Hello from Topeka. I wanted to provide an update from last week in the Legislature and at home.
I spent Saturday morning joining the Lions club in delivering trash bags around town. While it was drizzly and chilly, it was great to work side by side with all the volunteers performing this service for the City of Leavenworth.
I was happy to participate in a networking training event at the University of Saint Mary. At this “mocktail” students received instructions on how to chat with professionals in various settings; we ‘professionals’ were instructed to have a particular focus and mine was to breach hot topics in the conversation and judge how the students handled them. It was great to see these future leaders in action and more importantly it was fun!
On Saturday I attended A Taste of Leavenworth, which is an annual fundraising event for the CW Carousel Museum, First City Museum, and the Fred Harvey Home Restoration Project. Local restaurants provided samples of their food and beverages and I got to be the “celebrity” auctioneer. It was a fantastic event and hope it raised a lot of money for the museums.
I’ll be speaking at the Leavenworth High School National Honor Society induction this Monday evening. Nice to go to my alma mater and encourage these students who are excelling in our public education system.
This week, the House has been busy passing numerous bills I call ‘technical fixes’. The many pieces of legislation ranged on issues from financial institutions to healthcare to agriculture.
Lottery Vending Machines (HB 2313): The House passed a bill that expanded lottery ticket sales to be allowed in vending machines. A portion of the expected proceeds were dedicated to mental health services. Read the full bill here.
CARE Act (SB 68): At any one time, over 100,000 Kansas are taking care of loved ones at home. The House passed a bill that allows a patient to name a lay caregiver at the hospital. This allows these lay caregivers to get the instructions they need to administer at home treatments that the doctors prescribe. Read the full bill here.
Security (Sub HB 2331): We passed a bill out of the House that is focused on securing state information systems and communications. I was active in advocating for this cybersecurity, as well as in trying to put in place a phased implementation of the other portion of the bill which lays the groundwork for technology efficiencies by creating the Kansas information technology enterprise. Read the full bill here.
Medicaid expansion: As the US House of Representatives failed to make any substantive change to the ACA, watch for the Kansas Medicaid expansion bill that passed the Kansas House to hit the Senate floor. If it passes through the Senate, the bill will then be sent to the Governor. Kansas has already lost out on $1.5 billion in US federal money because the Legislature failed to act on it over the past couple of years.
Made in the USA: The Kansas House Democrats proposed several amendments this week on the floor that would benefit the working men and women of Kansas. One that I like was a procurement amendment that put a preference into state contracts for buying American products when possible, if those products met or exceeded certain specifications and the costs were similar. Unfortunately, though it was hard for me to believe, this amendment failed.
Education Finance: Republicans in the Senate have said they will wait to act on an education finance formula until the House addresses it first. This week a bill has been proposed in the Kansas House, with the chairman of that committee setting a goal for March 30th to have a formula devised. The Supreme Court recently ruled that Kansas was not adequately and equitably funding education under the block grant system put in place over the past few years, and so this formula is a big focus.
Revenue: A plan to restore the revenue in Kansas has not yet been enacted. Previously in the session, the House put forth and passed a tax bill, which then passed through the Senate. The bill essentially repealed Gov. Brownback’s “march to zero” income tax experiment. The Governor vetoed the bill, after which the House overrode his veto but the Senate failed to override the veto by just three votes. Even though it wasn’t successful, this was a big signal to all stakeholders that Kansans are tired of bad budget management, one time fixes that cost the state hundreds of millions every year and “back door” fees and a revenue plan that isn’t balanced among sales, income and property taxes. We do expect some type of plan to emerge out of the Senate since they were the stopping point on the last go around.
Budget: I sat in on my first Senate-House conference committee last week when what is known as the “Recession Bill” was worked. Basically when the House & Senate don’t agree on the bill exactly as it’s moved through, a conference committee is formed with a few people from each house in order to come to an agreement. The Recession Bill is the one that deals with current year budgets. We inherited a $350 Million dollar hole this year that we are required to cover, so this committee is in the midst of finalizing the plan to borrow from the long term investment fund as well as defer vehicle acquisitions and KPERS payments. The process was involved and there were 17 differences between what the House passed versus the Senate and they went through each point.
The longer term budget for 2018-2019 is also being worked. We have had the plan from the Governor as well as previous years planned budget for these years so it really is a living document. People wonder why pass a tax plan before a budget, but they really do work concurrently.
I want to hear from you. 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 email@example.com. Some of the action is streaming and you can follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org
Rep. Jeff Pittman