First 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.
Corrections Privatization Dead, But New Lansing Prison Construction Approved
Lansing Rebuild Approved
On Wednesday morning in Topeka, the State Finance Council approved a project for construction of a new state prison in Lansing. The 2,400-bed prison will replace the Lansing Correctional Facility, our state’s oldest and largest prison, with a modernized facility that will be safer both for those that work in the prison and the inmates serving sentences there.
This project is important for our state’s security and our community’s well-being. There had been a lot of talk about having local communities ‘bid’ on having the Lansing prison moved to their community through incentives and by sharing the cost burden. I advocated that whatever investment was made in prisons, we needed the prison to stay in our area.
The state will pay for this project over 20-years through a lease agreement with Nashville-based corporation CoreCivic, a company that is presently operating the US Marshal’s facility in Lansing. CoreCivic acts as a general contractor of sorts, partnering with JE Dunn and local labor to build the prison to a specification standard they have experience in. CoreCivic handles the financing in partnership with Real Estate Investment Trust and have negotiated financing rates very close to what the rates the State could borrow. This arrangement gives the state financial certainty in any cost overruns due to extended timelines or material prices changing, which is a good thing given the State’s experience with other large construction projects.
After the initial build, CoreCivic will handle maintenance and paying for facility type replacements. The State of Kansas still is responsible for staffing and running the prison and other such programs. I stand opposed to privatization of the corrections work, because I am fundamentally opposed to for-profit prisons. The danger of prison privatization lies in the fact that corporations’ incentives lie in making profits rather than protecting and promoting the safety, security and well-being of the citizens of the state of Kansas.
Prohibiting Corrections Privatization
I have collaborated with local representatives Rep. Debbie Deere (D-Lansing), Rep. Ronald Ellis (R-Jefferson County), Rep. John Eplee (R-Atchison) and Rep. Jim Karleskint (R-Tonganoxie) to introduce House Bill 2551, a bipartisan piece of legislation that would prohibit the privatization and outsourcing of facilities' operation of state correctional institutions in Kansas.
Corrections play a vital role in our state and our community, and we must ensure that they are handled in a way that best serves the people of the state of Kansas. As this legislative session moves forward, I will continue to advocate for sensible policies that ensure that our correctional institutions serve the interests of all Kansans.
We have until mid-February for bill introductions, so the Legislature is busy looking at what is currently in the works and what needs to be added. Working towards more open government, I co-sponsored a bill, House Bill 2548, as described in the following article from the Kansas City Star.
The following bills offered by colleagues take major steps toward opening up the legislative process and state government.
'Gut and Go' Prohibition
This bill would create statute that specifically prohibits removing the contents of a bill in its entirety and replacing with new material. This prohibition would apply to any action on the floor, in committee or in conference committee in either chamber. While a tool used often in the Legislature, it makes it tough for citizens to track what happened to particular issues.
Gut and Go Tracking
Currently, not all actions taken on a bill are fully transparent to the public. This bill would provide a mechanism for fully reporting bill action to a publicly accessible website – including any gut and go actions.
No Secret Votes
This bill would require that all votes taken in the Kansas Legislature be recorded. This would include all votes in committee as well as all votes on the floor of either chamber (including general order votes and amendment votes).
Civil Asset Forfeiture
Among other changes, this bill would require all law enforcement agencies to report to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) a listing of all property seized from law enforcement activities and requires the KBI to make that list available to the public. The bill would also provide a clear system for how citizens can reclaim their seized property.
Lobbyists Cool Down Period
House Bill 2155 would create the Kansas Integrity in Government Act which would prohibit an individual from lobbying or being employed as a lobbyist within one year of the date of that person’s resignation from a term of any state elected office to which the individual was elected or appointed.
DCF Death Records
House Bill 2309 would amend the Kansas Code for Care of Children by requiring that all reports received by the Secretary of the Department for Children and Families, a law enforcement officer, or any juvenile intake and assessment worker, regarding sexual abuse, great bodily harm or death of a child in the custody of the Secretary be made public record and subject to disclosure through the Open Records Act.
Would create law requiring manual audits of elections and would amend law related to the timing of the election canvasses and electronic voting machines. The bill would also require all voting machines to provide a paper copy of each vote cast at the time the vote was cast.
Prohibiting Outside Employment
This bill would prohibit any statewide office holder from being engaged in any outside employment while holding statewide office.
Increasing Penalties for Violations of the Open Records and Open Meetings Acts
The current penalties within the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) and the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA) are virtually nonexistent. Additionally, state agencies oftentimes charge exorbitant fees before releasing the records and too often take months before fully responding to a request. This bill would remedy these issues and help ensure the public has appropriate access to the records of its government.
