Archive for Friday, March 12, 2010

Legislative Update: Week 9

March 12, 2010

As a member of the Senate Ways & Means Committee this has been a brutal week. We have put together a budget that cuts $86.6 million from state agencies. $42 million of which comes out of the Social & Rehabilitation Services budget, $16.5 million out of the Kansas Health Policy Authority budget and $8.5 million out of the Deptartment of Aging, thus disseminating or eliminating programs to our most vulnerable citizens. My hope is that federal dollars will come to Kansas if the federal Medicaid matching funds program is extended, bringing an additional $130 million to Kansas, which would help fill some of the aforementioned cuts.

The $86.6 million in cuts approved in committee stills leaves about a $400 million deficit for 2011. I cannot imagine where cuts of this magnitude would come from in the state budget without completely eliminating human services, releasing prisoners from our penal institutions or crippling our education system.  I hope I can count on your support as I consider some sort of responsible tax increase.

ONLY THREE WEEKS LEFT

We were off to a slow start this week. Without any floor votes taking place until Wednesday, the Senate was left to hear a number of Resolutions on Monday afternoon. Luckily, things picked up mid-week and we were able to work on a number of important bills.

With only three weeks left in the 12-week session, I encourage you to contact me with any concerns or questions you have about particular legislation or committee meetings. Complete daily calendars are available for you to follow at http://www.kslegislature.org/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.

GOVERNOR ANNOUNCES SIXTH ROUND OF CUTS

As I mentioned last week, revenue estimates continue to come in below expectations, further increasing the budget shortfall. February revenues came in $71 million short for the month, for a total $105 million deficit in FY 2010 and the Kansas unemployment rate jumped to 7.1% in January, up from 6.2% in December. Last Friday, Governor Parkinson announced $85 million in additional cuts, transfers and adjustments to the FY 2010 budget. As folks file their taxes this spring, it is hoped that revenues will rebound a bit later in the year. If that is the case, the Governor’s actions and recommendations should prevent a seventh round of cuts in FY 2010.

Several adjustments are directed at the Kansas Department of Transportation, freezing maintenance work on bridges and highways and halting new projects that are not federally funded. I was relieved that Governor Parkinson was true to his promise at the State of the State that no further cuts would be imposed onto safety net services, public safety, or public schools.

Some of his actions will be effective immediately, but approximately $54 million of his plan will require legislative action. If the Legislature chooses not to enact his recommendations, the Legislature will be responsible for finding those funds in other places of the state budget. I appreciate Governor Parkinson doing the heavy lifting with this budget crisis for a sixth time, enabling the Legislature to instead focus on FY 2011.

It is worth noting that the Congressional jobs bill contains $140 million designated specifically for Kansas highways. If the jobs bill becomes law, many of the cuts made to KDOT this round can be restored with federal dollars. After 10 years of work to improve our state’s infrastructure, it would be highly counterproductive to let our roads and bridges fall to disrepair now.

Looking to FY 2011, some legislators continue to insist that Kansas has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. I have a hard time accepting this over-simplified talking point after six rounds of cuts and a growing revenue shortfall. The Legislature is constitutionally required to balance the budget. We can’t make money appear out of nowhere, which is why deep cuts have been necessary. However, state government is also required – and expected – to fulfill certain obligations to the public, which isn’t free.

Revenue enhancements are never easy or popular, but there will be few alternatives if Kansans expect to keep receiving the services that keep their communities safe. It is highly unlikely that the state budget – both for FY 2010 and FY 2011 – will be balanced without a responsible review of both expenditures and revenues.

SPECIAL EDUCATION CATASTROPHIC AID DEBATED

The Senate yesterday approved SB359, a bill that would ensure all Kansas school districts receive equitable funding for special needs students.

The bill raises the requirements for school districts to qualify for catastrophic aid – used to hire full-time teachers and specialized services for students with severe disabilities –so that the threshold is only reached for student requiring extraordinary expenditures.

During floor debate, Senator Tim Owens, who represents parts Overland Park, introduced an amendment that would have grandfathered in some districts for one year, allowing them to receive more than $4.5 million in extra funding this school year.

I voted against this amendment because, if it had passed, the money these districts would be eligible to receive would have been taken from all Kansas schools – including ours. The end result would have been $650 less funding per teacher in our district.

In the Special Session of 2005 and Regular Session of 2006, the legislature spent hundreds of hours working on a three-year school finance plan that adequately and fairly funds all public schools. Funding for special education should be no different. Every special needs student – regardless of their economic background or school district – should have the same opportunity to learn in a school environment that meets their needs.

SENATE ADVANCES PRIMARY SEAT BELT, TEXTING BAN BILL

The Senate on Thursday formally advanced S Sub for HB 2437, a bill that combines two measures already approved by the chamber. If signed into law, the bill would ban texting while driving and would make driving without a seatbelt a primary offense.

Although both measures were sent to the House in mid-February, the primary seatbelt bill has stalled in the House Judiciary Committee. By placing these two provisions in a bill that has already been approved by the House Chamber – often called a “gut and go” – the Senate can approve a bill and send it back across the rotunda for a simple motion to concur. Gut and goes are a common strategy used to ensure that important legislation can be passed before the legislative session ends.

Although a few concerns were raised on the Senate floor regarding potential racial profiling and enforcement, all 40 Senators voted to approve the bill. We will now have to wait and see if the House chooses to concur with the new bill.

BILL STRENGTHENS KELSEY SMITH ACT

On Thursday, I was pleased to endorse legislation that will strengthen the Kelsey Smith Act by requiring cell phone providers to submit emergency contact information – often called “pings” – to law enforcement officers in the case of missing or endangered persons. Under current law, the KBI is required to obtain the information from the carrier, a task which often hinders and slows a search.

If you’ll remember, 18-year-old Kelsey was abducted from a Johnson County Target store in June 2007. Her body was located four days later at a nearby lake. In the days following Kelsey’s disappearance, family and local law enforcement officers pleaded with her cell phone provider to release relevant ping information, but were met with refusals from the company.

Last year, the legislature unanimously voted to enact the Kelsey Smith Act, and today, we have helped make it more powerful. It is my hope that when this new measure is enacted, law enforcement officers will be able to locate missing persons that much faster.

SENATE PROPOSES CHANGES TO DRIVERS’ LICENSE RENEWALS

On Wednesday, the Senate Transportation Committee approved a house bill which would make several changes to the state law regarding renewal of drivers’ licenses.

HB 2482 would allow a spouse or dependent child of an active duty military personnel to renew their expired drivers license without taking an examination. Those men and women on active duty are already allowed to do this under current law. The renewal must be made within six months following army discharge or 90 days after a Kansas residence is established/re-established, whichever is shorter.

When renewing a license, drivers will also no longer be required to take a written examination on highway signs and traffic laws.

The bill also stipulates that the Division of Motor Vehicles would no longer have to mail eyesight exams, a written examination, and the Kansas driver’s manual to Kansans whose licenses are set to expire in the next 30 days.

HB 2482 would also change the way the DMV makes organ donation information available to driver’s, by allowing information to be posted online rather than mailed to a person’s home.

The Director of the DMV supported this bill. During a hearing, she testified that Kansas is the only state that currently requires drivers to be re-tested when renewing a license, and that removing the requirement that materials be mailed to a drivers home would allow the Division to send only a postcard reminding a driver that their license is about to expire.

According to the fiscal note provided to the committee, these changes would save the State of Kansas $20,000 in fiscal year 2010 and $135,000 in fiscal year 2011.

SENATE EXPANDS ACCESS TO STATE FINANCES

In an effort to provide the public with better access to government budget information, the Senate on Wednesday unanimously voted for Senate Bill 559, which will require the Department of Administration to include its annual tax expenditures on the state’s searchable Web site “KanView”.

Proponents of the bill included Kansas Action for Children, the Kansas Press Association, the Kansas Department of Revenue, and the Kansas Department of Administration.

Created in 2007, “KanView” is intended to bring better visibility, openness, and accessibility to state government financial activity for Kansas taxpayers, all free of charge.

The Web site launched in March 2008. Since this time, members of the Public Finance Transparency Board have continued to meet with the public, professional associations and academic groups to explore expansions and improvements to the site, such as the change included in SB 559.

I was happy to vote in favor of this bill.  While it is still not possible to gather information on everything or to answer every financial question online, it’s my hope that this site can continue to bring data together in a way that’s convenient and useful to the average Kansas voter. To view the Web site, please visit http://www.kansas.gov/KanView/.

SB 447 TO CHANGE CHILD CARE REQUIREMENTS

A number of parents and childcare providers have contacted me in the last week regarding a bill which was recently approved by the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. Senate Bill 447 would make several changes to the licensing and supervision of Kansas’ child care facilities, including the following:

Supervision

• Child care providers must be in proximity to a child, watching and directing activities; respond immediately to emergencies; and provide direct visual supervision to all children under age five.

