The previous two weeks in Topeka I would classify as positioning and preparing
for the tough decisions to be made. No doubt, considerable focus has been devoted to school finance, the Legislature must provide an answer to the Court by early Spring.
As I see it, the funding requirement to answer the adequacy question, whether it
be $600 million or a higher figure, must be derived from the same source. Cutting
agency budgets, raising taxes (property, income or sales), or a doing a combination of these is like a “pick your poison” exercise. Currently, 90% of state spending in the SGF (State General Fund) is for K-12 system, KPERS, and Social Services. If $600 million is added to K-12, public education expenditures could rise to 60% of government.
All eyes are on an independent study contracted by the Legislative Coordinating Council which will be released on March 15. The facilitator is a Professor from Texas A & M University and the report should identify funding amounts to satisfy the “suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state” as cited in Article VI of the Kansas Constitution. This clause represents educational interest beyond K-12 and could also include, for example, mental health services.
The Special Committee on a Comprehensive Response to the School Finance
Decision met three days this past fall. Chaired very capably by Rep. Blaine Finch (R-Ottawa), the Committee reviewed the Montoy and Gannon Cases, considered response options to the Court, and contemplated solutions to end the ongoing cycle of conflict regarding school finance. Another key element addressed was the capacity for school districts to absorb funding windfalls in short order. For example, is there an adequate pool of candidates to be hired for open positions?
Governor Brownback, in his final State of the State Address on January 9th, proposed a 5-year $600 million funding increase. In his words, this could be accomplished without raising taxes. Many of us were left scratching our heads with what he outlined. I like the 5-year term to steadily add funding but can’t believe the cash would come about without a new revenue source.
I want to assure everyone that the Legislative body is not sitting idly by waiting for the new cost study to be released on March 15th. Key Committees, such as House Tax, House Appropriations, and House K-12 Budget, will be running various scenarios in both revenue enhancement and budget reduction. The clock is ticking in preparing the response so that ample time is allocated for the attorneys to prepare briefs, etc. for the Court. The hearing is scheduled for May 22nd at last word.
Now that Governor Brownback has been confirmed for his new appointment as Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, the door is open for Jeff Colyer to assume the Governorship. He will be sworn in as the 47th Governor of Kansas this Wednesday at 3:00 PM. There is much speculation about who will be named to the position of Lt. Governor. Names both familiar and other wise have been tossed around in the rumor mill. A farewell reception will be held for Governor Brownback on Tuesday.
I am anxious to see what incoming Governor Colyer’s agenda and priorities will reveal for his 11-month term. He has the chance to use this timeframe to “audition” for the 4-year term. What will his stance be on healthcare? His own KanCare 2.0 was dismantled just last week. Economic development issues including keeping Kansas competitive with viable marketing programs and increased staffing at Kansas Department of Commerce is high on my list.
The matter of Deputy Commissioner Dale Dennis and the unfortunate ridicule he endured this past week was an unneeded distraction when we can least afford additional interruptions on the issue of school finance. I am very glad that the State Board of Education acted wisely in not having our best school finance mind sitting on the sidelines indefinitely. I certainly support an ongoing review of the transportation funding process and related allocation determinants. If the 40-year
old process under which Mr. Dennis was directed to operate needs an overhaul then so be it.
On a personnel note, I want to welcome Dominick Decker as intern for both Rep.
Mary Martha Good (R-El Dorado) and me. Dominick is studying Economics and
Pre-Law at KU. He is a graduate of Maize South High School and is a private pilot. He also operates his own business utilizing drones for aerial photography. He will be in Topeka on Tuesday and Thursdays.
Before I get into current bills and my committee activity, I want to comment on the Rep. Steve Alford (R-Ulysses) incident. You will recall that at a recent Town Hall meeting in Garden City, Steve was asked about legalizing marijuana in Kansas. His response was extremely harmful to African Americans. I was very taken back by Steve’s comments and disagree with those comments. Rep. Alford did offer an apology and did step down from his chairmanship of the House Children and Seniors Committee.
Issues of interest:
Lansing Correctional Facility
The State Finance Council under the authority provided in 2017 HB 2002 has approved a 20-year lease purchase agreement with Core Civic for construction and maintenance of the new Lansing Prison facility. The vote was 6-3 this past Wed. Personally, I would have to liked to have the full body in both chambers consider the project. My hope is that the general contractor, J. E. Dunn
Construction Group, Kansas City, Mo., will utilize Kansas based subcontractors
for a majority of the work. It is still hard to believe that the original Lansing facility
opened in the early 1860s when President Lincoln was in office. The limestone
portion of the current facility has weathered well over more than 150 years. A portion will be preserved as a historical monument.
HB 2482 Brunch Bill
I am a member of the House Commerce Committee and this past week we heard testimony in support of revising time periods for alcoholic beverages to be served in restaurants or by catering businesses. The current law prohibits alcoholic beverages from being served between 2:00AM and 9:00AM. This bill would allow serving to begin at 6:00AM. For those working night shifts, the time change will benefit Kansas establishments who lose early morning business to bordering states like Missouri. The bill was debated and will go to Final Action on Monday, 1/29.
HB 2439 Caitlin’s Bill
On Friday, the House debated this bill out of House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee. The bill is named after Caitlin Vogel, who was killed when a driver under the influence of alcohol hit her car in an accident in Kansas City. This bill adds an additional crime of involuntary manslaughter while under the influence. As in the case with Caitlin’s tragic death, the driver had previous DUIs and was not entitled to drive. The bill provides greater penalties to such an individual. The resulting sentence could be a level 4 person-felony if there is bodily harm to innocent victim or victims and a level 3 person felony should a death occur. There is potential for the DUI person to serve an additional 5 years in prison vs. current law. This bill will go to Final Action on Monday, 1/29.
HB 2459 Civil Asset Forfeiture Compromise
This bill was heard last session in House Judiciary Committee and has been a heavily debated bill from both proponents and opponents. Last year’s version of the bill basically allowed for a law enforcement jurisdiction to seize assets from an individual on suspicion of a crime. The person would neither have to be arrested or convicted of a crime. If the individual chooses to not claim the assets, then the jurisdiction may use forfeited assets such as cash to purchase items for law enforcement use.
Over the summer, the Judicial Council set up an Advisory Committee chaired by Rep. Fred Patton (R-Topeka) to study the issue further. The committee work resulted in recommending changes to the Kansas Standard Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Act. The committee consisted of both proponents and opponents in hopes of finding a compromise.
This past Wednesday, House Judiciary Committee, of which I am a member, heard further testimony. Proponents included the Kansas Bureau of Investigation,
Kansas Sheriff’s Association, and American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas.
Neutral testimony included Rep. Gail Finney (D-Wichita), the bill’s original author, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, and James Franko, Kansas Policy Institute. The only opponent through written testimony was John Todd of Wichita.
The compromised bill basically sets up a repository to be the central record keeping venue for reporting assets seized. This process would be operated by the KBI. Jurisdictions can still seize assets and the owner potentially can still forfeit same without an arrest or conviction.
Monday, 1/29, is the last day for members to request bill drafts from the Revisor’s office. Wednesday, 2/5, is the last day for non-exempt committees to request bill drafts from the Revisor’s office. Thursday, 2/22, turnaround-last day to consider non-exempt bills not in originating chamber. Thursday, 4/26, Veto Session begins.
Stay tuned for new developments in the session. I can assure you that my focus is conducting the business of Kansans especially those of you who reside in District 87. This session, like last year’s, is and will be very challenging. As before, I always welcome your emails, letters, phone calls, and personal visits to my office in Topeka. It is indeed a privilege to serve the people of the 87th District.