Repairing the Damage from the Brownback Tax Experiment
At the Kansas Legislature, we have made a huge amount of progress towards more stable government, prioritizing our kids’ future and recovering from the Brownback tax experiment. There has been a move towards bi-partisan cooperation since I joined the Kansas House of Representatives, and I hope to push forward with that cooperation.
We are nearing the end of the 2018 Legislative session. We are currently at the end of the Turnaround phase where each chamber votes on what had already passed the other chamber. Some bills continue to pop up, but for the most part all bill introductions, hearings and committee work are complete.
We are currently in a two-week break period and go back for the Veto Session on April 26. The Veto Session is when the Legislature would normally have the opportunity to override any gubernatorial veto as we did last year when overriding some of then-Governor Brownback’s policies.
The last day of the Legislature (known as Sine Die) is slated for May 4th. All budgets and bills are finalized by then from the Legislative point of view.
Big Issues: Budget, Revenues & School Funding
The budget has been nearly finalized by the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Ways & Means Committee. We were going to vote on these bills prior to the two-week break, but to get a more accurate picture of revenues we are now waiting until the April month end revenue estimates to get the best picture of how to best allocate funds towards obligations.
My intent is to push further to fully fund KPERS, not sweep money from transportation funding as has been done in the last couple sessions, to finance schools in a sustainable way and to aid our corrections workers among other initiatives.
Many may have heard from certain groups like AFP (Americans for Prosperity) that vehemently opposed the repeal of many of then-Govenor Brownback’s tax schemes. In particular, we repealed last year something known as the LLC exemption which was estimated to be used by around 120,000 individuals, but turned out to be exploited by over 330,000. This basically gave a tax holiday to profits income realized by sole proprietorships and LLCs for the past 5 years. Many people organized companies to take advantage of this and pay very little taxes, while working individuals had to take the brunt of paying income taxes.
Brownback’s people estimated that this would result in somewhere between $180-220 million in lost revenues, but we are finding the numbers were very low estimates. Because of this repeal, we are on a better track, avoiding borrowing in order to pay the state of Kansas' bills. This alone will allow us to more adequately fund schools as constitutionally required and keep our KPERS and Transportation funding more whole.
School funding was the big topic of the last weeks of our regular session.
The Supreme Court had previously required the Attorney General to enter arguments on the school funding by no later than April 30 creating a hard deadline for the Legislature and Governor to act. The Legislature fixed most of the policy issues that the Supreme Court found with last year’s funding formula. We had made great strides, especially for Leavenworth schools, in terms of properly funding schools versus the prior Legislature, but still had work to do. Recall that last year, the Legislature allocated an additional $293 million for this year.
Early in the week, the House had passed House Bill 2445 by a vote of 71-53. This bill increases spending on K-12 education by roughly $95 million over the first year and an additional $105 the next year. Though I was disappointed that neither of the two amendments I proposed to increase Special Education funding to the levels required in statute were included in the version of the bill that passed, I was happy that USD 453 would gain an additional $1 million in funding and USD 207 an additional $900,000.
Despite passage of House Bill 2445 in the House, the issue of school finance wasn't settled, because Senate refused to approve the House’s position. The Senate, instead, opted for a five-year plan that would raise funding by approximately $250 million by the Fifth Year, despite the mandate that Constitutional adequacy would require $890 million more by that time.
The House rejected the Senate’s offer and amended the House's position into one of the Senate's bills on a narrow vote, which would have that number reach $535 million increase by the Fifth Year. There is still doubt if that would be fully satisfactory for the Supreme Court, but, upon consultation with various local stakeholders, I felt this was a sustainable number.
The formula we have settled on has been agreed upon as fulfilling the Court's mandate. However, the amount of allocated funding is now in question. Keep in mind that the study commissioned at the beginning of the year by the conservative Senate leadership established that to truly achieve Kansas stated goals, we would need to have that number be from $1.5-$2 Bil by Year 5. I believe what we put in place is a sustainable number that allows us to step towards these goals, while also considering our Kansas economic growth and observed inflation as we proceed forward.
One wrinkle occurred when the House position was amended into the bill, however. One change they made that was not well communicated at the last minute nor well-reviewed was one involving what is known as the Local Option Budget, or the LOB. This resulted in an error that underfunded the intent of the bill by $80 Mil in Year One and now needs to be resolved upon our return.
