Hello from Topeka. I wanted to provide an update from last week in the Legislature and at home.
I was honored to be the keynote speaker at my alma mater Leavenworth High School's National Honor Society Induction Ceremony. I talked to the fifty new inductees about the National Honor Society’s four pillars (character, leadership, academics, and service) and how they present themselves to colleges as well as how they internalize those principals in their life journey.
I attended the David Brewer School Carnival with my family this past weekend. Congratulations to their PTO for putting on a successful event. It was great to see the community coming together to support their neighborhood school.
Kicking off the first Easter Egg Hunt in Leavenworth was the Richard Allen Cultural Center and Museum. Volunteers hid over 6,000 eggs at Cody Park in Leavenworth. I helped with face painting and enjoyed meeting all the kids and families.
Over the last two weeks I had a series of student pages. All the students have been exceptional. They get to visit and tour the State Capitol and met Gov. Sam Brownback.
(from left) Joseph Campbell, Lansing High School, Gov. Brownback, and Audie Evans, Immaculata Catholic High School
Last week Grace Bryant from Lansing Middle School and my own children, Xavier and Bella joined me in Topeka.
The House Appropriations committee passed the first version of the budget bill out of committee late last week. That means we will be hearing debate on it over the next week on the floor. Revenue and spending will be on the forefront of topics and I look forward to these discussions much more than some of the social ideological bills that have been proposed by some members of the House.
As we consider the budget passed out of the House Appropriations committee as well as the education finance formula underway, we continue to look at different tax plans. While there is still some who would look to the Senate to propose the next round of tax code propositions to meet our overwhelming budget holes, there are still some bills in the House under consideration. One such bill is the flat tax.
Given that it’s the topic of the week, I’ll give a few thoughts on the flat tax. While on the surface, it sounds great in terms of simplicity and something everyone can understand, it has some serious challenges. If it were to be implemented at say 5% that would mean taxes on ALL taxpayers would increase. The lowest bracket would go from current 2.7% to nearly double. The flat tax is known to put a much higher burden on lower earning taxpayers.
We have to remember that it’s not the one or two or three or even four brackets that make taxes complicated, that’s a relatively easy lookup on a table or a calculation that goes into one line of our tax forms. Rather, it’s the income types and deductions that make the taxes complicated. Farm, business, interest, and other forms of income are all taxed differently and have their own lines and forms. So the argument that the flat tax is simpler really doesn’t make that much sense after looking at it.
Medicaid Expansion Bill
Two weeks ago, the Kansas House passed a Medicaid expansion bill that would help cover more than 150,000 Kansans, to include many Veterans who are without insurance. This would also aid our numerous hospitals and clinics whose budgets have been slashed multiple times over the last few years. Last week, the bill passed through the Senate but Governor Brownback vetoed the expansion bill on Thursday morning.
The veto brought the Medicaid expansion bill back to the House floor later Thursday morning, where a debate ensued over whether to override the veto. We tabled it to continue working on things like school finance, but it will probably come back out this week. The Kansas House needs 84 votes in order to override. If an override does happen, the bill will go back to the Senate for the needed 27 override votes. I’m not sure if it will pass through or not.
I support the bill for a number of reasons.
- We have paid the federal taxes that have been allocated to us but we aren’t taking advantage of the benefits.
- We are looking at billions of dollars of federal investment back into Kansas and our Kansas economy can use that investment at this time.
- I compare it to roads—if the federal government were going to pay for 90-95% of the cost of new road work, we would take advantage of it.
- KanCare is its own version of Medicaid. Paul Ryan recently said that this program isn’t going away anytime soon. If the federal government does stop this program, the expansion statute has a provision to stop the program. So we are protected from the Feds pulling out.
- It helps our Leavenworth citizens and hospitals. These are working individuals who may work for minimum wage but can’t afford health insurance. Some have chronic conditions and need the medical assistance to help avoid medical bill bankruptcy and to keep working.
Other Bills of Interest
The House floor was busy this week. Here are some of the bills from the week. (Recall that HB is short for House Bill and SB is short for Senate Bill. This signifies where the bill started… also keep in mind that just because we passed the bill, it won’t be a law until the governor signs it and that could be after further modification…)
HB 2273: This was a bill about further restricting robo-calls. It narrows the time that tele-sales people can call consumers.
HB 2306: This bill was called the Kansas sexually violent predator act and passed after much some difficult discussion on one aspect—parental notification. The discussion was about whether doctors who perform rape examinations minors are absolutely required by law to notify parents, or if they have a modest amount of discretion if they feel this notification put the minors in danger. In the end, the legislature sided with the safety of kids.
SB 112: an act concerning crimes, punishment and criminal procedure; relating to evidence; videotaping of certain felony, custodial interrogations; domestic battery; creating the crime of aggravated domestic battery; controlled substances; unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia; burglary; expungement; arrest records.
H Sub for SB 40: This bill was another difficult one to discuss. Kansas it turns out has quite a bit of human trafficking and related crimes going on. This bill’s intent is stopping the exploitation of children and kidnapped people who are forced into sexual slavery. The bill also beefs up child porn and other related crimes..
Sub SB 74: As a co-signer on “Joey’s Law”, I was pleased to see this go through. A Kansas tragedy occurred when an autistic individual who was driving was gunned down by an officer after acting erratically. With no fault towards the police, the parents testified how having some signal for police officers that they may be dealing with someone on the autistic spectrum could help in future circumstances, this law would allow qualified autistic-spectrum individuals a placard much like handicap placards, as well as an indicator on identification cards and driver’s licenses. It at least gives a chance for the officers to understand behavior that may be confusing.
H Sub SB 101: an act concerning crime victims; relating to protection orders; protection from abuse act; protection from stalking act; sexual assault evidence collection examinations and parental notification; the crime victim’s compensation board and claims for compensation.
SB 124: With divorce and custody such a prominent factor in modern life, the House took on a piece of the parental custody code allowing judges more consideration of domestic and emotional abuse when determining co-parenting time and custody rulings.
HB 2319: As some continue to focus on ideological bills to push for in the Kansas House versus addressing some of the major challenges we have before us in terms of running the state, we found ourselves working what’s known as the ‘font’ bill.
I liked the bill because it had merit in terms of ensuring providers aren’t putting important information in fine print when they advise women of the consequences of abortion. However the bill may have gone too far in explicitly stating in the law the exact font, size and typeface. The bill did pass through the House.
Please join me on Saturday, April 8th at 8:00-9:30am for the Leavenworth/Lansing Chamber of Commerce Legislative Update. It will be held at the Riverfront Community Center in the Men's Waiting Room.
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 email me at email@example.com. Some of the action is streaming and you can follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org
Rep. Jeff Pittman