I hope you had a great week. Here are some updates:
CORRECTIONS - NEW PRISON IN LANSING & SUPPORTING CORRECTIONS OFFICERS' SAFETY
Met with Kansas Secretary of Corrections Norwood about Lansing Correctional Facility last week. They want to consolidate the medium and max into one facility, separated internally with a whole new facility on the same site. This will help LCF be more efficient and also modernize for safety and quality enhancements. We do need a new prison in Lansing/Leavenworth as well as better wages for our corrections workers. It's exciting this is on the table. However, what is unclear is his initial idea on how to finance the new operation. There is one option he presented that involves a private company fronting the construction and doing ongoing maintenance, with the state then paying a lease for use of this property and ongoing. The state would run all corrections operations. A more traditional model would be to raise a bond and borrow the money and pay it back over a period, basically like getting a new construction loan for a new house. Either way, I anticipate more action on this from the Corrections agency and in the Legislature.
Separately, in a bill that stiffens protections on police officers (HB 2049), I supported an amendment proposed by Rep. Deere of Lansing. This amendment would have stiffened penalties for crimes targeting corrections workers. If one accepts that the premise of the bill is sound, then those protections should have been offered to corrections workers who are put in constant danger of retribution from former inmates and those connected with current inmates.
CAMPUS CARRY EXEMPTION BILL: DEAD IN SENATE COMMITTEE, HOUSE HEARS TESTIMONY
Tuesday, the Senate Federal and State Committee voted on Senate Bill 53, which would grant universities, hospitals, and other state buildings exemption from the concealed carry law set to take effect in July 2017. SB 53 died in the committee on a voice vote. On Wednesday, February 1st, the House Federal and State Committee heard testimony regarding HB 2074, legislation very similar to SB 53. The House committee vote has not yet been scheduled.
A vote passed successfully on the first go around for HB 2038 that allowed veterans and members of the armed forces exemption for initial business filing fees with the state; however the majority decided to push that bill back down to committee. Another bill (HB 2132) did make it through the house that benefits veterans from my committee on Military & Veterans Affairs, giving veterans' homes the ability to screen workers for drugs before they are able to care for veterans. We have a number of upcoming actions including one specific to Native American soldiers who may have had their pay illegally taxed by the state, giving organizations like VFW and the American Legion tax exempt status that they don't currently enjoy, and putting language in place that may help protect veterans from scams involving pension.
COUNTY COMMISSIONER ELECTION PROCESS
The House passed a bill (HB 2006) that changes the process when county commissions increase in size. Currently if Leavenworth's County Commission expanded from 3 to 5, the governor would appoint the two new commissioners at large until the next election. This bill introduces a special election process that allows the Leavenworth VOTERS to select these two new commissioners. The change was motivated because of a county commission that was expanded in Salina and it turned out the current process causes huge amounts of issues.
Kansas Jobs Report: Thursday, February 2nd, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics released its jobs report. As of December 2016, Kansas had 9,300 fewer jobs than in December of 2015 – meaning that our state is experiencing negative job growth. Compared to the rest of the United States, Kansas has the fifth-worst job growth rate.
The budget is the ongoing topic of the session; we are heavily involved across committees reviewing both sides of the budget -- revenues and spending. Revenues came in about $24 million higher in January than expected, slightly easing the most immediate need to come up with the $350 million shortfall in Kansas money that we inherited from the Governor's budget last year. Immediate cuts are still in discussion as are the other options to raise money including the one-off option of using $360 million in long term funds. The Senate is considering some tax options for more structural changes to the budget.
This is just a snapshot of some of the current activities. The house has ongoing discussion of Medicaid expansion, education budget, the future of our transit infrastructure and more.
It continues to be a special honor to serve as your state representative and look forward to any 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 email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some of the action is streaming and you can follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org
Rep. Jeff Pittman