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.
This is also the time of session when much of our committee time is spent with briefings from various agencies and entities. For example, in the Transportation committee we heard from different stakeholders about autonomous vehicles -- self driving cars and trucks. KDOT now has someone focused on technical innovations who is forming a focused task force to review how transportation may evolve in the next 15 years. We were briefed on the various states that have enacted laws to enable testing of these vehicles. Insurers such as State Farm came in to weigh in on their perspective.
Veterans and Military Committee
House Bill 2147, a legislative fix for Native Americans who served in the military from 1978 to 2001, is an example of the work we have done in the Committee on Veterans and Military.
Last year, I had the privilege to serve on a subcommittee focused on this bill. From 1977-2001, Native Americans who lived on reservations in Kansas and served in the military were exempt from Kansas taxes; however, the State nonetheless taxed those Native American service-members during that time. Members of Kansas' four tribes have come forward to advocate for their veterans to have the Kansas income tax paid back that was withheld. Two other states have already done this. We have researched the state's expected exposure to these reparations and expect it can be covered by the Department of Revenue without further appropriations.
Agriculture is off to a slow start, though we have reviewed the Kansas Forestry Service and their ~15,000 strong force of firefighters, which is a predominantly volunteer force. They continue to look for organizational techniques that will allow them to contain and fight fires more efficiently, but are noticing an uptick in the frequency and strength of fires across Kansas.
Technology and Security Committee
The Technology and Security Committee continued to look into the state of security of the state, particularly with regards to cybersecurity. We were briefed on last year's data breach which resulted in exposing over six million users' information; the cost of this breach was over $1.2 million. We were additionally briefed this week on the 911 system and their path for improvement, as well as by the Secretary of State's crosscheck system which looks at data from 28 different states to see where people may be double registered -- the volume of their personal information makes me very concerned of our state's liability versus any benefit that system may be delivering to Kansas.
Medicaid Suspension Instead of Termination
I have co-sponsored a bill, which would allow the Department of Health and Environment to suspend, instead of terminate, Medicaid (KanCare) eligibility for those who are admitted to state mental hospital, private mental health facilities, or jails.
Presumption of Joint Parental Custody
I am also co-sponsoring a bill that focuses on setting the standard as 50-50 for divorcing parents and their shared parenting time, subject to all the current considerations that are already in place with regard to things like proven abuse and other factors. The purpose of this legislation is to establish a non-biased starting point for custody and parenting time that doesn't formally exist in Kansas.
Among other things, I've been investigating legislation around body-cams and the video footage, modifying the amusement park inspection requirements to be more conducive to Leavenworth needs, and pursuing a Leavenworthian's idea to give sales tax exemptions for food at farmer's markets.
Delay in Lansing Correctional Facility Vote
On Thursday, the State Finance Council, which includes the Governor and Republican and Democratic Legislative Leadership, was scheduled to meet for a final vote on the Lansing Correctional Facility project. The meeting was abruptly cancelled ten minutes prior to its start time. At the last State Finance Council meeting, the vote was tabled until more information was available.
The Kansas Department of Corrections has awarded a contract for a lease-to-purchase contract to a company called CoreCivic. The State Finance Council must approve the contract in order for the project to move forward.
Transparency in State Government
Transparency continues to be the buzzword of the early part of the session. The Kansas City Star released a series of stories highlighting a disturbing lack of transparency across state agencies and within the administration. Expect a series of bills on different aspects of government transparency, though some of these bills will be focused on the way we conduct business and not necessarily effect most citizens.
I have included the links to the Kansas City Star's series called Secret Kansas.
- ‘One of the most secretive, dark states’: What is Kansas trying to hide? - The Kansas City Star, November 12, 2017
- Editorial: Why hide in the shadows, Kansas? State government is shrouded in secrecy - The Kansas City Star, November 12, 2017
- Secrecy inside child welfare system can kill: ‘God help the children of Kansas’ - The Kansas City Star, November 12, 2017
- How Kansas lawmakers keep you from finding out what they’re doing — until it’s too late - The Kansas City Star, November 12, 2017
- Who benefits from tax breaks in Kansas? You’re not allowed to know - The Kansas City Star, November 12, 2017
- When cops kill in Kansas, you probably won’t hear their names or see the video - The Kansas City Star, November 12, 2017
- Editorial: Secret Kansas must yield to transparency, openness - The Kansas City Star, November 19, 2017
The Big Issues at hand: Budget and Education
When I came to Topeka at this time last year for my first legislative session, Kansas was facing a budget crisis. After years of continual borrowing and failed tax policy, the State’s credit rating had fallen and there was a need to cover approximately $350 Mil that was missing from the Governor and former Legislature's tax plan. The situation looked grim, but, thanks to bipartisan cooperation, the State’s budgetary outlook since then has vastly improved.
In May 2017, I collaborated with legislators from across the political spectrum to pass a common-sense budget that repealed Governor Brownback’s disastrous 2012 tax plan. So far this plan, which was a compromise that increased both revenue and kept spending increases largely in check, has stabilized the Kansas budget. During this fiscal year, which began on July 9, 2017, the State has collected 2.7% percent more in revenue than projections originally predicted. This is a stark contrast to the past four years in which revenue figures rarely reached projections. Kansas’ credit rating has also been upgraded from negative to stable, making state and local bonds less expensive.
In October 2017, the Kansas Supreme Court struck down the 2017 session’s school finance bill as inadequate and unconstitutional. Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution directs that “the legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state”. The legislature has a deadline of April 30 to present a new school finance formula to satisfy the Court’s adequacy and equity requirements. We must find a way to provide a quality education to every child in Kansas, regardless of where they live or what their background may be. I will continue to advocate for the students of the Leavenworth and Ft Leavenworth school districts.
On Tuesday, January 9, Governor Brownback delivered his annual State of the State Address to the legislature. The Governor spoke about a variety of topics including renewable energy and transportation manufacturing, but the biggest surprise was his request to put $600 million additional dollars to Kansas public schools over the next five-years. This proposal is a clear reversal of attitude by Governor Brownback and a direct contradiction of his previous proposals.
New Homeless Shelter Opens
Ladies Night Out CASA Fundraiser
Salvation Army Kettle Drive
Leavenworth Youth Win Back-to-Back National Football Championships
It is My Honor to Serve Leavenworth
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org.
From Leavenworth, For Leavenworth