A New Governor, a New Legislative Session
The 2019 Session kicked off with a vote on the House Rules, House Resolution (HR) 6004, which passed with 104-15. I was one of the 15.
The rules unfortunately did not address properly transparency, and they created a “strong-chairman” process that is not conducive to good democracy. Bills still do not have the name of those introducing them in the bill or contents, so it will remain difficult for the public to see who introduced bills.
There is a provision to include the names in the minutes of the committee or associated with the cryptic RS number but these are not easy for the public to access.
“Gut and Go” techniques became more complete. But perhaps the more annoying aspect of the rules is that it allows the chairs of committee more absolute control to block good (and bad) ideas by not allowing for any vote by the committee to raise a bill for consideration if the chair does not like the topic. This is low level tyranny and blocks our traditional process for a process dominated by the Speaker and the chair people he/she appoints.
Education financing will continue to be topic that heats up as we move forward. To set the tone, on Thursday, January 24th, Governor Laura Kelly signed an executive order creating an advisory group that aims to improve education in Kansas. The Governor’s Council on Education will look for ways to enhance early childhood education, create relationships between the education and business communities, and develop partnerships to address workforce needs in Kansas. Kelly explained that improving education means not only fully funding public schools, but also searching for ways to evaluate and innovate from early childhood all the way through the workforce. This will build on the work of previous education councils.
Senate Tax Bill
In late January, Senator Susan Wagle, President of the Senate, took the unusual step of creating a separate tax committee and appointed herself the chairwoman (sidelining the existing tax committee and its chairwoman, Republican Sen. Caryn Tyson). Senator Wagle’s main objective was to advance Senate Bill 22, which bears a stark resemblance to aspects of the failed Brownback tax plan, by cutting taxes for big corporations who have hid their profits overseas for years and the wealthy, effectively shifting the burden onto the middle and lower classes. These cuts are premature and seem to be politically motivated. The Senate Bill passed out of the Senate and the House Tax committee will likely hear it in the coming weeks. I like the portion of the bill that allows Kansans to elect to take standard deductions on the Federal return but itemize on the Kansan return but the other aspects of the bill appear to be corporate welfare. Kansas needs to continue on a path of recovery after years of mismanagement.
Domestic Violence Day at the Capitol
On Wednesday, February 13, the Kansas State House hosted Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence for their 16th annual advocacy day at the Capitol.
Organizations and their members from across the state educate the legislature on the breadth and depth of services they provide to victims and survivors every day in local communities. I have co-sponsored legislation to advocate and strengthen resources for survivors and their communities.
On Monday, February 4th, I co-sponsored a bi-partisan bill that would ban discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. Kansas employers would add sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class in state law- prohibiting on-the-job discrimination. It also broadens the scope to include housing and public accommodations.
Currently, the House bill has 36 sponsors and the Senate version has 17 co-sponsors. In addition to keeping with civil rights, it also will attract businesses as some have previously blacklisted Kansas because of the state's existing laws do not adequately protect LGBTQ+ people.
Governor Kathleen Sebelius issued an executive order to protect LGBTQ Kansans, which was rescinded under Governor Brownback. Governor Laura Kelly reinstated the executive order on her first day in office. If the legislation passes, the protections would be established in Kansas law and not an order that can simply be rescinded.
Corrections Critical Staffing Shortages
On Tuesday, February 12th, Interim Secretary Roger Werholtz declared an emergency at El Dorado Correctional Facility (EDCF) effective immediately due to critical staffing shortages.
As a reason, he pointed to the last few years where prisons across the state, especially at EDCF, have seen rioting, problematic prison conditions, overcrowding, and severe understaffing, which has posed a safety risk to prisoners, staff, and the public. These issues, and the current state of emergency, are largely because of the Brownback Administration’s failed tax plan which led to severely neglecting and underfunding state agencies.
I have heard from concerned corrections workers and passed these concerns over to the Governor’s staff as they decide upon a solution. While the state of emergency allows the Secretary to hire temporary workers at a higher rate with now benefits, most agree this would be short-sighted.
Several proposals to remedy this are being discussed such as: changes in sentencing laws that could lessen prison crowding, additional funding for the prison system, and increasing pay and improving working conditions to attract and retain employees.
KPERS Re-amortization Bill
This week, the Governor’s KPERS Re-amortization bill (HB 2197) was brought to the floor by Republicans out of the House Financial Institutions and Pensions Committee. In an unusual move, two committee members were replaced, one of whom made a motion to suspend the rules. This motion bypassed the 2/3 majority rules of the committee, merely to kick it out of committee immediately.
I attempted to amend the bill to include a cost of living adjustment for retirees since there hasn’t been an adjustment for over 22 years and it’s not currently part of the retirement formula. Unfortunately this did not pass, because the majority party had directed party members to not allow any amendments on this particular bill so they could vote it down as a statement.
I voted against the re-amortization, because I want to ensure that no retirement benefits will be affected and I do believe that if we are going to extend the liability to 30 years, taking on extra debt, the least we can do is get a permanent cost of living adjustment added into the formula.
This session, I am serving on the following legislative committees in the Kansas House.
Public Safety & Transportation Budget Subcommittee, Ranking Minority Member
Transportation and Military & Veterans Committee
Information Technology Executive Council & Advisory Board
Congratulation so Mr. Hunter Hotaling, the 2019 Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce Junior Citizen of the Year. Mr. Hotaling has consistently proven himself as a high achiever in his high school courses, maintaining an excellent GPA and has an individual drive to serve our community. I appreciate Hunter's dedication and commitment to our community.
My Honor to Serve You
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.