Legislative Update #9

At the Kansas Legislature, we have made a huge amount of progress towards more stable government, prioritizing our kids’ future and recovering from the Brownback tax experiment. There has been a move towards bi-partisan cooperation since I joined the Kansas House of Representatives, and I hope to push forward with that cooperation.

We are nearing the end of the 2018 Legislative session. We are currently at the end of the Turnaround phase where each chamber votes on what had already passed the other chamber. Some bills continue to pop up, but for the most part all bill introductions, hearings and committee work are complete.

We are currently in a two-week break period and go back for the Veto Session on April 26. The Veto Session is when the Legislature would normally have the opportunity to override any gubernatorial veto as we did last year when overriding some of then-Governor Brownback’s policies.

The last day of the Legislature (known as Sine Die) is slated for May 4th. All budgets and bills are finalized by then from the Legislative point of view.

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Legislative Update #8 - 2018 Legislative Session

We've once again had a busy week in the legislature, and among the many important topics we've covered, none was more important that the release of the Republican Leadership's Education Report. 

Education Report Released

The out-of-state expert witness hired by Republican Leadership in the Gannon school finance case submitted her finalized report Friday, March 16. Lori Taylor, from Texas, has been conducting a study on school finance in Kansas. Her conclusions will be used by the legislature to formulate a new school funding dollar amount that will satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court’s requirements.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October of last year that the amount of dollars appropriated to school funding in the legislature’s 2017 school finance bill was neither adequate or equitable. The Court set a deadline of April 30, 2018, for a new bill from the legislature, to be ruled upon June 30, 2018.

This report tells us that money does matter. For better outcomes – higher graduation rates, better math and reading scores – the report clearly shows the link that Kansas would need to invest more money into schools. The study also points out that Kansas has significantly underfunded schools in Kansas for the last seven to eight years.

Interesting that the researchers observed that our factor for poverty was about half of what was needed, while the English as a second language factor was too high. More on the study as we continue to digest it.

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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. 

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2018 Legislative Update #6

Action On the House Floor

Because of Turnaround, we did a lot of work on the House floor to deliberate and pass legislation.

Here's some of the key highlights. 

Prohibiting Privatization of Correctional Officers

House Bill 2551 was bipartisan legislation introduced by myself, Representative Deere from Lansing, Representative Jim Karlskint from Tonganoxie, and two other House Republicans. The bill passed the House and is now headed to the Kansas Senate for consideration. 

This bill will require prior legislative authorization before any state agency may to enter into any agreement or take any action to outsource or privatize security operations of any correctional or juvenile correctional facility operated by a state agency. In sum, House Bill 2551 will prevent any further privatization of corrections in Kansas, including the privatization of correctional officers. 

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Legislative Update #5 - 2018 Legislative Session

Another week is in the books. Here's the latest from the Statehouse:

Around the Capitol

Education

April 30 is the deadline for state lawyers to get their arguments into the Supreme Court with regard to ongoing education funding lawsuits. The House leadership has hired an outside ‘expert witness’ who is due to give their opinion to the House mid-March. While the Education funding committee has looked at some specific reforms, leadership appears to be waiting for testimony to proceed.

Tax Conformance

Experts came into the Tax committee to brief members about the anticipated impact of Federal tax reform on Kansas revenues and tax procedures. There have been top level early estimates of these tax reform measures actually increasing Kansas revenues. We typically have a high degree of conformance to the Federal tax code, so we must decide where we will remain in conformance with the tax modifications made recently and where we will not.

Colyer Announces Lt. Governor 

Tuesday evening – two weeks after his inauguration – Governor Colyer announced his pick for Lieutenant Governor, western Kansan Tracey Mann from Salina. Lt. Governor Mann ran a failed campaign for US Congress in Kansas’ First District in 2010, losing the primary to then-State Sen. Tim Huelskamp.