• Providers must keep sleeping children within eyesight or hearing distance, and must check on each child at least once every 15 minutes.

Licensing

• Child care providers would be ineligible for a renewed license or from working for another child care facility if they violate statutory requirements three or more times, or have contributed to the death or serious harm of a child under their care.

Inspection

• Inspections would be required every 15 months, instead of the current 12 months.

• The Secretary of Health and Environment would develop a risk-based system used to determine the frequency of inspections.

• Those facilities deemed at high risk, or which have received a complaint will be inspected more frequently.

Self-Examination

• All child care facilities would be required to submit a self-evaluation report annually, based on a checklist provided by the Secretary of Health and Environment.

While I have heard and read a number of perspectives on this issue, the one thing I believe we can all agree on is that the safety and security of Kansas children is of the utmost importance. As this bill is brought to the Senate floor for a full debate, I will continue seeking input from local day care providers, community leaders, parents and teachers. It is my goal to approve legislation that will be most beneficial for all involved parties.

NEED-TO-KNOW CENSUS INFORMATION

In mid-March, households across our community will begin receiving a 2010 Census form. For those of you who are still unsure how and why your information will be gathered and used, I wanted to answer a few common questions:

Why is the Census Important?

When you fill out the census form, you’re not only helping the State of Kansas, you’re making a statement about what resources our community needs going forward. Accurate data reflects changes in our community which are crucial in deciding how more than $400 billion per year will be allocated for local projects like new hospitals and schools, new roads and services like job training centers. Businesses will also use the data to decide where to locate supermarkets, shopping centers, new housing and other facilities.

What kind of information will I be asked to provide?

The 2010 Census questionnaire asks a few simple questions of each person – name, relationship, gender, age and date of birth, race, and whether the respondent owns or rents his or her home. The form will take just a few minutes to complete and return by mail.

Will the information the Census Bureau collects remain confidential?

Yes. Every Census Bureau worker takes an oath for life to protect the confidentiality of census responses. Violation would result in a jail term of up to five years and/or fine of up to $250,000. By law, the Census Bureau cannot share an individual’s answers with anyone, including welfare and immigration agencies.

I strongly encourage you to fill out and return the Census form. Your participation will help our community get the funding and resources it needs to thrive for the next 10 years. For more information, please go to www.census.gov/2010census.

WESTAR ENERGY REPLACES TRANSMISSION LINE FROM STRANGER CREEK SUBSTATION TO THORTON SUBSTATION

This month Westar Energy will begin the removal of the vegetation within Westar Energy’s easements as well as on road right of way preparing to rebuild the electric transmission line from Stranger Creek Substation to Thornton Substation. Rebuilding this transmission line will maintain the reliability of service to the Leavenworth area. The Southwest Power Pool, the Regional Transmission Organization, directed Westar Energy to construct this transmission line in order to maintain compliance to the North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s Reliability Standards. These standards are federally enforceable under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rules.

Work begins at the Stranger Creek Substation and crews will proceed eastward along Bauserman Road and Eisenhower Road. Once the vegetation is cleared, contract crews will begin removing the existing transmission line. After the existing line is removed, crews will begin building the new electric transmission line along the same route within Westar Energy’s existing easements. If you have any questions or concerns please contact Jeff Rogers at 785-575-8081.

NEW ENERGY EFFICIENCY PROGRAMS FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENTS

As part of its statewide strategy to promote energy-efficiency retrofits in public buildings, two new grant programs have been created to assist cities—the Public Projects Grant Program and the Energy Manager Grant Program.

The Public Projects Grants are designed to supplement the existing Facility Conservation Improvement Program (FCIP) by focusing on energy efficiency projects in public buildings that are either too small for FCIP or include specific improvements that exceed FCIP’s 30-year statutory payback period. Examples of improvements funded through these grants include lighting, heating and cooling equipment, energy management controls, and insulation or other envelope measures. The application deadline for this program is July 15, 2010. For eligibility requirements and additional information, see the State Energy Office web site http://www.kcc.state.ks.us/energy/arra/publicproj.htm.

The Energy Manager Grants provide coalitions of local governments (cities, counties, school districts) with an annual stipend of $50,000 for up to two years 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 eligibility requirements and additional information, see the State Energy Office web site.

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

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