Archive for Friday, May 13, 2011

Week 15: Legislative update

May 13, 2011

LEGISLATURE ADJOURNS

The Kansas Legislature has officially adjourned the 2011 session about 5:30 a.m. today Friday, May 13, after using the full 90 days allotted. This year was particularly frustrating, as many of the most important decisions were held until the final days of session.

This is the last weekly legislative updates. I will send out an end-of-the-year review in the next week to 10 days.

Even with these setbacks, I’m proud to have voted for legislation this year that protected federal maintenance of effort guidelines for special education funding, took dangerous “bath salts” and K3 off the streets, and substantially changed workers compensation laws for the first time in more than two decades.

With the session now over, I look forward to returning home and spending some quality time out in our community.

FORT LEAVENWORTH BUSING BILL PASSES

Early this morning both houses passed SB 21, which contains the Fort Leavenworth busing language. The bill will be on its’ way to the governor for signature sometime during the next several days.

DISTRICT HAPPENINGS

• This week I attended the official signing of a law that will designate the juncture of U.S. Highway 24 and K-7 Highway as the Representative Margaret Long Interchange. Rep. Long served the 36th House District proudly for a decade, leading the charge on a number of education, transportation and energy issues.

• The National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame, Bonner Springs is planning a Barnyard Babies program May 14. The program will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 14, at the Ag Hall, 126th and State. Chicks, calves, kids (baby goats) are the special guests at the event. Besides seeing baby animals, visitors may participate in children's hands-on activities, watch the blacksmith, attend living history demonstrations, take a hayride and ride the miniature train. Regular admission fees apply. For more information, visit www.aghalloffame.com or call 913-721-1075.

• The Kansas City, Kansas, Fraternal Order of Eagles will hold a benefit fundraiser dinner on May 14. The cost of the dinner will be $10 a plate. For reservations, call 913-499-8481 or email eagleswyandotte87@kc.rr.com .

BUDGET DEBATED

Late Thursday evening, senators finally had a chance to debate the state budget. Typically, these decisions are made much earlier in the session.

Unfortunately, the plan introduced in the Senate cuts $2.5 million from early childhood programs, causing huge pains to programs like Early Head Start and Parents as Teachers. It cuts funding for Kansas public schools by $232 per student next year. These cuts will be devastating to local schools, leading to massive teacher layoffs, school closures and drastic increases in class sizes.

The plan also stripped years four and five of the long-overdue undermarket pay adjustment for state employees. By reneging on this promise, thousands of state employees who clean our streets, protect us from criminals, work in our prisons and care for the disabled will continue earning far below their private-sector counterparts.

I could not in good conscience vote for these cuts, while leaving a $71 million ending balance. April revenues were up and May revenues are expected to be millions of dollars higher than previous estimates. The economy is clearly recovering.

VOTER ID

An unusual motion was made Wednesday to reconsider a Voter ID bill that became law last month. Senators behind the maneuver wanted to move the birth certificate requirement for first time voter registrations up from 2013 to 2012 and the law would have allowed the secretary of state to have prosecutorial powers, currently held by local officials and the attorney general.

Although I supported the Voter ID bill, I voted against this measure. The DMV previously told lawmakers that it needed this time to install a program to validate citizenship. Without the program up and running, there’s no way to efficiently verify if someone should be allowed to vote.

ARTS COMMISSION CLOSURE

Gov. Sam Brownback has vowed to close the Kansas Arts Commission, announcing on Wednesday that he’d sent termination letters to the entire commission staff.

By closing the Kansas Arts Commission, more than 4,600 full-time jobs will be eliminated and $150 million in annual state economic activity will come to a halt. Nearly 290 artists, schools and programs around the state, which were helped by the KAC last year, will be left out in the cold.

Many Kansas cities, especially in rural areas, won’t have the ability to replace these lost state funds. When the Kansas Arts Commission is eliminated, smaller and rural communities will lose disproportionately.

The KAC is a vital lifeline to our arts communities. I’m disappointed the governor has chosen to eliminate this important organization.

UNILATERAL ANNEXATION

The Senate has approved a bill prohibiting cities from unilaterally annexing property without the approval of residents. The issue has been a big concern for farmers and landowners living near growing communities.

New mandates will allow residents living within a proposed annexation area to vote by mail ballot whether the annexation should be approved. If a majority vote against the annexation, it could not take place. It also requires that county commissions determine whether the city has provided appropriate municipal services to annexed areas.

APRIL REVENUES UP

The Kansas Department of Revenue reported state general funds were up in April. Total receipts were $759 million, $25.7 million above estimates. This represents a .5 percent gain above predictions made last year.

Several factors played into the above-estimated receipts, including higher individual income tax, insurance premiums and corporate franchises. Year-to-date, SGF receipts are nearly 14 percent higher than in April FY2010.

KPERS COMPROMISE REACHED

This week legislators passed a bill to address major underfunding issues with the state’s KPERS system. The bill creates a 13-member commission to study alternate retirement plans and to make recommendations to legislators next year.

As it stands, KPERS faces a $7.7 billion gap between anticipated revenues and benefits promised. If long-term underfunding isn’t addressed, more than 150,000 KPERS beneficiaries risk losing their retirement.

One plan the commission will study would increase employer contribution rates over 4 years. Under this scenario, Tier 1 employees (those hired before July 2009) would have their contribution rates increase from 4 percent to 6 percent. Tier 2 employees (those hired after July 2009) would also contribute 6 percent, but their automatic cost-of-living adjustment would be eliminated.

Another option would let Tier 1 employees continue to contribute 4 percent, but their multiplier would decrease. Tier 2 members could choose to contribute 6 percent and reduce their multiplier, but retain their COLA.

Appointing a study commission is our best solution. Taking a serious look at our options is the least we can do for dedicated state employees who rely on KPERS.

UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE

A debate over changes to the state’s unemployment insurance law resurfaced this week. If you’ll recall, the bill made major changes to current statutes addressing the state’s unemployment trust fund. The Senate passed the bill 30-8 back in February.

This week, however, House negotiators began insisting that provisions of another bill –HB2130 – be added in. HB2130 would take away the ability of union members to have money automatically deducted from their paychecks to support pro-union political candidates. Opponents of the bill believe it silences the free speech rights of workers.

To keep the highly contentious HB2130 out of the underlying bill, the Senate moved to accept a House plan that was free of the paycheck provisions. Assuming the bill is signed into law, lawmakers will be able to strengthen the underlying bill next year.

TOURISM WEEK

Below are some interesting statistics I received from the U.S. Travel Association, in honor of National Travel & Tourism Week:

• The travel industry supports more than 10 million jobs, including hotel and rental car employees, tour operators, meeting planners and restaurant staff. Nearly 1 out of 9 U.S. jobs depend on the travel and tourism industry.

• Travel and tourism generates $704 billion in direct travel spending, and $113 billion in tax revenue for local, state and federal governments.

Each household would pay $950 more in taxes without the tax revenue generated by the travel and tourism industry.

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

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