Legislative Update #7

We have had a busy couple of weeks in the Legislature following the Turnaround Deadline. 

Testified on Behalf of No Food Tax at Farmers' Markets

bill-kromer.pngBill Kromer, President of Leavenworth Farmer's Market, came the Legislature to testify with written testimony from Chamber President Brandon Johannes (as well as from many others, including small family farmers) advocating for zero grocery tax on food bought at farmer’s markets like Leavenworth’s.

I developed and sponsored House Bill 2668 to eliminate sales taxes at community farmers' markets. While the legislation is limited only to farmers' markets, I nonetheless think it is a small step in the right direction. Kansas has one of the highest sales tax rates on groceries in the United States.

I also testified in support of the legislation, stating that this was not just a tax exemption, but a tax incentive for consumers to support community farmers' markets and small, family farmers. I believe it is fundamentally wrong and fiscally imprudent to provide individual exemptions, such as the hundreds of millions to Tyson for the Tongie plant, but not provide broad-based small incentives to the tune of $200,000 annually in foregone sales tax to small family farmers across Kansas. 

Due Process for Teachers

During the 2014 legislative sesssion, due process for teachers was stripped in the middle of the night. The restoration of due process for teachers ensures that educators are guaranteed an impartial hearing in the event someone wants to fire them.

Due process is a good tool that does not cost the state money, but helps to recruit and keep quality teachers in our schools. The House passed a due process bill for teachers, House Bill 2757, that passed the House on final vote. The legislation now goes to the Senate to be debated and considered. This is an important advancement for Kansas public schools in a time of uncertainty.

Anti-Bullying Legislation Advances

Representative John Eplee of Atchison spoke on the floor on Monday to discuss two suicides in the Atchison school district that were linked to bullying. House Bill 2758 is an anti-bullying bill that passed the House last week and requires school districts to publish policy relating to bullying, cyber-bullying, and harassment policies in schools in order to better protect both students and teachers.

The legislation also requires each school district to have a plan on file with the State Department of Education that includes consequences and appropriate remedial action for anyone who commits the act of bullying, cyber-bullying, and / or other harassment.

Chicken Feeding Operations

I worked with others on the Agricultural Committee to fix Senate Bill 405.

Senate Bill 405 establishes the number of chickens permitted in a confined animal feeding operation, or CAFO, facility using a dry manure system and set backs from inhabitable structures.

I ultimately voted against the bill on the House floor, because the legislation didn’t adequately address the interests of all Kansans that would be impacted by these facilities. For those communities who desired such a facility to be built in or near their communities, we could provide the necessary statutory update; however, for those communities that did not want such a facility, the House declined to provide a simple provision for petition prior to building the facility. The addition of a protest petition to the bill would have likely earned my support. 

Senate Bill 405, nonetheless, passed the Kansas House on a vote of 84 to 37. 

Income Tax Credits for Goods from Disabled/Blind

House Bill 2416 passed the House. The legislation would create a new income tax credit equivalent to 15% goods & services purchased from businesses that have at least 30 percent of their employees as Kansans with disabilities. The new income tax credit would be authorized for tax years 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.  I sought and received a clarification at the well on the House floor that the intent is to also include Veterans who have certified disabilities. 

Economic Incentive Metrics

Coming out of the business world, I am used to dealing with metrics and measurements of investments. Kansas trails the nation in terms of keeping metrics on their programs. We need to change this philosophy so that we can ensure we are making wise investments, which why I like House Substitute for House Bill 2572. This bill would require the Department of Commerce to establish a database to capture information on economic development incentive programs. This is a step in the right direction to give lawmakers better visibility into which programs are working and which programs are not working.

Education Finance

Much of our work up to this point has been done knowing that we have a Supreme Court decision that we need to address as part of this year’s session.

Kansans overwhelmingly support more funding for our schools. Recent polling has shown that 85% of Kansan’s are concerned about the level of spending in our schools. We must invest in our children and in our public schools to provide the resources for students to succeed. We must ensure that children – no matter where they live – have good teachers and access to a quality education. The study commissioned by the Republican leadership is due this week (March 15 deadline). 

Around Town

Topics of Discussion at Last Saturday's Chamber of Commerce Forum in Leavenworth

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On Saturday, the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce held the first of two Legislative forums at the Riverfront community center (The Leavenworth Times, March 13, 2018). The questions spanned cybersecurity, hemp, lowering the grocery tax, ‘dark store theory’, chickens and more.

I started the forum with brief introductory remarks. After emphasizing what an honor it has been to serve on behalf of my community, I reminded the audience that as we compare where we are as a state now to where we were a year ago, the situation is now vastly improved.