The bill, as intended to be passed, is good for Leavenworth and I support keeping our schools open. However, I believe we must proceed with caution and that is why I supported moving ahead with something that may be less than is being requested but certainly a major investment in keeping our kids competitive in the future.
End of Session Hot Topics
Kansas adopted its third major comprehensive transportation program, called T-Works, in the 2010 session. Kansas is now approaching the end of that ten-year plan. To make up for the deficit Brownback’s tax plan created, the Brownback Administration robbed funding from transportation projects in the T-Works program. Many infrastructure projects were put on hold or cancelled altogether.
To revamp the transportation infrastructure plan and prepare a new comprehensive transportation program for the next decade, an eight month Transportation Task Force has been put in place to look at current projects on hold, future projects, funding estimates, as well as the role aviation, rail and other concerns play into the ten-year roadmap.
Kansas has a diverse transportation environment and also has the fourth most number of road miles among all 50 states, with just over 140,000 miles of paved roads in 2015 (latest available year). I support laying this type of framework out to go gain stakeholders’ opinions on our future course.
Another attempt at expanding Medicaid was made to amend the House Substitute for Senate Bill 179 to include expansion.
Yet again, debate on Medicaid expansion was shut-down by the Majority with a ruling by the Rules Committee that the amendment was non-germane. The committee’s ruling was challenged, but was then ultimately upheld in a second vote.
Medicaid expansion would provide basic health insurance coverage to roughly 150,000 Kansans that are currently without insurance. Despite the fact that the federal government would provide billions of dollars in funding for expansion, the majority party refuses to entertain the idea of having a debate on the floor about Medicaid expansion.
As it stands, Kansans pay millions of dollars into the federal Medicaid system that does not come back to Kansas. Administration estimates have the state budget saving $4 Mil in the first year, due to federal repayment schedules, with the federal government paying the extra $20-30 million in following years. This would stimulate investments from the Federal government into Kansas of 18 times that amount for our hospitals, clinics and schools.
In the House Taxation Committee, a Constitutional Amendment (House Concurrent Resolution 5029) was introduced. The Constitutional Amendment would strip a child's constitutional right to an adequate education by removing the Kansas Supreme Court's authority to decide what is a "suitable provision for education" financing in Article VI, Section 6(b) of the Kansas Constitution.
The amendment would need to first have to pass both legislative chambers with a two-thirds majority before being placed on the ballot to be voted on by Kansans in August or November. The amendment would give the legislature the sole power to interpret the Kansas Constitution and decide how much money is enough money for schools.
Unfortunately this amendment would remove the Courts oversight and an important protection for kids in Kansas. I believe this amendment could set a dangerous precedent regarding the system of checks and balances that the foundation of our democracy is rooted in. The Supreme Court exists to interpret Kansas’ Constitution and ensure that the legislature adhere to the rules it creates for itself and those rules created by the people. To enact a Constitutional amendment that restricts the power of the Court to do the exact thing it was created to do could be a threat to our democracy.
We finally passed the cybersecurity bill out of both chambers through extensive work between committee members.
House Substitute for Senate Bill 56 created a framework for a head security officer and a cybersecurity focused sub-agency. It also clearly defined what personal information is so that all government agencies understand what needs to be protected, as well as clearly delineates agency leaders as the ones ultimately responsible in the event of data breaches.
A re-configuration of a technology steering committee across branches of government was also part of the bill with the purpose of looking at areas of efficiency, development, security and more to allow cross-organization coordination. There is still a big opportunity for the state to take advantage of technology in a better way across entities, but there is a danger of proceeding too fast as the gubernatorial leadership could change.
I plan to be a leader in this area as we look for solutions that provide efficiencies but also effectiveness.
We also need to turn a much sterner eye towards consumer and electorate protection.
I have had numerous letters, for and against, a recent bill that attempts to make Kansas adoption laws better.
The House passed out a good bill that addressed many stakeholders concerns.
In the Senate, language was added that would allow state funded facilitators of adoption to discriminate on who they would consider as legitimate parents based on faith based arguments. I support faith based organizations to do as they need to do to honor the tenets of their faith, but in this circumstance, the state has a vested interest in finding all types of appropriate homes for all types of kids in need. We have a crisis in the foster care program currently, and there are many capable and willing families out there that these kids deserve.
