Education Expert Report Released
We've once again had a busy week in the legislature, and among the many important topics we've covered, none was more important that the release of the Republican Leadership's Education Report.
The out-of-state expert witness hired by Republican Leadership in the Gannon school finance case submitted her finalized report Friday, March 16. Lori Taylor, from Texas, has been conducting a study on school finance in Kansas. Her conclusions will be used by the legislature to formulate a new school funding dollar amount that will satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court’s requirements.
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in October of last year that the amount of dollars appropriated to school funding in the legislature’s 2017 school finance bill was neither adequate or equitable. The Court set a deadline of April 30, 2018, for a new bill from the legislature, to be ruled upon June 30, 2018.
This report tells us that money does matter. For better outcomes – higher graduation rates, better math and reading scores – the report clearly shows the link that Kansas would need to invest more money into schools. The study also points out that Kansas has significantly underfunded schools in Kansas for the last seven to eight years.
Interesting that the researchers observed that our factor for poverty was about half of what was needed, while the English as a second language factor was too high. More on the study as we continue to digest it.
Attempt at Medicaid Expansion in the House
On Wednesday, there was an amendment put on the floor on Senate Bill 335 to expand Medicaid. There were several pieces of language in the legislation that would render the amendment germane; however, the Rules Committee found the amendment to be non-germane. To be found non-germane means that the amendment cannot be attached to the underlying bill.
The ruling was challenged by the House Leader. A challenge to the ruling allows the entire body a vote to either uphold the ruling or overrule it. The ruling was unfortunately sustained in a 77-to-45 vote.
Many Kansans support the expansion of Medicaid, which would cover 150,000 people who are currently without insurance in our state. Kansas has refused billions in federal dollars for expansion – millions in tax dollars that Kansans pay into the system, but never see again.
This Week on the House Floor
This past week, the Kansas House worked and passed the following bills on the floor.
House Bill 2650 Designates the state rock as limestone, the state mineral as galena, the state gemstone as jelinite amber, and the state fish as the channel catfish. These were proposed by students that worked with various experts.
A bill to be aware of is House Bill 2516 because it creates a law providing immunity from civil liability for damage to a motor vehicle for a person who enters the vehicle, by force or otherwise, to remove a vulnerable person or domestic animal.
House Bill 2527 was a bill regarding something I had little knowledge of but apparently is causing some concern across the country. Some retail stores apparently use a device called a ‘zapper’ that suppresses sales from sales systems for the express purpose of avoiding taxes. This bill makes these devices illegal.
Important for some of our local institutions, Senate Bill 335 brings savings & loan associations and savings banks into the State Banking Code vs Federal. This helps them by giving our local institutions less regulation burden.
House Bill 2232 has some privacy concerns, but is a tradeoff for safety. It allows a resident of an adult care home, or more likely a resident’s guardian or legal representative, to conduct authorized electronic monitoring in the resident’s room with some restrictions.
Slightly impacting our local credit unions, Senate Bill 275 puts some specific requested changes into law relating to the expulsion of credit union members and slightly changes the terms of a Credit Union’s Council.
Committee Work Heard Around the House
Reviewing some of the material across the House that either had a hearing or was worked, we'll start with some that are a little closer to home.
The Committee on Federal & State Affairs ("Fed & State") passed a bill last week out that would allow for casinos to be opened competitively at three other locations, including the Woodlands. It would allow for only horse racing at the Woodlands. Fed & State also heard testimony advocating for allowing sports wagering in Kansas on Tuesday (House Bill 2752).
On Wednesday, my committee, the Committee on Technology & Security, heard a presentation from Shot-Spotter Technology. I requested a presentation on this subject as the specialize in systems that detect active shooters, and the state needs to be proactive in looking at better security for schools, courthouses, city halls and elsewhere. Related, we also had a presentation on what an Active Shooter Response would look like in the Capitol.
A bill that made it through the Senate, Senate Bill 394, had a hearing on Monday in Elections. Senate Bill 394 addresses keeping contract decisions with state government open to the public. Basically, it applies legislative branch lobbying rules to the executive branch. The supplemental note flushes that out more (available here).
The Fed & State Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 307 to amend the Amusement Park Ride act that we put in place last year. I have a similar bill in the house to amend this act.
