We've reached the "Turnaround" Deadline
Last week was the ‘turnaround’ deadline in the Kansas Legislature, when the House and Senate must, each respectively, advance the legislation introduced in their chamber to the opposite chamber or that legislation is, effectively, dead.
This deadline requires each chamber to work a bunch of bills that originated from their own chambers. The legislation that pass get sent to the opposite chamber for debate and consideration. The natural consequence of Turnaround is that the entire House was convened on the floor for very long days rather than the normal schedule of working in smaller committee groups and hearing testimony from conferees.
The Committee Process
A constant theme during the Turnaround is whether a bill or idea went through the ‘committee process’. The committee process entails having a bill introduced with some idea, then having a hearing with conferees, usually from stakeholders outside the Legislature, presenting testimony in support and opposition of the legislation. The bill then may, if the chairman allows it, get ‘worked,’ which is the debate and committee vote.
The committee process utilized in the Legislature is good, but not without its flaws. Committees do permit smaller groups to focus on an issue, but can be bad due to the extraordinary power of the Committee chair to block discussion on good (and bad) ideas. Often, Committee chairs just out-right refuse to allow bills even be heard, let alone worked, without providing any reasoning. This lack of transparency and this is never more apparent than in the turnaround week.
Questions of "Germaneness"
Often, the only time certain ideas get to see the light of day is when bills are considered by the entire House of Representatives, where amendments cannot be blocked by committee chairs. However, Article 2, Section 16 of the Kansas Constitution requires each bill, other than appropriations bills, address only one subject. This Constitutional provision often results in challenges to amendments regarding "germaneness." These challenges argue, in sum, that the amendment is not sufficiently related to the underlying bill to satisfy the constitutional limitation to one subject per bill. The art of amending legislation is finding a point of contact with the underlying material because only then can the new idea be considered. If the amendment is not related, or "germane," the House Rules Committee will declare the amendment not germane and debate will not proceed.
Many good bills we worked through in the past year have been blocked in the years prior to me joining the Legislature because those underlying bills offered an opportunity to be amended. The fact that we have been able to work so many subjects shows a positive trend towards some true bipartisanship.
Action On the House Floor
Because of Turnaround, we did a lot of work on the House floor to deliberate and pass legislation.
Here's some of the key highlights from the Turnaround debate.
Prohibiting Privatization of Correctional Officers
House Bill 2551 was bipartisan legislation introduced by myself, Representative Deere from Lansing, Representative Jim Karlskint from Tonganoxie, and two other House Republicans. The bill passed the House and is now headed to the Kansas Senate for consideration.
This bill will require prior legislative authorization before any state agency may to enter into any agreement or take any action to outsource or privatize security operations of any correctional or juvenile correctional facility operated by a state agency. In sum, House Bill 2551 will prevent any further privatization of corrections in Kansas, including the privatization of correctional officers.
Securing and Enhancing Pension Benefits for Corrections Officers
Another important bill, House Bill 2448, successfully passed out of the House.
House Bill 2448 would place corrections workers in Kansas in KPERS Police & Fire (KP&F) Pension Fund(the Kansas police and firemen’s retirement system) instead of KPERS, the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. KP&F is more stable and secure than KPERS, which means that, were this bill to pass the Kansas Senate and be signed by the Governor, corrections employees in and around Leavenworth would see more security in their pension and an increase in retirement benefits. I supported this measure.
Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform
House Bill 2459 is an act concerning civil asset seizure and forfeiture, increasing transparency surrounding the process of civil asset seizure and forfeiture by law enforcement and tax agencies in Kansas, and create a process for citizens to file claims on seized property and assets, thereby ensuring that seizures are done properly by law enforcement and within the scope of the law.
The legislation also establishes a searchable tracking system that ensures citizens can see what the status is of their seized assets. This is step one of a process that needs to continue to improve, but nonetheless an important first step because attempts at reform have been repeatedly blocked over the years. I supported the legislation.
Improving Access to Medical Care through Telemedicine
House Bill 2206, the Telemedicine Act, is an important piece of legislation. The Telemedicine Act establishes important definitions that allow for doctor and nurse communications between, for example, specialist doctors and providers in Kansas City and a patient in Salina, and, further, to require those services to be covered by insurance and Medicaid. Without this important legislation, services were being denied to patients due only to their geography. Moreover, telemedicine is a much more efficient delivery model and should be a benefit to healthcare consumers across Kansas. I supported this legislation.
Domestic Violence Committed by Police Officers
House Bill 2480 changes what accounts for previous domestic violence charges when someone wants to be a police officer. It adds to the restrictions that they couldn’t have committed a domestic violence crime with the phrase “against a person with whom the offender is involved or has been involved in a ‘dating relationship’ or is a ‘family or household member’ as defined in the domestic battery criminal statute at the time of the offense.” I supported this legislation.
Access to Police Body Camera Footage for Families
House Bill 2571 passed out and addresses footage obtained from police body cameras during an officer-involved shooting resulting in death. It would allow family members to access audio or video recordings made and retained by law enforcement. Currently, there is no requirement for law enforcement to provide that access to families. This is a very relevant topic for Leavenworth and other cities across Kansas. I supported the legislation.