I believe the state should be opening up the pool of potential adopting parents, not limiting the pool. If this language were adopted into law, we would have state-funded discrimination, something I and many others in our district strongly oppose. Some faith-based organizations will not adopt to single parents, others will not adopt to members of another faith, some may choose that it’s the color of one’s skin that matters. One hundred years ago, Catholics were heavily discriminated against. Other groups have come and gone that are discriminated against. We need to keep the original bill as is to foster a better climate for state-facilitated adoption in Kansas.
There has been a lot of online commentary about the potential ‘militarization of teachers’ in Kansas in the past couple of months, much due to a bill that was considered in the House Insurance committee.
House Bill 2789 that addresses insurance agencies and their selective decisions on who to insure or not insure based on this school board policy alone. Kansas established in prior years that school boards can already allow employees to carry guns, specifically permitted by a law signed in the 2013-2014 era. The law permits the governing body or the chief administrative officer of a school district to allow an employee who is licensed to carry a concealed handgun to carry one on school grounds, provided the employee meets any further policy requirements that are established by the governing body of the school. This only applies if the school district does not have a policy prohibiting the practice. House Bill 2789, however, is a bit onerous, because it puts statutory liability on school districts who do not permit carrying and there is a criminal incident.
In fact, our Leavenworth school board has recently approved resource officers carrying of firearms in schools. I have supported Second Amendment rights consistently, and I support the local control school boards across the state exercise in making the decision that reflects their particular community's desires. I do not, though, support adding criminal negligence as a consequence in this circumstance as there are many factors involved, not just this one policy. It is my hope this bill will be amended to remove clause before it comes to a vote.
In a move that strengthened the property rights of Kansans, Governor Jeff Colyer signed House Bill 2459into law on April 2. HB 2459 changes the procedure law enforcement must exercise prior to seizing private property under Kansas' civil asset forfeiture statutes, making the process more fair and open.
Property seizure was originally used by law enforcement to cripple large-scale criminal enterprises by disrupting finances and resources, permitting law enforcement to civilly seize the private property derived from those criminal enterprises. However, more recently, law enforcement agencies have come under scrutiny for the possible abuse of property seizure to benefit their own bottom lines.
As it stands, police in Kansas can seize any property they believe is connected to a crime without a conviction or charges. Once this property is seized, law enforcement often gets to decide what to do with said property and keep any proceeds from its sale. Under current, law enforcement agencies are not required to track or report property seizure. Kansans whose property is seized are often left in the dark and with few courses of action to recover their property. This has created a situation in which law enforcement agencies are potentially incentivized to make seizures for profit rather than crime fighting.
HB 2459 is intended to end these abuses and amends the Kansas Standard Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Act.
Law enforcement agencies will have to prove in court that the assets that they are seeking to seize are actually proceeds from criminal activity. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) will create a master list of all seizures in the state that includes a description of the property seized, its value, and whether or not criminal charges were filed.
The legislation also requires that, by 2020, every law enforcement agency in Kansas begin reporting how the proceeds from seized assets are spent. It also gives citizens more flexibility and protections when fighting forfeiture cases in court, making it easier for Kansans to recover their wrongfully seized property.
Earlier this session, Representative Debbie Deere of Lansing and myself cosponsored a legislation in the House to limit further prison privatization. Because the Majority and Minority Leaders in the Senate wanted credit for the legislation, the House, in lieu of the House legislation, passed Senate Bill 328, which would likewise prevent further privatization of Kansas prisons without legislative approval.
As noted in previous newsletters, we continue to push for better conditions and a more stable corrections workforce. This bill creates and amends laws related to security operations of state correctional and juvenile correctional facilities. This bill, which is identical to the House bill I co-sponsored, would prohibit the outsourcing or privatization of any Kansas correctional facility.
An amendment added on to this bill to help our corrections workers. The current bill that would add Corrections workers into KPF is being blocked in the Senate. Thus we are packaging that language in with the non-privatization to hopefully get both. The amendment would create a law related to Department of Corrections participation in the Kansas Police and Firemen’s Retirement System as an eligible employer. The job of a correctional officer is physically and mentally stressful and hard on employees. This is, in part, due to lower wages than fully commissioned deputies and being required to only be enrolled into KPERS. Moving our correctional employees from KPERS into KP&F would provide them with better benefits and make sure that they are being properly compensated for the dangerous and exhausting work they do for our state.
I’ll continue to fight for our Corrections workers and for conditions in our prisons. Simultaneously I do believe we also need to look at better usage of programs that provide the requisite punishment and rehabilitation for non-violent offenders outside of prison.
