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.
House Bills Introduced This Week
This past summer, Gov. Brownback issued an emergency order to raise the salaries of El Dorado corrections workers by 10% and all other corrections workers by 5%. This positive step, unfortunately, had the unintended consequence of creating a statewide wage imbalance for corrections workers, with El Dorado being paid better than corrections workers in other regions of the state.
This week, I cosponsored a bill with Rep. Debbie Deere from Lansing, House Bill 2686, which would increase the salaries of corrections workers at other locations to be on par with the raises given to El Dorado Correctional Facility.
I also co-sponsored a bill, House Bill 2551, to prevent privatization of corrections and security in our prisons. I’ll give testimony in a hearing on this topic in the House on Monday in the House Corrections Committee. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate.
There will soon be a discussion to reduce or remove sales taxes on groceries. I submitted legislation, House Bill 2668, which would exempt food sales tax at Farmer’s Markets like ours in downtown Leavenworth. It is easy to see how this discussion may be expanded to include other types of markets, including grocery stores.
Other food tax reduction bills are also in the queue, but most of these won’t make it onto the floor unless someone amends other bills, because committee leadership is blocking discussion of reducing and / or removing food sales taxes at the committee level.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s recent announcement declared CBD illegal in Kansas. We actually have a store downtown that opened up that sold some of these products. I want to take a moment to inform be clear on what exactly CBD is and what it is used for:
CBD oil, or cannabidiol, refers to compounds derived from the cannabis plant that are devoid of psychoactive properties, sold as oils, lotions, supplements, and pills. Kansans use CBD for its properties as an antioxidant, antiemetic, anxiolytic and antipsychotic agent, treating things like nausea, anxiety, PTSD and schizophrenia. CBD has no psychoactive properties and does not have the same effects as marijuana. All THC – the psychoactive component of marijuana – has been removed, so there is no way to use as this product to "get high," or much less, to overdose.
Kansans who rely on CBD oils for treatment of a bona fide medical diagnosis, such as veterans dealing with PTSD and those with chronic illnesses, should not have their medicine taken away from them. That’s why there is work going on to be more clear on the legality of this substance.
Net Neutrality Amendment
During debate on IT contracts, an amendment was offered to establish requirements for telecoms doing business with the state to agree to net neutrality rules. The former Net Neutrality rules established by the FCC prohibited big telecom internet providers from making you pay extra for services like Netflix and Hulu. It was your internet to use as you pleased. However, since those rules have been repealed by the FCC, there is a new push by state governments to prohibit the big telecom companies from parceling services and requiring consumers to pay more for basic services like watching Netflix or Hulu in their living rooms.
House Military & Veterans Committee
This week, we worked through a change to the way veterans programs will benefit from lottery funds. Currently, the lottery prepares specific tickets that are so-called "veterans" tickets and those proceeds go to Kansas veterans. The amount of the proceeds have varied from $700,000 - $1.5 million. We worked through an agreement with the lottery to take away the requirement to create veteran-specific tickets and to ensure a $2 million dollar return to the Kansas veterans homes and National Guard, with a 5% annual increase. This ensures a steady budgeting stream and lets the lottery do the job they know how to do best. This was successfully passed out of committee this week and goes to the overall House for consideration next.
We heard from law students at Washburn's veteran law clinic. They have a program that focuses on giving free legal work to veterans who are around the poverty level, focusing on short term work like power of attorney, wills, and expungement. What I found unique was that they allowed veterans in who were either honorably or dishonorably discharged – most programs won't allow the latter. They have about three clinics a year. A similar program is operated by students at KU Law.
House Government Security & Technology
After being briefed on security measures used currently by the Fusion center, a public/private cybersecurity center here in Kansas that has had a good deal of success in monitoring security threats to our essential infrastructure, my committee did extensive work on a cybersecurity bill, House Bill 2560. The bill is meant to tighten up the state’s IT security by holding all parties to Federal NIST standards and by leveraging a core group of specialized security workers.
The bill generated a huge amount of feedback from local governments across the state due to a per person, per device, per month fee that was put in the original bill. The fee would be assessed on local governments that connect into the state government, and be an overwhelming expense for local government, libraries, and school districts.
On Friday, I offered the Pittman Amendment for House Bill 2560, which would remove those fees and limit the initial deployment of the cybersecurity enhancements to the executive branch only. While the Amendment received a second, the Committee Chair adjourned before we could have a vote on the amendment. This amendment should be voted on by the Committee on Monday, assuming the Chair opens the meeting.
The state does not have a strong track-record in deploying new, large computing systems, as demonstrated by the KEES Medicaid eligibility program and Department of Revenue Drivers' License implementations. I think a better method of deploying new cybersecurity programs is to focus on one branch of government first so that we don't bite off more than we can chew.
House Transportation Committee
The Senate is working through a joint task force transportation bill that has until Jan. 31 of 2019 to report on what's possible through the remainder of the current 10-year transportation plan, and what the next plan should look like.
The Committee passed House Bill 2486, which expands time that golf carts can be on the road if they have lights; and House Bill 2511, a bill that extends the renewal period for Commercial drivers licenses from 4 years to 5 years, to correspond with federal guidelines.
We also heard from Kansas Highway Patrol officers testifying on behalf of the memorial sections of various highways for House Bill 2531 and House Bill 2436, this last one naming a section of Johnson County highway after Master Deputy Brandon Collins, a police officer killed in the line of duty in September of 2016.