The bill passed out of the House had the positive outcome of making commercial amusement rides safer in Kansas. However, the legislation, unfortunately, had the unintended consequences of putting a very large burden on some smaller operations, some of which are in our community.
In particular, I'd like to see that the CW Parker Carousel is 'service proven' and can be shown to be performing well.
In Senate Bill 307, as passed by the Senate, would allow for a different inspection process for inflatables that are temporarily erected. This makes sense because key inspection points are vastly different than those required for mechanical rides, especially commercial ones. Safety at bounce house are largely dependent on usage, electrical precautions and properly securing the devices when used outdoors. One local constituent has a permanent inflatable location, and, after reviewing the location, I argue that the operation is even more safe and conscientious about their equipment than a temporary installation. Therefore, I think that we shouldn’t just apply the different inspection process for temporary locations, but for permanent ones as well.
We also heard from advocates this week from the Council on Aging. Emma Fonseca, the AAA-Assessor; Mike Keohane, a Leavenworth Advisory Council member; and Charles Williams, another Leavenworth Advisory Council member, all were in attendance and presenting.
The Health & Human Services Committee worked a bill that had been blocked for some time.
Senate Bill 282 concerns making Cannabidiol (CBD) oils explicitly legal in Kansas.
Technically, Federal statutes provide that any substance derived from the Cannabis plant is a Schedule I drug, but studies show that when no THC is present, the substance is no longer psychoactive and, therefore, not a Schedule I drug. Leavenworth has a business that has had to stop selling Cannabis-derived CBD oils that have some therapeutic effects until Kansas specifies a position in this area.
In Agriculture Committee this week, we heard testimony on industrial hemp.
Hemp is another non-THC product that was once used extensively across the United States. However, because hemp is technically Cannabis under federal statutes, it has been outlawed.
Hemp is a hardy crop that offers an economic opportunity to many in Kansas. Expect us to work this bill (Senate Bill 263) in the coming week and have it go to the House floor, though we are not yet sure if amendments will be presented that could alter the current state of this bill.
There was a proposal and hearing on removing the statutory limit on state board of education approval of school bonds. House Bill 2636 completely removes this limitation. I am supportive of a cap on state bonding, because it limits the State's unknown liability to potential bonds (loans) to a known amount each budget year. As to whether the current level is adequate, that could and should be debated.
I hosted a presentation to the Ag Committee from the Small Business Development Corporation cybersecurity team. This team has started a program that outreaches to small businesses in Kansas helping them understand cybersecurity -- it's importance, the technical jargon and more. Agriculture operations are increasingly being targeted by malicious hackers, so this presentation was important for putting this subject matter on the radar of Agriculture Committee members.
Some interesting prospects were presented in hearings in Taxation this week. House Bill 2616 would lower food tax from 6.5% to 3.25% at the state level. House Bill 2618 does the same thing, but counter-balances the revenue impact with a new tax bracket for those individuals making $1 million or more annually.
Other bills discussed were House Bill 2569 which would double the standard tax deduction and House Bill2761, which would allow individuals to itemize Kansas tax returns despite not itemizing expenses on their federal tax returns. This has a potential impact on those who would be able to save on Kansas taxes, because of the tax credits and deductions we added in the last year for example.
On Monday, the House heard House Bill 2421, which would give sales tax exemptions for selling gold bullion and other coins made out of precious metals, mainly to stay in-line with policies of the states that surround us and that have already adopted this exemption.
With this as a bill basis, it became amendable to various changes to the tax code. I did attempt to amend this bill to remove sales tax on food sold at Farmers' Markets that was also grown in Kansas. This would be good for Kansan producers and consumers, but House leadership subsequently moved the bill out of consideration until (hopefully) another day.
I am proud that my family was able to help with the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. We participated in designing, producing & selling this year’s T-shirts. Proceeds went to pay for parade fees and all extra funds raised over budget went to the St Vincent’s Clinic. While cold and windy, attendance was great at this year’s parade.
This Thursday, March 22 is the first night of the first ever Leavenworth Film festival. I am proud to sponsor this great event for our community and region alike. The event continues through March 24 and has many categories. Find out more here.
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.