Legislative Update: Week 13
We worked last Friday till midnight and Saturday until about 10 p.m., then were allowed to go home for Mothers Day. After the 36-hour break we are back in Topeka trying to finish up the 2010 legislative session. Here is last week's legislative update. The Senate goes back in at 2 p.m. today, but I don't think there is much for us to do until the House works some of the bills the Senate sent over last week; I will send another update as soon as this legislative session is over.
APRIL REVENUE NUMBERS LOWER THAN EXPECTED
Kansas’s financial forecast continues to look grim, as reports from the Kansas Department of Revenue indicate that the state took in $65.3 million less in tax-only revenues in April than previously estimated. Several factors played into the below-estimated receipts, including individual income taxes, which came in nearly $75 million below the estimate.
Although these numbers are disappointing, there was some good news – retail sales taxes were $11.5 million ABOVE the estimate, a sure sign that the economy has started to turn around.
The bottom line, however, underscores the impact the economy is having on our ability to serve Kansans, especially children, the elderly and the disabled. While it will be a challenge, I believe we can still manage to get through the current fiscal year without additional cuts to our state’s most important programs.
SENATE APPROVES BUDGET
After nearly four hours of debate on Wednesday evening, the Senate approved 23-17 a state budget bill that allocates more than $300 million for essential state programs and restores a 10 percent reduction to Medicaid funding without cutting further into education or disability services.
Included in the Senate budget proposal is an additional $67,000 to help the Kansas Parole Board to assess the probability that inmates who are up for parole will become re-offenders. The Senate also allocated additional funding to help better protect and educate social workers who enter the homes of clients across the state.
The budget also incorporates funding for the Connected Nation ARRA Program, which will help make sure that high-speed broadband Internet access is available throughout the state, especially in our rural communities.
More than $430,000 was appropriated for the Department of Health and Environment to fund the state’s Pregnancy Maintenance Initiative and Teen Pregnancy Prevention programs, and to fund the Cerebral Palsy Posture Seating program for FY 2011.
To offset these new costs, the Senate budget includes savings in a number of agencies including the legislative branch. The Senate plan will save $125,000 annually by continuing to limit legislative franking privileges and capping leadership postage, a limitation which was initially instituted as a cost-savings measure earlier this session. More than $415,000 in additional savings will be generated by limiting legislative committee meetings, eliminating file clerks and newspaper subscriptions, and limiting the distribution of permanent printed materials such as House and Senate Journals to Legislators.
During floor debate, Senator Ty Masterson introduced an amendment that would have completely gutted the Senate budget bill by liquidating the state’s real estate property, instituting a 5 percent pay cut to most state employees, and reducing general state aid and base state aid for public school students by $66 million.
I voted against this amendment for a number of reasons. Although I believe that the state should begin looking at its assets to see if there is potential to sell unwanted properties, it is unreasonable to assume that the state can raise $175 million THIS YEAR from the sale of property. As you may recall, it took nearly a decade for the former Topeka State Hospital grounds to be purchased when the state decided to put it up for sale. In the meantime, the state spent almost 10 years paying for the upkeep of the empty building.
RESPONSIBLE REVENUE PLAN APPROVED
Late Thursday evening, a bipartisan group of Senators voted for a responsible revenue package that will protect those things which make our state great: quality schools, safe communities and a society that doesn’t turn its back on those most in need.
I was proud to see such a diverse coalition come forward – Republicans and Democrats; rural and urban – to pass this plan, which provides $314 million for state programs during Fiscal Year 2011. The plan raises the state sales tax from 5.3 to 6.3 percent for three years, but also includes two new tax provisions that will help offset the cost to lower-income Kansans.
During debate, the Senate approved an amendment to increase the food sales tax rebate program, which will provide nearly $11 million more in income tax rebates for poor Kansans. A second amendment increased the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit from 17% to 18% so that more lower-income working Kansans will have an opportunity to see a tax break.
While it’s never easy to vote for a revenue package, it was a necessary step to protect and maintain our safety net. There is still work to be done and there are challenges ahead, but I believe that we are moving forward, protecting what we have, and building for the future.
BILL ALLOWS SCHOOLS TO TRANSPORT NON-RESIDENT STUDENTS
The Senate on Tuesday gave first-round approval to a bill that will make it easier for students to attend a nearby school of their choice. House Bill 2595 authorizes local school boards to provide transportation to non-resident students until the end of the school year, as long as the district in which the student is living is properly notified.
For school finance purposes, the non-resident student would be counted by the district in which he or she was enrolled.
The bill will not cost the state any money, although those school districts voluntarily transporting students who live outside of the district could incur addition transportation costs.
DUI PENALTY BILL SENT BACK TO CONFERENCE COMMITTEE
A bill intended to make DUI penalties more consistent and comprehensive was sent back to conference committee on Thursday, after the House of Representatives amended in an onerous provision that would likely cost local governments thousands of unnecessary dollars.
Senate Bill 368 was overwhelmingly approved back in February, but several changes were made when it was sent to the House of Representatives in late March. In part, the House changed the bill to state that after a first DUI conviction, a person would be restricted for one year to driving only a vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock device.
While I fully support penalties for those drivers who choose to recklessly drink and drive, I have serious concerns about the added burden to our municipal court system and of the unexpected costs to local governments that would be associated with purchasing so many new ignition interlock devices. I also know that these devices are not readily available across the state, especially in our rural communities. Until these devices are fully made available, I worry that those drivers without easy access to an ignition interlock device would be unfairly restricted.
Because there were too many holes in the House’s Amendments, I voted to send the bill back to committee for further review. I look forward to seeing the committee’s revisions, and hope to pass a bill that is fair and consistent to all drivers, and won’t place an onerous burden on our local governments.
NEW SAFEGUARDS WILL PREVENT INFORMATION LEAK TO INMATES
State agencies were directed last week to fix a 25-year-old program that allowed inmates access to personal information of Kansas residents.
The program, which began in the 1980s, never resulted in identity theft but still posed a huge risk to thousands of citizens.
In addition to addressing the programs currently in operation, new regulations will be developed to prevent inmates from accessing personal information in the future, including Social Security numbers, birth dates, and driver’s license numbers. In situations where such private information must be processed, state agencies have been ordered to use civilian employees.
WEB SITE OUTLINES NEW SMOKE FREE LAW
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment launched a new Web site this week to help Kansas businesses and local residents understand provisions of the Kansas Clean Air Act, which will become effective July 1st, 2010. The site includes a printable pdf of the law, frequently asked questions, and tools for businesses such Exemption Forms and no smoking signs.
Kelly Kultala represents the 5th Senate District, which includes parts of Wyandotte and Leavenworth counties.