Legislative update: Week 13
SENATE RETURNS FOR VETO SESSION
Legislators returned to Topeka this week for the wrap up session. Typically the wrap up lasts four or five days, although it can take longer if legislators need more time to debate the state budget and conference reports. I will keep you updated in the coming days as these important decisions are finalized and the session moves to a close.
All House and Senate sessions are open to the public. And live broadcasts of Senate and House proceedings can be found at www.kslegislature.org. To hear legislative proceedings, just click on the “Listen in Live” link.
I am honored to serve as your Senator. 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.
• The Piper Spring Craft Show will be held May 7 at Piper High School, 4400 N. 107th, Kansas City, Kan. This event is sponsored by Piper Community Education Association. Up to 50 booths will be available for shoppers to browse, visit and buy. Crafters from the Kansas City area and other states will be here to show off their handcrafted items. A feature of this show will be a plant sale provided by CLJ Foundation. Admission is free. Another feature of the day will be a talent show. Openings are still being accepted for the show. Those interested in becoming involved may contact Lori Lanter, 913-238-2936. Lunch will be available featuring a barbecue cookout by the “Piper men.” The menu will include hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, polish sausage, nachos and homemade desserts. Piper Community Education Association is a nonprofit organization. Profits from our fundraisers are used for our projects, community and school district. For more information contact Karen, 913-721-3243 or visit www.pipercommunityed.com.
• Marble Days will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 7, in downtown Bonner Springs. The community event is for children, parents and grandparents. The celebration will include a marble shooting tournament for all ages, and marble artwork and marble invention competitions for students in grade school through 12th grade. Also planned is the “Running of the Pinkys,” which is a benefit involving pinky rubber balls, along with a Wacky Parade, yoyo tournaments, yard games, train rides, straw tunnel and mountain, cake walk, jugglers, and balloon animals.
• Wyandotte County Parks Foundation is raising funds to enhance the quality of life in Wyandotte County. Your support can be in the form of a direct donation, a sponsorship, a contribution of in-kind services, volunteerism, conducting a fund raiser or to become a member. You can send a donation directly to the WYCO Parks Foundation at 5033 State Ave., Kansas City, KS 66102 or call 913-573-8381, firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can donate via credit card, check, stock transfer or a gift of real estate, etc. by contacting the Community Foundation of Wyandotte County. Cash & checks can be sent Attn: WYCO Parks Foundation Fund, 1055 Broadway, Suite 130, Kansas City, MO 64105. For other types of gifts please call 816-842-7444.
• Forty-seven teachers from Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools (KCKPS) were honored this month for their exemplary work and dedication at the district's annual Star Teacher Celebration. Teachers of the Year are Emily Fleming, from Welborn Elementary School; and Rashanda Rhodes, from Sumner Academy of Arts and Science.
• The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 7 office in KCK will be accepting applications for 2011 Environmental Education grants through May 2. Grants between $15,000 and $100,000 will be awarded to those who develop new programs promoting environmental stewardship. For more information, visit www.epa.gov/enviroed/grants.html.
• Congratulations to Leavenworth County native Krista Jobst for placing first in radio reporting at the Society of Professional Journalists Region 7 Conference last month. Krista, who is a freshman at KU, reports on-air for KJHK radio.
• Thanks to the following students who were at the Statehouse on Wednesday to hear a Proclamation and Senate Resolution regarding “Month of the Military Child”: Jacob Brown, Jared Brown, Ty Shafer and Toby Sullivan. While in Topeka, the group met with the governor, had an official photo taken, and toured the State Capital. All of the students are local members of the Kansas National Guard Teen Council.
WORKERS MEMORIAL DAY
This Thursday was Worker’s Memorial Day, a nationwide effort to honor the millions of American workers who have been injured, disabled or killed while on the job.
This session I voted in favor of legislation that will substantially change our workers compensation law for the first time in two decades. These new mandates will increase outdated compensation caps to injured workers from $125,000 to $155,000 for permanent total disability, from $100,000 to $130,000 for temporary total disability, and from $250,000 to $300,000 in cases of death.
According to the Kansas Department of Labor, more than 58,000 injuries and illnesses were reported in 2010. 159 employees each day are injured or killed while on the job. Of those who are injured, more than half must take time off work to heal.
We must continue fighting for workplace safety and for new resources that will help employers implement safety and outreach programs. Only then will we be able to prevent the injury and loss of any more Kansas workers.
I’ve received a number of e-mails recently regarding potential changes to the state’s KPERS system. As it stands, KPERS faces a $7.7 billion gap between anticipated revenues and benefits promised. The House and Senate have differing plans to solve the underfunding problem.
The Senate proposal would raise the state’s annual KPERS contribution to $23 million beginning in 2013. While employers and KPERS members will be asked to contribute more, those making higher contributions will also receive greater retirement benefits.
On the other hand, the House hopes to institute a 401(k)-style plan for state employees hired after June 2013. The plan would also decrease future benefits for current KPERS members.
If long-term underfunding isn’t addressed, more than 150,000 KPERS beneficiaries risk losing their retirement. I believe that the Senate plan is a fair solution that won’t force state retirees to shoulder an unfair burden. It is our best option for solving this important issue.
APRIL MONTH OF THE MILITARY CHILD
Members of the Kansas Senate unanimously approved a Resolution Wednesday, recognizing April as “Month of the Military Child in Kansas.”
Today about 1.7 million American kids and teens have a parent serving in the military. More than 33,000 of these children are Kansans.
Military children lead unique lifestyles, but thankfully there are local resources to help. The Kansas Department of Education has a special section on its web site dedicated to military families, and Child Care Aware of Kansas runs a group called Operation Military Child Care to support the child care needs of parents who are active or deployed. I encourage all of our Kansas military families to use the wealth of services offered throughout our state to help meet their needs.
This week, legislators returned to negotiations on a “mega” budget bill. Traditionally, the current year’s budget is settled early in the session, and legislators use the veto session to finalize an omnibus budget. But because we were unable to pass a budget compromise earlier, legislators now must vote on a combined budget that includes provisions for both this fiscal year and next year.
The Senate and House differ on just how much money should remain in state coffers. The House proposal leaves $60 million, requiring severe cuts in services to save money now.
The Senate proposal, on the other hand, would leave about a $2 million balance. The Senate budget plan protects essential services to Kansans, such as Meals on Wheels and services for the elderly and disabled.
A Joint House and the Senate conference committee met Thursday. The six-member group has been assigned to find a responsible compromise agreeable to both chambers. I will study the latest offers made by the House and continue to follow the negotiations in the upcoming days.
As discussions continue, I hope that legislators on both sides of the aisle are able to pass a mega budget that meets our financial needs while protecting vital services.
State Sen. Kelly Kultala, D-Kansas City, represents the 5th District, which includes parts of Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties.