Archive for Friday, January 28, 2011

Legislative Update: Week 3

January 28, 2011

BUSY WEEK AT THE CAPITOL

It was a busy week at the Statehouse. A Kansas Day celebration was held this morning, complete with a flyover, speeches and traditional music. Committees also continue to meet daily, as hearings on a number of bills are held.

HEARINGS SCHEDULED FOR BILLS I INTRODUCED

I introduced two bills that will have hearings next week. SB 11 has a hearing on Monday in the Senate Education Committee. It will correct a busing issue between the USD 207 Fort Leavenworth and the USD 453 Leavenworth School Districts. Also, SB 58 will have a hearing in the Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday. This bill designates the junction of U.S. Highway 24 and K-7 highway as the Representative Margaret Long Interchange. This legislation will also be introduced in the House Transportation Committee next week.

COMMITTEE SWITCHES

As you may have heard, Kensington Sen. Janis Lee resigned her Senate seat this week. She has been appointed to serve as the chief hearing judge for the Kansas Board of Tax Appeals.

As a result of her departure, committee assignments have been adjusted. Here is a full list of the committees I will now serve on, and the times they meet. If you ever want to testify before a committee, please feel free to contact my office:

• Transportation – 8:30 a.m.

• Ethics & Elections – 9:30 a.m. on Wed. & Thurs.

• Local Government – 9:30 a.m. on Mon. & Tues.

• Ways & Means – 10:30 a.m.

• Utilities – 1:30 p.m.

DISTRICT HAPPENINGS

• Warren Middle School’s Kansas Association for Youth group will be hosting a chili and soup dinner at 4 p.m. on Feb. 2.

• Good luck to MacArthur Elementary students Lexi Reyes and Kaitlyn Linney, who will be participating in the Leavenworth County Spelling Bee on Feb. 4.

KANSAS CELEBRATES 150th BIRTHDAY

A ceremony was held at the State Capitol this morning commemorating Kansas’ sesquicentennial. Members of the Kansas Legislature, Governor Brownback, and hundreds of Kansas residents were present. The celebration included a KC-135 flyover, a posting of Colors, speeches, a reading of the Kansas Day poem, singing of “Home on the Range” and a cannon salute.

An official “forever” stamp was also unveiled at the Kansas Historical Society. The stamp pictures an old-fashioned windmill in front of five modern wind turbines.

This year marked a milestone in our state’s long and diverse history. I’m glad so many Kansans were able to attend today’s events.

FREE TAX HELP AVAILABLE MONDAY

Sites around the state will provide free e-file tax assistance on Monday. The service is offered to moderate- to low-income Kansans, usually those earning $49,000 or less a year.

At each of the sites, IRS trained and certified volunteers will be available to complete electronic federal and state tax returns. Help will also be provided for those filing Kansas Homestead Claims, Property Tax Relief Claims, Earned Income Tax Credits, Child Tax Credits, and Credit for the Elderly or Disabled.

No appointment is needed, as service will be first-come, first-serve. If filing jointly, both spouses must be present. To find a location near you, call the Kansas Department of Revenue at (785) 368-8222.

RESCISSION BILLS

Because state revenues continue to be lower than expected, the Legislature has been forced to draft a rescission bill again this session. A rescission makes additional cuts to the current fiscal year budget so we end the year with a positive balance. Traditionally, both the House and Senate budgetary committees draft their own rescission bills.

On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee introduced a rescission bill that would eliminate market adjustments for thousands of state workers earning less than their private sector counterparts. It would also cut state employee pay by 7.5 percent this fiscal year. This affects all state employees, including corrections officers, custodial staff, clerical and administrative support staff, Highway Patrol officers, and Regents university professors, among others.

As expected, I’ve received dozens of e-mails and calls from constituents about the proposed pay cut. I do not support this proposal. While everyone must make sacrifices in hard economic times, it is unfair to place such a heavy burden on one group of Kansans.

On Thursday, the Senate Ways and Means Committee began drafting its own rescission bill. The committee restored funding to a number of state programs which were drastically cut or eliminated in the Governor’s budget recommendation.

Funding for special education and at-risk programs were fully restored. Nearly $6 million was added to account for enrollment growth this school year. Approximately $280,000 was restored to the legislature’s budget to complete a technology updating project that has already begun.

The committee restricted the 7.5 percent pay cut to only affect statewide elected officials, legislators, Regents university presidents and agency heads. All other state employees will not be affected. In addition, the next two years of undermarket pay adjustments for state employees were restored.

Debate will resume next week. I’ll do my best to keep you up-to-date with the latest budget information.

TESTIMONY ON DUI CHANGES

The Senate Judiciary Committee spent Thursday hearing from opponents of a bill that would change the state’s DUI laws. Proponents spoke on Wednesday.

The bill – SB 7 – would require that interlock devices be used after a first DUI offense. Kansas currently requires interlock devices for repeat-offenders and those first-time offenders who had blood level readings double the legal limit.

Once all parties have had a chance to testify, the committee will decide whether the bill should be sent to the Senate for a vote.

STATEWIDE SMOKING BAN

I’ve received a lot of e-mails this week, urging me to vote against a possible repeal of the statewide smoking ban. Although no formal repeal has been presented, I continue to believe the ban is good public policy and should not be discarded.

Protecting the health and safety of Kansans is my number one priority in the Statehouse. Not only does a smoking ban protect innocent Kansans from harmful secondhand smoke, it will save our state millions of dollars in related health care costs.

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

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