Limiting Employer Liability for Asbestos Exposure Claims
House Bill 2457 is legislation written by special interests that would create unnecessary burdens for victims of asbestos exposure. As the Capital Journal explained it, the legislation would "burden terminally ill cancer victims with paperwork, an investigation and sworn statement before seeking compensation from a company that exposed them to asbestos."
I opposed House Bill 2457. The bill imposes special requirements on dying veterans, firefighters, and workers and their families, making it harder to advance their claims.
Multi-State Licensing for Nurses
Although less controversial, the Interstate Nurse Licensure Compact is an important piece of legislation for nurses working in or near border counties. House Bill 2496 enacts the Nurse Licensure Compact, which would allow RNs and LPNs to have a single multi-state license with the privilege to practice in the home state of Kansas and in other signatory states to the interstate compact. I supported the legislation.
Statewide Broadband Accessibility
There is much concern across the state about the lack of broadband accessibility, particularly in the rural parts of the state. House Bill 2701 is a bill that establishes the Statewide Broadband Expansion Task Force to study, evaluate, and make recommendations for improving broadband deployment and accessibility to all corners of the state, no matter how remote.
Protecting the Tribal Regalia and Celebrating Native Culture
House Bill 2498 would prohibit state agencies and municipalities from preventing any individual from wearing tribal regalia or objects of Native cultural significance. I supported the legislation.
Notable Amendments that were Attempted on House Floor
In addition to legislation that was passed last week, there were some notable amendments attempted on the House floor. Though not comprehensive, here's the highlights:
Improving Workers' Compensation Laws
The Curtis Amendment would have improved the work environment for working Kansans in that it would would have allowed anyone hurt at work to choose their own doctor or care provider, rather than one that an employer or insurance company mandates. I voted yes on this, but failed to the Republican majority, as did another amendment that would have returned workers comp rules to the 4th Edition of the AMA rather than the current 6th Edition when assessing the extent of the injury. The current edition doesn’t accurately reflect the true extent of an employee’s injury and has been shown to be an issue in other states.
An attempt to expand Medicaid to cover 150,000 more Kansans who are current at or below the Federal poverty level was attempted on the Telemedicine Act. However, the House Rules Committee determined the amendment was not relevant enough to the underlying bill, House Bill 2206.
Election of Election Commissioners in Every County
In Leavenworth County, our elected County Clerk, Janet Klasinski, is our county's Chief Election Officer. Electing our election officers is an important check and balance in our system. However, the four largest counties in Kansas (Johnson, Sedgwick, Wyandotte and Shawnee) have their election commissioners appointed by the Secretary of State, currently Kris Kobach, which substantially weakens, if not outright removes, local accountability for those appointed election commissioners.
I supported an attempt amendment to return these officials to the list of elected officials in each county to create uniformity and accountability in our election system, but the amendment failed on a close vote. House Bill 2509, the underlying bill, passed without my support. House Bill 2509 makes the budget of Election Commissioner’s subject to approval by County Commissioners for the respective county.
House Bill 2566 is a good bill that would align the crimes of THC substance possession, such as residue, with the actual punishments of possessing marijuana, which are less strict. An amendment allowing counties and cities to make their own punishments for possession of marijuana if they wish to have less severe punishments than the state law dictates. I voted yes on the amendment, because it establishes more local control on the issue. The amendment did not pass. I nonetheless supported the final version of the legislation.
Removal of Interest Rate from Repayment
A notable amendment on to House Bill 2147, the act concerning refunding improperly withheld state income taxes from Native American Veterans from 1977 to 2001, removed the interest on the owed money. The Committee had been under the understanding that the interest rate to be paid to those Veterans would be at 1.5% per annum, but upon further investigation and consideration, it was discovered that the interest rates could have been up to 18 percent, which would have hiked the exposure for the state too high. The bill, following the amendment to 1.5% per annum, passed the House and is now headed to the Kansas Senate for consideration.
Amending the Noxious Weeds Act to Encourage Alternatives to Spraying
House Bill 2583 would restructure the way noxious weeds are defined in state statute, providing more responsiveness than having the Legislature define what weeds are noxious. I helped support a successful amendment to put two extra members on the advisory board, one that raises alternate products and another from the Kansas Biological Service. We also extended the length of time to have a plan for dealing with weeds so that counties have more methods to deal with weeds than just spraying with weedkiller.
Reducing State Liability to Personal Information Disclosure
A couple of amendments were attempted on House Bill 2700, which is an act to prevent release of even partial social security numbers. Even partial social security numbers can be used by identity thieves.
The first attempted amendment, which was ultimately successful, was an effort to make each agency accountable for any public disclosure of partial social security numbers. The second attempted amendment to the bill dealt with charging other states a small fee for the free voter CrossCheck work the Secretary of State’s office does. Kansas deals with over 96 Million personal records from 28 states and we have a growing liability on the cybersecurity front. This amendment was ruled non-germane by the House Rules Committee and was, therefore, killed and not debated.