In the past year, we have reversed Brownback’s disastrous tax experiment, which had left the state one billion dollars in the hole; restored tax credits for children and home mortgages; and restored our state's credit rating and ensured our Leavenworth schools stayed open.

This session, I have supported better workman’s compensation laws, due process for teachers, Medicaid expansion amendment on the Telemedicine Act (House Bill 2206), and establishing net neutrality. I emphasized that my primary focus has been looking at laws through our unique Leavenworth lens, focusing on those issues I hear the most about from Leavenworth citizens: transparency, military issues and corrections.

From a transparency point of view, as you may recall from previous newsletters, I co-sponsored House Bill 2548, which would require that legislation introduced by a committee include the name of the person, lobbyist or organization requesting that legislation. I also co-sponsored another bill that removes the ‘gut and go’ procedure that is used to replace the original content of legislation with an entirely different language and content. This procedure makes it very difficult for the general public to follow legislation back to its origins in the legislation process. 

From a citizen’s point of view, I actively supported House Bill 2571 dealing with body cameras. The legislation would allow family members of individuals killed in officer involved shootings or incidents to have access to the audio and video recordings that may have been made during the incident and retained by law enforcement. Currently, there is no express mandate that law enforcement provide such audio or video to families. Similarly, the Kansas House passed House Bill 2459, which will bring some critical reforms to the state's civil asset forfeiture laws, increasing transparency surrounding the process of civil asset seizure and forfeiture by law enforcement and taxing agencies in Kansas.

I outlined the work I’ve done to help our corrections officers, including the bill I co-sponsored with Representative Debbie Deere from Lansing that would raise LCF levels of pay to the levels of pay at the El Dorado facility. The bill would, further, limit privatization of corrections. I’m also excited that my efforts to bring Corrections officers into the KP&F retirement fund of KPERS are getting close to reality. The KP&F legislation has passed the House and is now being considered by the Kansas Senate. 

We went through many issues, including the need to ease the regulation on hemp-based CBD oils and relax laws relating to industrial and commercial hemp production.

There was also a passionate discussion of expanding the use of medical cannabis, and whether such an expansion should include the hemp-based, non-psychoactive cannabis only or whether such an expansion should also include medical marijuana with psychoactive properties.

I also outlined the various attempts at cutting the grocery sales tax. House Bill 2131 would give a straight sales tax exemption on food with no counter-balance on revenue and how it never got moved to the House floor. House Bill 2373 would give a tax credit for food bought and also never made it to the floor. House Bill 2616 would reduce sales tax by 2.5%, offsetting those sales tax cuts and loss of revenue by creating a new income tax bracket for individuals who make more than $1 million per year. The technique would have a net neutral budget impact. The idea of offsetting a grocery sales tax reduction or elimination has been attempted in the past by pairing the reduction or elimination with an elimination of the many and varied sales tax exemptions. 

Overall, I was very appreciate those who came out to participate at 8am on a Saturday. I believe a recorded copy of the forum may soon be available online.

35th Annual Leavenworth St. Patrick's Day Parade

Looking forward to seeing everyone at this year's St Patrick's day Parade! The parade starts at noon in downtown Leavenworth. Grand Marshal will be Rod and Susan Bray, owners at Broadway Liquors

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Speaking to Parents as Teachers at Capitol

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It was my honor to speak to citizens involved with the Kansas Parents As Teachers Association (KPATA) at the Kansas Capitol on Thursday. Studies show that parental involvement in the first 1,000 days of a child's life are the most important for reducing adversity and promoting lifelong learning. The Kansas Parents As Teachers program helps new parents, principally from lower income families, to also be involved teachers for their children in the first 1,000 days of childhood. 

Introducing Military Youth of Year, Carlos Vega

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It was my honor to introduce our local Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year Military Candidate, Carlos Vega, in Topeka last week. Leavenworth native and last-year's state winner, Celeste Marchbanks, gave the opening remarks for the ceremony and Leavenworth High School JROTC Colorguard presented the flag.

More than 18,000 Kansas kids go to Boys and Girls Clubs around the state. It was inspiring to hear their stories in the competition for Youth of the Year. 

Cornbeef & Cabbage

We attended the 18th Annual St. Patrick's Day Corned Beef & Cabbage & Pot O'Gold Raffle fundraiser hosted by Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph Church on Sunday, March 11. 

My Honor to Serve Leavenworth

It is a special honor to serve as your state representative. I value and need your input on the various issues facing state government. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions.

My office address is Room 559-S, 300 SW 10th, Topeka, KS 66612. You can reach me at (785) 296-7522 or call the legislative hotline at +1 (800) 432-3924 to leave a message for me. Additionally, you can e-mail me at jeff@votepittman.com. You can also follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org.

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Jeff Pittman
From Leavenworth, For Leavenworth
www.votepittman.com