Medicaid Expansion Hearing

A hearing was held on Wednesday in the Senate Health and Public Welfare Committee on Senate Bill (SB) 38. The bill, titled the KanCare Bridge to a Healthy Kansas Program, would expand Medicaid services. SB 38 would expand Medicaid services to include adult applicants under 65 years of age, who are not pregnant and whose income does not exceed 133 percent of the federal poverty level ($16,040 for an individual, or $32,718 for a family of 4).

Medicaid expansion passed through both the Kansas House and Senate last year but was vetoed by then-Gov. Sam Brownback.

Bills on the Floor this Week

Most bills debated on the floor were administrative in nature, such as the bill passed through that requires more advanced notice be given to the bank commissioner when a bank is going under. Some bills of interest:

HB 2506: This bill will allow cities, as well as certain organizations as authorized by current law, to take temporary possession of abandoned property for purposes of rehabilitating the property. This is controversial because it allows slightly quicker seizure of blighted property in a city, where the process can extend out for years currently.

HB 2476: This bill will create and amend law related to the sale of alcoholic candy and to the sale of microbrewery “growlers”. The “alcoholic candy” was the focus of the debate and defines it as candy with content greater than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume. Currently, candies injected or infused with higher alcohol content can be sold in candy and grocery stores and is viewed as a way to get around alcohol laws.

 

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Legislative Update #4

I hope you're keeping warm! We had a busy week in the Kansas House. This was the final week for introducing legislation in both the House and the Senate, causing a final flurry of new bills introduced in both the House and the Senate.

In Kansas, filing a new bill is the first step to an idea becoming law. 

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2018 Legislative Update #3

It was another eventful week in Topeka, and I'm happy to share the rundown. Besides some important pieces of legislation moving through the House this week, we also swore in a new governor, Gov. Jeff Colyer. 

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Legislative Update #2 for the 2018 Legislature

happy_kansas_day.jpgFirst and foremost - HAPPY KANSAS DAY! Each year on January 29, we celebrate Kansas' entry into statehood. This is our 157th Year of Statehood. Though our collective journey has not been without struggle, Kansas has continued to reach for the stars. Ad Astra per Aspera, friends. 

Despite only finishing the third week of the 2018 Legislative Session, there is still plenty to report.

The Kansas State Finance Council approved new construction of the Lansing State Correctional Facility, but declined privatizing the operation of the prison.

Also, a new and much-needed focus on transparency in state government thanks to a series of news articles and editorials by the Kansas City Star has spurned several pieces of legislation designed at improving transparency for taxpayers of our great state. 

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.

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Legislative Update #1 from the 2018 Kansas Legislature

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The 2018 session has started!

The first couple of weeks largely consist of laying groundwork for the session in front of us. Because the deadline to introduce new bills comes quickly for most topics, there is a lot of energy at the moment looking at areas where bills may be needed that weren't introduced last session.

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A Special Note on the Recent Veto Override

PittWell.jpgLast week, I had the opportunity in the legislature to partially roll back Governor Brownback's damaging policies. We have been paying our electric bills with credit cards long enough; we had to correct one side of the equation to slow the continued borrowing that saddled taxpayers with more and more debt.

When I was elected to be our Representative at the state level, I ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility. We have had years of borrowing that are slowly bankrupting the state's funds. Our credit rating had fallen repeatedly in the past few years and the budget outlook was bleak. The Kansas Legislature has been cutting state spending since the Great Recession in 2008. For nearly 10 years, budgets have been passed reduced state funding well beyond cutting waste. In the four years since Governor Brownback’s failed tax plan was passed in 2012, they were now at the point where not only was excessive spending cut, but essential programs were destroyed as well.

The Kansas Legislature has had four years to fix our budget and develop a solution that works for all Kansans, but were unable to do so until this year.

As I campaigned last year, I let people know there was going to need to be more revenue in addition to looking for efficiencies. These are tough times at the state level. There was broad agreement that the Brownback 2012 tax cuts went too far, but with the Governor in denial, the Legislature had to work in a bipartisan way to a solution full of compromise.

 

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