Beefing up KPERs Retirement Fund
House Bill 2419 would create a fund would be put in place that would be used as a year-to-year buffer. I was not a big fan of this fund being put in place, mainly because I feel we need to pay down obligations from prior years' of mismanagement of funds. However, an amendment made this legislation better by enforcing a provision to put 50% of that into paying down KPERs to keep the retirement fund in place and funded. I supported the amendment and the final version of the legislation on Final Action.
Voting Age and Years of Residency to Run for Statewide Office ("Constitutional Office")
Because so many folks under the age of 18 (and even individuals from out-of-state) have decided to run for Governor, House Bill 2539 was brought to the floor to clarify who can run for statewide offices.
An amendment was considered, and defeated, that would have made the minimum age 30 years old to be a constitutional officer of the state. I opposed the amendment. Another amendment I supported the removed a four year residency requirement. I felt strongly that the residency requirement would have limited members of the military, Veterans and military family members of our community from continuing public service. The bill also would require a candidate for the office of the Attorney General to be licensed to practice law in Kansas, which makes sense if they are required to direct prosecutions statewide.
Changing pet breeder law so that inspectors wouldn’t have to give notice before inspections
House Bill 2477 would amend what is known as the Pet Animal Act. The legislation would authorize for increases in fees to pay for a third state inspector. The amendment, supported by the Leavenworth Humane Society, allows inspectors to perform inspections during business hours to inspect a pet breeder’s facility, but without announcing the inspection. I supported this amendment and it passed.
Naming of the Anti-Swatting Legislation
House Bill 2581 was a bill brought about by a recent Wichita tragedy where a man in California faked an active shooter emergency call, which, in turn, brought SWAT teams to a house, resulting in the shooting of an unarmed citizen. We heard the point-by-point details of tragedy and the amendment was to name the bill after the victim. There was a surprising resistance to this, mainly from those aligned with the Wichita police department. While I am generally not a huge fan of naming laws, this move seemed appropriate considering the extraordinary loss suffer by the family.
Removing Animal Control Officers from Mandatory Reporter Law
House Bill 2530, which would broaden the responsibilities of EMT and Animal Control officers to also serve as Mandatory Reporters, was debated and passed.
Mandatory Reporters are individuals that, due to their profession, may be in situations to identify signs of child abuse. These Mandatory Reporters are required, as a matter of law, to report signs of child abuse.
The Chair of the House Corrections Committee decided to amend the bill to remove Animal Control officers. I spoke against the removal mainly because more eyes means we have more chance of reducing child abuse. Also, there is a strong statistical correlation between animal abusers and child abusers being one in the same.
Ultimately, the majority party voted together to remove Animal Control officers from the list of mandatory abuse reporters. Despite the amendment, I nonetheless supported the legislation.
Ending the Death Penalty
A retired Republican judge brought forth an amendment that would abolish the death penalty. The underlying bill dealt with compensation to those who have, unequivocally, been wrongfully imprisoned. The argument was sound, but the House Rules Committee ruled the amendment was not germane (the amendment did not relate sufficiently to the underlying bill subject-matter).
Notably, a number of bills were passed over by the leadership. Some were on the list to be discussed and last-minute decisions were made to remove them, and some bills just never were recommended to be debated by the House Committee of the Whole.
Good ideas get blocked all the time that either are controversial, do not align with the majority leadership’s agenda, or offend some special interest.
Firearm Training Educational Materials
House Bill 2460, for example, was a controversial bill that would have specified firearm education material must be the NRA’s Eddie Eagle curriculum. On the House floor, this legislation faced a likely amendment to include any reasonable curriculum and was, therefore, withdrawn by leadership before it could be debated (and amended) by the full House.
Contract Cancelation for Deployed Service-Members
An example of a good bill killed by the House Leadership is House Bill 2464, which would permit active duty military as well as their spouses to cancel contracts like gym memberships and phone services when they are deployed out of state. House Leadership blocked this legislation from coming to the floor, due to the possibility of amendments. Specifically an amendment I would have supported would limit the interest rates charged by payday lenders to Veterans. Right now these interest rates are predatory and can be in the 400% APR range.
House Bill 2578, which was anti-bullying legislation, was also passed over, but my colleagues and I attempted to force debate on the bill despite Leadership's objections. A vote to bring the legislation ‘above the line’ (to force discussion even though it’s being blocked by the Speaker of the House and House Leadership) was ultimately unsuccessful.
House Bill 2578 was legislation concerning anti-bullying policies in schools, requiring school districts to establish standardized protocols for dealing with and preventing bullying. Additionally, an amendment added onto this bill would create procedures to give teachers due process through the process of contract termination, which is ultimately why the legislation was blocked by House Leadership.
Expert Testimony on School Finance
In the Gannon case on school finance in Kansas, Republican leadership hired an expert witness, who testifies in court based on their extensive knowledge in a particular area. That witness, Lori Taylor, presented to both the House K-12 Budget and Senate Committees on Friday. Taylor is conducting a study over the Kansas school finance case and will present her findings the legislature on March 15th.
I’ll discuss more about thoughts on the education modeling next week.
It is great to see Coach Larry Hogan still going strong!
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.