reverse the transfer passed 63-58.
HEALTH CARE REFORM PASSED
In the late hours of the 2005 session, a plan to streamline health care costs in Kansas was passed by both the House and the Senate. The plan contains many provisions similar to a plan proposed earlier in the session by Governor Kathleen Sebelius. The main goal is to consolidate all health care purchasing by the State, the largest consumer of health care services in Kansas. Benefits of such consolidation include:
$GREATER ACCOUNTABILITY. Consolidation of services provides a clearer financial trail and data for future decisions.
$GREATER PURCHASING CLOUT. This measure would have helped to better handle escalating health care costs by cutting bureaucracy and strengthening the state’s health care purchasing power. The state uses its economies of scale.
$STREAMLINE SRS. Health care programs would be moved out of SRS allowing it to focus on social service programs.
$Enhanced ability to negotiate with the federal government.
$The plan may help to open the door for insurance plans allowing individuals and small businesses to pay less in insurance premiums by pooling together into larger purchasing groups.
Unlike the Governor’s original plan, which would have required no new spending, this plan creates a new office, the Health Policy Authority, which would require funds for staffing, as well as other administrative costs. Opponents of the new plan say that by increasing spending, we are working contrary to the idea of lowing costs for healthcare purchasing.
This nine-member authority, to be appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, would be assigned the task of implementing a coordinated health-policy agenda that combines effective purchasing and administration of health care programs with prevention-oriented public health strategies. It is unclear how much the Authority would cost the state or how much this reorganization could potentially lower Medicaid expenditures for the poor and the cost of state employee health insurance.
LAW PASSED TO RESTRICT SALES OF METH INGREDIENTS
In response to the shooting death of Greenwood County Sheriff Matt Samuels, the legislature passed a law that would limit access to ingredients to manufacture methamphetamine. Samuels was shot to death earlier this year at a home where authorities discovered a suspected meth lab.
Under the House bill, it would be illegal to buy or acquire more than three packages of certain over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine during a seven-day period. Consumers would only be able to buy the drugs from a pharmacy, and they would have to show identification and sign a log.
Law enforcement agencies reported 583 seizures of meth labs in Kansas in 2004, though that figure is likely low. Four counties — Allen, Crawford, Cherokee and Cowley — accounted for about 43 percent of all seizures reported. The Kansas legislation is modeled after a 2004 Oklahoma law that has been credited with a drastic reduction in meth lab seizures. Some lawmakers said this year’s legislation should be a beginning in the fight against meth.