Of local interest, SB 282 is a bill that would allow CBD oil to be sold. It looks like it is finally going to be law. This bill amends the Uniform Controlled Substances Act and certain statutes pertaining to crimes involving controlled substances. The bill would amend the definition of “marijuana” and authorize the sale of certain CBD (cannabidiol) products. CBD is a THC-free, non psychoactive substance derived from the Cannabis plant. It is used by many Kansans for its therapeutic effects to treat ailments ranging from chronic pain-to-PTSD. Efforts to legalize medically prescribed marijuana failed on the House floor.
Another bill is a baby steps in allowing hemp in Kansas… SB 263 would enact the “Alternative Crop Research Act”, which would allow the Kansas Department of Agriculture (KDA), either alone or in coordination with a state institution of higher education, to grow and cultivate industrial hemp and promote the research and development of industrial hemp. Individuals would be allowed to participate in the research program under the authority of the KDA. The prospect of producing and regulating industrial hemp presents a huge potential economic opportunity for many in Kansas. This bill represents the first step to legalizing hemp in Kansas.
The Governor signed a bill into effect this week that now makes lobbyists register if they are lobbying the Administration or Judiciary. These laws already exist for the members of the Legislature, but if someone were lobbying, say the Governor or Chief Technology Officer for a contract, they didn’t have to reveal this before. This created a lot of secrecy and suspicion around the Governor and Administration. This is a good step. However, there should be more and many more laws were blocked by leadership this year, such as having bill sponsors listed on all bills, removal of the complete ‘gut and go’ technique and more.
One bill passed during the last week would create a law requires all meeting rooms in the Capitol to have both audio and video broadcasting equipment and would require the audio broadcast of all legislative committee meetings that are open to the public to be made available on the Internet beginning in 2019. The bill would require that all meetings open to the public be video broadcast starting in 2020. All committee meeting audio is already broadcast over the Internet. Requiring video of these meetings to be broadcast may increase transparency and help citizens see who is voting for things in committee—a piece that is very opaque to the public.
When I first came into the Legislature, I hadn’t realized how important these type of transparency laws were. Having worked through my term, I see how hard it is for citizens to track activity and to get accurate information. I’ll continue to fight for more transparency in Kansas.
At the end of the session, we received a series of bills that were largely unexpected.
One example is a bill around self-serve alcohol. Apparently, this is a phenomenon that exists in other states in a controlled fashion. House Bill 2766 is a business development bill for specific types of restaurant and bars. It would allow licensed restaurants, venues, clubs, bars, and other establishments to provide self-service beer to customers from automated devices. Licensed establishments are already allowed to do this with wine, but HB 2766 would expand the law to allow for beer as well. Proponents of the bill argue that since the majority of states already allow automated beer dispensers, this bill would help promote Kansas brewers and local economic development.
Related to this, a bill that would regulate alcohol infused candy and widen the drinking laws to allow alcohol to be served at 6am vs 9am, colloquially known as the Mimosa law for caterers, has been re-referred back to committee.
Around the Capitol & Around Town
On March 24, I sponsored Thespian members from junior high and high schools across the state in the first annual Theater in Our Schools Advocacy Day.
I was able to arrange a Governor’s proclamation, introduce the kids on the House floor and facilitate Senator McGinn’s introduction of the same kids on the Senate floor. Hundreds of kids were in attendance.
Kansas is ranked 7th in the nation as far as theater program excellence and Kansas schools have garnered 4 of only 11 spots in the International Thespian Festival this year.
On Saturday, April 28, I will be participating in the Pie A Politician fundraiser in support of Relay for Life, the signature annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Many thanks to the countless volunteers and other elected officials who have stepped up to support Relay for Life this year.
The event will be held at Lansing Middle School (220 Lion Lane) football field.
Legislators who are veterans of the Viet Nam war were recognized on the House floor on March 29.
The House joined together in thanking them and all veterans for their service.
I was honored to speak at the Leavenworth High National Honor Society induction ceremony. Recognizing these kids is very important, as so often we focus on athletic achievements to recognize.
I am always impressed when I see this group participating in the various service initiatives during the year. As I told them in my speech, I hope they take this recognition as an affirmation of what they’ve already done and then continue to do more with this opportunity in the NHS.
The Jeff Pittman campaign partnered with the Unity in the Community organization to sponsor and feed the hungry on March 31. This event was held at St. Paul's School Gym and we served over 450 meals. It was another community event of fellowship and service.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org.