Archive for Friday, February 26, 2010

Legislative Update, week 7

February 26, 2010

Here is Week 7 of my legislative update. I can’t believe that it is almost March. Doesn’t that mean that spring should be here soon? I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for the snow to melt away and warmer temperatures.

TURNAROUND MAKES FOR SHORT WEEK AT THE CAPITOL

Senators met for only four days this week, in recognition of the Legislature’s annual turnaround deadline. Although the Senate was back in session Tuesday, we only met briefly and did not begin debate on any new bills until Wednesday afternoon.

After last week’s hectic schedule – we debated more than 80 bills – it was nice to have the opportunity to catch up on e-mails and phone calls, and to visit with members of our community over the long weekend.

In the coming weeks, the Senate will begin to consider bills approved in the House of Representatives, while the House of Representatives will begin to consider legislation approved by the Senate. Conference committees will also continue to meet in order to iron out the details of any bills that have been approved by both chambers. Complete daily calendars are available for you to follow at http://www.kslegislature.org/ along with live broadcasts of Senate and House proceedings.

I am honored to serve as your Senator and am humbled by the support I receive from my community. I want to thank the people of the 5th District for allowing me this opportunity. My office is located in room 124-E. Please feel free to visit, or to contact me at (785) 296-7357, if you should have any questions.

SCHOOL FUNDING

As a result of the recession, revenues for Kansas have declined for an unprecedented four straight years, while total spending has been slashed more than $1 billion in the last 18 months. Further cuts would potentially permanently damage our schools, programs for our senior citizens and disability populations, public safety, and job creation efforts.

In the last few weeks many people in the 5th Senate district have contacted me expressing concern regarding reductions that have been made and more that may be made to the K thru 12 education budget. I agree with this concern. While the legislature did protect our schools from the first round of cuts which were made last session in the fiscal year 2010 budgets, school funding was reduced in the next three rounds of reductions which have been made affecting the current school year. These reductions in funding are causing schools to have larger class sizes, to not have as many paraprofessionals to assist in the classroom, to take school children on fewer educational trips, to eliminate programs, etc. all of which have the potential of adversely affecting the quality of education our children are receiving.

At this point in time school districts are faced with either looking to non-renewing teachers and eliminating programs or increasing the local property taxes through an increase in the local option budget (if they have any authority left at the local level) because they fear further budget cuts will be imposed at the state level.

Both of these options are unacceptable – our students need to be presented with quality education and our local property tax payers cannot afford to have property taxes increased. That is why I agree with the Governor’s recommendations that the legislature must give serious consideration to examining revenue enhancements. I am not willing to vote for any more cuts to education, nor for continuing the 10% reductions in the Medicaid program nor for any more cuts to the various public safety agencies protecting the citizens of Kansas. I, along with many other legislators, am continuing to carefully examine the various agencies to determine if there are more opportunities for reductions in spending without permanently damaging those agencies and to also look at various revenue options including but not limited to the sales tax as recommended by the Governor.

STATEWIDE SMOKING BAN BECOMES LAW

After more than five years of debate in both the House and Senate, on Thursday the House concurred with the Senate version of HB 2221, which will create the Kansas Indoor Clean Air Act. The bill makes the act of smoking unlawful in virtually all public places.

Outdoor areas of any building or facility beyond the access points of the building or facility and private homes or residences, except when used as a day care home, would be exempted from the provisions of the bill.

Each employer having a place of employment that is an enclosed area will be required to provide a smoke-free workplace and to adopt and maintain a written smoking policy that prohibits smoking without exception in the place of employment.

I supported HB 2221 because Kansas Medicaid pays an estimated $196 million per year to treat tobacco related diseases. The overall medical cost to Kansans for tobacco related disease is $927 million annually. Based upon experience from neighboring states, it is estimated a clean indoor air law in Kansas will immediately save $21 million yearly in hospital charges by reducing the number of heart attacks provoked by secondhand smoke exposure.

Because the Senate approved HB 2221 last session, the bill will now go to the Governor for his signature.

SENATE DEBATES AMENDMENT TO CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES ACT

On Thursday, the Senate debated House Bill 2411, which would add five chemical compounds to the list of Schedule I controlled substances. The compounds under consideration include: HU-210, JWH-018, JWH-073, BZP, and TFMPP.

Three of the substances (JWH-018, JWH-073, and HU-210) are used to make a synthetic cannabinoid, typically called “K2" or “Spice”, that is marketed as incense but when smoked produces a marijuana-like high.

In January, the Senate voted in favor of a similar bill that would add three chemicals to the state’s list of illegal drugs. The House version simply adds two more substances to the list.

During committee hearings, several organizations testified in favor of the bill including the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association, the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, the Kansas Sheriffs Association, the Kansas Peace Officers Association, and the Kansas Board of Pharmacy.

BILL TO REQUIRE THAT COURTS DETERMINE CHILD CARE FIRST

In an effort to protect the best interest of a child during custody, divorce or juvenile offender court cases, the Senate on Wednesday approved Senate Bill 460. Under the bill, judges would be required to make custody orders, parenting time orders, or any orders related to the best interest of a child a priority over other family or juvenile justice court proceedings.

SB 460 would also amend the law, giving courts the authority to place a child in the custody of someone other than the biological parent/s if there is probable cause to believe that the child’s current guardians are unfit. Once a court has determined child custody, placement details must be confidentially reported, and may only be publicized with express written consent or if an investigation has become public knowledge.

The bill also requires that any changes to a child’s living arrangement be expedited, if no hearing or contestation has been requested.