Working on behalf of a group from Leavenworth area concerned about the way child custody and shared parenting agreements work, or don’t work, in divorce proceedings, I helped build a coalition of legislators to sponsor a bill around shared parenting, House Bill 2529.
This bill is supported by the National Parenting Organization, a group focused on promoting stronger bonds between children and their parents, among other things. This bill rebuttable presumption of 50 / 50 shared parenting between mothers and fathers for kids after divorce. The presumption is rebuttable, and judges can make alternative orders if there is a finding that 50 / 50 is not in the best interest of the child.
Shared parenting is already standard pursuant to local court rules in places like Johnson County, and the bill extends that to protect the interests of kids and parents across the state. There is a Senate hearing on Senate Bill 257, a mirror-image to the House Bill, on Tuesday.
Brownback Confirmed by U.S. Senate
On Wednesday, Governor Brownback was official confirmed for his new post by the United States Senate. As of Wednesday Jan 31 at 3pm, we will have a new Governor of Kansas until the elections in November.
In 2017, Brownback was nominated for the Ambassador of International Religious Freedom position by President Donald Trump. The U.S. Senate failed to act in 2017, and Brownback remained in Kansas. He was re-nominated by Trump in January 2018.
Vice President Pence broke the tie in the Senate this past week, confirming Brownback to his ambassadorship. He will resign his seat as Governor on January 31st, and Lt Gov Jeff Colyer will be sworn in soon after. It’s unclear what Colyer’s priorities will be so stay tuned.
Military & Veterans Affairs
- Bill introduced by chair that would make the month of June as PTSD awareness month.
- Reviewed Department of Revenue estimates on costs associated with House Bill 2147, concerned with returning state income taxes improperly charged Native American veterans for two decades. I provided a more detailed explainer on this bill in last week's update.
- Potentially restructuring the way the Kansas Lottery funds veterans programs making the revenue stream less volatile.
Technology & Security
- Heard from Secretary of State’s office on the CrossCheck program. The briefing made me very concerned about Kansas’ liability in the event of a data breach.
- Briefed by IBM on their survey and view of Cybersecurity issues concerning other states.
- Briefed on Operation Lifesaver. This is public-private organization trying to end rail related traffic deaths, whose goal is to educate people about how to be safe around train tracks. Follow on Twitter at @KansasOL.
- We were briefed on Real ID, which is important for Fort Leavenworth access. To fly on a plane, Kansas drivers will need to have a new drivers license that complies with Federal requirements as of October of 2020. You can see these requirements here: https://ksrevenue.org/pdf/de56a.pdf.
- Digital printed license plates are soon going to be a reality, coming this fall. I advocated for these over the last two years as a way to increase efficiency, versus the current practice of stamping out license plates and holding the many different variations in stock across the state.
- We heard from the different grain commissions (Wheat, Soy, Corn, Sunflower, Sorghum) about the status of our trade and production. Interesting fact: China accounts for 70% of our sorghum demand taking over a billion bushels since 2013. Record crops in production but prices are still down.
- We heard testimony from the Department of Agriculture Secretary McClaskey presented the KS Dept of Ag annual report, economic data, market info and also gave commentary on the recent Tyson bid in Tonganoxie. Stated that Tyson is still looking at other locations in Kansas (Not in Tonganoxie) for a second plant.
- We also heard from representatives of water districts about water initiatives across Kansas.
Spectrum Assist/ Free Community Meal
Glad to have helped sponsor the free community meal at St Paul’s last week.
Spectrum helped pay for nearly 600 community meals as part of their ‘Assist’ program. They are piloting a program that provides 30mps internet with no contract to qualifying communities. When they approached me, I vetted the program and think it’s great thing for some in our community. As we see schools moving to Chromebooks and Ipads, this totally privately funded program ensures K-12 students have the internet access they need. It also helps seniors stay connected in the 21st Century.
Leavenworth Lansing Chamber of Commerce Dinner
Holly and I also attended the local Chamber of Commerce dinner this week. Congratulations to American Family Insurance – Trenton Peter Agency, who was named the Business of the Year, to Gene and Ada Young who were named the Humanitarians of the Year and to LHS senior Tanner Hendrix who was named the Junior Citizen of the Year!
Kansas Day Activities: Local 5th Grader Wins Photography Exhibit
Kansas Day is on Jan 29th. Coinciding with that, we had local 5th grade contestant, Josephine Denney won first place for her photograph of the Leavenworth Veterans Day Parade!
My Honor to Serve Leavenworth
From Leavenworth, For Leavenworth