House Judiciary Committee
This week I gave testimony at the hearing on House Bill 2529, basically explaining why this bill has come up now. Divorcing parents with kids are finding the legal status quo across the state insufficient in changing times. Men and women are taking more interest in different family roles. Likewise, researchers consistently point to the importance of having both parents in childrens' lives as positive role models. Yet consistently kids are the ones that lose out in these court battles. This bill may or may not move forward, but I'm heartened as it heightens awareness and starts a needed discussion.
House Agriculture Committee
We heard a briefing this week on the state of Kansas’ agricultural economy, with a focus on cost vs. prices, and debt-to-asset ratios of Kansas farms. The last few years have seen short-term debt being replaced by longer-term debt, where farmers are refinancing to help with cash flow as prices are down. Wheat production is declining as we compete globally, but soybean production is increasing due to higher margins.
We heard hearings on various bills, including on herbicide (dicamba) overspray issues in the state and new noxious weed program that would change the process by which weeds were deemed harmful and empower county commissioners to weigh in on local noxious weeds. I never knew so much about noxious weeds as I do now!
House Elections Committee
House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 5017 had a hearing and is an interesting proposition. It basically would stagger half of the Senate terms by two years. Now, Kansas Senate terms are four years long, with every senator standing for re-election at one time.
House Taxation Committee
The tax committee is expecting to be briefed by the department of revenue next week on the impact federal taxes will have on state taxation law. The recent federal tax law changes could have a big impact on Kansas so the sooner we dig into this the better.
New Governor Jeff Colyer Addresses Legislature
On Wednesday, the new Governor gave the second State of the State address this year. The House traditionally invites the Senate, the Supreme Court and the Governor into its chamber for this event. Given Gov. Jeff Colyer’s recent inauguration, it seemed appropriate to allow him a chance to lay-out what he sees as priorities.
Colyer, in his speech, praised the Legislature for some of the leading initiatives to improve transparency in state government — including what the Democrats have packaged as a series of bills. His first executive order addressed sexual harassment training within the executive branch and state agencies.
While Colyer called for an end to the cycle of constant litigation over the funding of Kansas public schools, he gave no specifics on how this might be done. The Governor also expressed his wish to be the "most accessible governor" in the state’s history.
Legislation On the House Floor This Week
This week, the House worked several bills on the floor. All of these bills passed through the chamber.
House Bill 2470 - Microbreweries
House Bill 2470 allows microbreweries within the state of Kansas to contract with other microbreweries for production and packaging of beer and hard cider. I supported a “Kansas first” amendment which would have reduced fees on microbreweries that use higher percentages of Kansas grown ingredients, but this amendment failed to the majority.
House Bill 2502 - Sales Tax Clean-Up Bill
House Bill 2502 is a clean-up bill that clarified that for the 6.0% sales of beer authorized last year were subject to sales tax so that local governments would get their percentage.
House Bill 2446 - Move Towards Bipartisan Representation for Kansas Security and Information Technology
House Bill 2446 is an important movement towards bipartisan representation on the Joint Committees on Kansas Security and Information Technology that would allow a ranking minority party member to be appointed. Currently, the law only allows the majority party on the committee leadership.
House Bill 2438 - Best Practices in IT Bidding
House Bill 2438 is a “best practices” bill that separates the planning of a big IT project for RFP from the actual contract. It is designed to prevent an incumbent vendor from rigging the bids for IT projects so that only the incumbent vendor can win the bid.
Senate Bill 262 - Authorizing Statute of Ike on Capitol Grounds
Senate Bill 262 is a bill authorizing for the Capitol Preservation Committee to build a permanent statue of President Dwight D. Eisenhower on the Kansas Capitol grounds after they raise enough money.
House Bill 2469 - Quicker Responses to Natural Disasters
House Bill 2469 is a bill providing for quicker response times to citizens going through a natural disaster crisis. It prohibits cities from preventing emergency insurance claim centers to be set up during any catastrophic event, like devastation from wild fires or tornadoes.
Things of Interest in the Upcoming Week
Appropriation continues to hear from the subcommittees on the various budget items. This process is how the Legislature decides how money is to be used. This week the Appropriations committee cut the $19 million additional recommended funding from the Judicial budget that was recommended from that subcommittee.
The House Fed & State Committee next week hears about lottery and potential expanded casinos on Tuesday and Thursday.
The Telecom Committee hears a proposition to talk about a statewide broadband task force.
We will hear from the Secretary of State’s office on their Crosscheck program on Wednesday in the House Government Technology & Security Committee.
The House Health & Human Services Committee has a hearing on the telemedicine act on Monday.
Also on Monday, the House K-12 Education Budget Committee has a hearing on how new revenues were used in 2017 and expectations for 2018 from the Kansas Department of Education.
The House Judiciary Committee has a busy schedule of hearings, from laws around sexual abuse examinations to regulating access to police audio and video recordings, and compensation to those wrongfully imprisoned.
ABATE Motorcycle Advocacy at the Capitol
I had the privilege to meet with many local folks and others from around the state participating in the ABATE Day at the Capitol. ABATE is a motorcycle advocacy group.
SnowFlake Streak Fundraiser
On Saturday morning, Holly and I had an amazing time at the Snowflake Streak Fundraiser! Thank you to the Leavenworth community for raising over $45,000 for Saint Vincent Clinic. It was a quick one mile run with pancakes at the end.
Ducks Unlimited Fundraiser - Leavenworth Chapter
I also had the privilege of attending an annual fundraiser for the Leavenworth Chapter of Ducks Unlimited.
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 email@example.com. You can also follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org.
From Leavenworth, For Leavenworth