The Kansas Judicial Council (KJC) and the Juvenile Justice Authority both testified in favor of the bill.

I voted in favor of this bill because I believe SB 460 clarifies current law and codifies court practices regarding children in need of care and juvenile offenders.

RAINY DAY FUND HAS HEARING

On Tuesday, members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on a proposal intended to protect vital services and slow the growth of spending in hard financial times.

The proposal would create a “Rainy Day Fund” that could total up to at least 7.5% of the state general fund budget and could only be used in times of budgetary stress. Currently, Kansas is one of only five states that does not have such a fund.

If enacted as a constitutional amendment, the fund would require the Legislature to set aside at least 1 percent of the state general fund revenues any year those revenues increase by 3 percent or more over the previous year. This money would be locked away from use by the Legislature unless state general fund revenues were to drop below the previous year’s total. At that time, money in the fund could be used for any purpose a majority of the Legislature and The Governor approves. Should this fund reach 7.5 percent of the total state general fund budget, the set-asides could be suspended.

State Treasurer Dennis McKinney testified in favor of a Rainy Day Fund, telling committee members that it was imperative that the state store up in times of abundance in order to prepare for times of drought. The Topeka Chamber of Commerce also testified in support, while Governor Parkinson endorsed the fund’s creation earlier this session.

There was some concern from committee members about the possibility that, should the state face an economic upturn, the legislature would be unable to allocate any of the fund money to state programs.

Although these concerns certainly warrant a thorough debate, I believe that setting aside savings in times of economic crisis makes sense. Much of our current situation could have been avoided if the state had established a Rainy Day Fund years ago. For instance, if a RDF had been created in FY 1991, the state would have had at least $465 million to help us through the present crisis.

Wise families set aside savings for a rainy day, and businesses hold back money for revenue downturns. It’s high time the State of Kansas follow their lead.

SHRED-A-THON PROTECTS KANSANS FROM IDENTITY THEFT

In recognition of National Consumer Protection Week, Kansas Attorney General Steve Six will be hosting five SHRED Identity Theft events for Kansas consumers.

By shredding your sensitive documents, you can better protect your identity and help keep personal information from falling into the wrong hands. Shred-a-thon events will take place at the following locations:

March 1

9 a.m. - 11 a.m.

Leavenworth: Wal-mart                                 

3450 S. 4th Trafficway

Kansas City: Legends at Village West

1:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.

1843 Village W. Parkway

March 3

11 a.m. - 1 p.m.

Topeka: Shawnee County Public Library

1515 SW 10th Avenue

2:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Lawrence: Wal-mart

3300 Iowa

March 4

9 a.m. - 11 a.m.

Overland Park: Wal-mart

7701 Frontage Road

Noon - 2 p.m.

Shawnee Mission: Wal-mart

5150 Roe Blvd.

EFFICIENCY PROGRAMS HELP KANSANS SAVE ON ENERGY BILLS

This time of year finds many of us thinking about ways to save on energy costs. If you’re considering improvements at your home or workplace, you should know that the State offers several programs to improve the energy efficiency of homes, small businesses, and public buildings.

Efficiency Kansas

This new $34 million loan program helps Kansans identify and implement cost-effective energy-efficiency improvements in existing homes and small business. Operated by the State Energy Office (785-271-3170), Efficiency Kansas is a public-private partnership, with financing accessed through partner lenders and utilities. Currently, 18 banks and credit unions (with 105 branches statewide) and one utility (Midwest Energy) offer the program. Additional partner lenders and utilities are expected to offer the program later this year.

Kansans can borrow up to $20,000 for approved projects in homes and up to $30,000 for approved projects in small commercial or industrial structures (those that use residential-sized equipment). Most projects are expected to average around $5,000.

To ensure that Kansans get the greatest energy savings for each dollar spent, all Efficiency Kansas projects require an energy audit, performed by one of the private-sector energy auditors who have been qualified to work with the program. At this time, there are 45 auditors listed on the Efficiency Kansas web site and the list is expected to grow, as more Kansans receive the training.

For more information about Efficiency Kansas, check out the web site or call the State Energy Office (1-877-448-3185).

Weatherization Assistance Program

This long-standing grant program, operated by the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation, targets Kansas households with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level or 75% of the state median income, whichever is higher. Eligible Kansans can receive weatherization assistance for improvements in single- or multi-family residences, including manufactured homes. The program is open to renters. For more information, contact Kansas Housing Resources Corporation (785-296-4990).

Facility Conservation Improvement Program (FCIP)

The FCIP is designed to help public entities—state, cities, counties, and schools—use energy savings performance contracting to access financing for energy-efficiency projects. It is operated by the State Energy Office. For more information, call the State Energy Office (785-271-3170).

Energy Manager Grant Program

This new grant program, operated by the State Energy Office, provides coalitions of local governments (cities, counties, school districts) with a $50,000 annual stipend for up to two years to enable them to hire an energy manager. Energy managers will develop both short- and long-term plans for each of the coalition members, with the goal of reducing energy usage in both the public and private section. The application deadline for this grant is April 15, 2010. For more information, download the program description and application, or call the State Energy office (785-271-3170).

In addition to the programs listed above, USDA Rural Development offers the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) grants and loans, targeting agricultural producers and small rural businesses. For more information about REAP, contact David Kramer (david.kramer@ks.usda.gov; 785-271-2736).

Sen. Kelly Kultala, D-Kan., represents the 5th District, which includes parts of Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties.

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