After we came back from Turnaround, the mid-point of the session, the Kansas Senate resumed its work on March 6th. Much of our work since then has been in committee, but late this week our work also involved a long day on the floor with votes on a bill to help those impacted by the wildfires rebuild, the Rescission Bill, imon’s Law, and a number of other measures, which I will detail later in this newsletter, including my votes.
We will continue working for the next three weeks, with the “first adjournment” scheduled for Friday, April 7th, which is otherwise known as “drop dead day.” At that point, we will adjourn until the Veto Session, which will begin on May 1st.
Of course, much of the work on items like taxes and the 2018 and 2019 budgets is going on behind the scenes, and work is also under way on constructing a new K-12 school finance formula, on a new committee created exclusively for that purpose. Kansas is currently under a system of block grants, but those expire on June 30th, and the Kansas Supreme Court ruled we must construct a new equitable and adequate school finance formula by that date. I will address this more in a moment.
Before I go into further detail about legislative activity, I do want to take a moment and mention the wildfires that have ravaged Kansas. Senators Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts each gave moving remarks on the floor of the United States Senate recently, which I urge you to view here (Moran) and here (Roberts), which describe the breadth of destruction these fires have inflicted. Hundreds of thousands of acres have been burned Thousands of cattle have died. The property damage is vast. The impact on farmers and ranchers is catastrophic. This graphic emphasizes the damage:
Our thoughts, prayers, and support go out to those impacted. For those needing assistance with wildfire recovery or for those wanting to help, the Kansas Department of Agriculture has a good list of resources: http://www.agriculture.ks.gov/…/kansas-wildfire-recovery-re….
In the Kansas Senate, we set aside disputes on taxes to unanimously approve a state sales tax exemption for purchases of supplies to repair fencing burned in the wildfires that burned more than 650,000 acres in Kansas. HB 2387 would provide farmers and ranchers with a sales tax exemption for all property and services purchased during 2017 or 2018 necessary to construct, reconstruct, repair, or replace any fence used to enclose agricultural land that was damaged or destroyed by wildfires occurring in 2016 or 2017. A similar tax exemption passed last year to help farmers and ranchers after the fires in Comanche and Barber counties. The bill passed on Thursday essentially extends the exemption put in place after the 2016 fires.
The Rescission Bill
This week, the Kansas Senate finally debated an effort to balance the budget, an effort that should have been taken up in January, when it typically does in cases like this. “Rescission bills” are needed when there is a shortfall in the Kansas budget in the current fiscal year, necessitating fixes to balance the budget by the end of the fiscal year on June 30th. Those fixes can include cuts or “one time” efforts, such as transfers or borrowing from other state funds, or they can involve cuts.
I generally support the latter, as it involves a real reduction in spending- the problem is that this late in the fiscal year, any cuts can have a disproportionate impact. Much media attention has focused on the amendment by President Wagle to make an across the board cut of 2%, which was rejected by the Senate. I thought this cut was low enough that we could withstand it, and that is why I also supported two amendments by Senator Pyle to make a 1% cut and a .5% cut, after Wagle’s amendment was voted down.
Ultimately, the underlying bill was adopted by a vote of 27-13 and I voted No. The reason is because I was not sent to Topeka to continue our borrowing and transferring habits of the past – I was sent to make real reductions. The bill did not do so and that’s why I voted against it.
Because it had some changes from the House, it will now go to a conference committee and then must receive another up or down vote when it returns to our chamber. A conference committee is comprised of three members of each body who then work out differences on a particular piece of legislation.
This week, I was pleased to support Simon’s Law, which the Senate debated on Thursday in the form of Sub SB 85. The law is named after a little boy named Simon, who was diagnosed with a rare disease and died in the hospital. His parents later found out there was a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) on his medical record that they never approved.
The bill would require that a DNR or similar physician’s order could not be instituted for a minor unless at least one parent or legal guardian of the minor has been informed, orally and in writing, of the intent to institute the order. A reasonable attempt to inform the other parent must be made if the other parent is reasonably available and has custodial or visitation rights. The information would not need to be provided in writing if, in reasonable medical judgment, the urgency of the decision requires reliance on providing the information orally.
The bill passed the Senate after a lengthy debate in which several Senators known for being against the right to life attempted to torpedo the bill via an amendment by Senator Bollier. The bill seeks to prohibit a hospital from placing a Do Not Attempt Resuscitation (DNAR) order on a child under the age of 18 without the notice or signature of a parent or guardian.
Simon’s Law is named in honor of a little boy, Simon, whose life ended tragically when life-saving measures were withheld from him due to a DNAR order secretly placed in his file. Simon had been diagnosed with Trisomy 18, which led to the hospital placing the DNAR unilaterally without parental consent.
This blog post from Kansans for Life covers the bill and the debate in which several pro-life Senators spoke in favor of the legislation. Take special note of this portion as a key reason for the bill:
“During Thursday evening’s Senate floor debate, pro-life champion Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook brought up the issue of medical discrimination. She cited a book by former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum and his wife, Karen.
In “Bella’s Gift: How One Little Girl Transformed Our Family and Inspired a Nation,” the Santorums chronicle medical discrimination against their daughter, Bella, who, like Simon, has Trisomy 18. Sen. Santorum recounts how Bella had to be hospitalized repeatedly and for six years, medical personnel continually advised the Santorums to let her die.
Sen. Pilcher Cook warned that medical discrimination exists, and cited last year’s study in which 25-76% of responding pediatricians said they were comfortable issuing DNRs unilaterally. That is the situation Simon’s Law is meant to end.”
The Bollier amendment was rejected on a voice vote and the bill ultimately passed 29-9. I voted Yes.
Two weeks ago, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled on the Gannon v. Kansascase, regarding the constitutional equity and adequacy of K-12 public education funding. The Court ruled that K-12 education funding is unconstitutional, and noted that 25 percent of all Kansas students aren’t meeting Rose Standards, a series of targets students must meet to be considered at “grade level.”
The Court’s ruling was broad, and allows legislators the breathing room necessary to do our jobs and create a fair and fundable formula. The Court reaffirmed what the legislature already believed to be true: legislators are the state's chief policy makers and money appropriators.
While the Court did not specify how much, if any, additional money must be funneled into public schools to meet its standards of constitutional funding, the Court did mandate that the legislature create a new, equitable and adequate school finance formula by June 30, when the current block-grant funding formula expires.
To help create this new school finance formula, Senate President Wagle on Wednesday announced the creation of a Special Committee on Education Finance. Members of the committee include:
Senator Jim Denning (R-Johnson), Chair
Senator Carolyn McGinn (R-Sedgwick), Vice Chair
Senator Anthony Hensley (D-Shawnee), Ranking Minority Member
Senator Molly Baumgardner (R-Miami)
Senator Barbara Bollier (R-Johnson)
Senator Bud Estes (R-Ford)
Senator Dan Goddard (R-Labette)
Senator Dan Kerschen (R-Sedgwick)
Senator Pat Pettey (D-Wyandotte)
I do not approve of the Court inserting itself into the school funding debate yet again. The Kansas Constitution merely states that the legislature must provide “suitable provision for finance” of schools, but the Court went beyond that scope by ruling that the Kansas Legislature must adopt a new formula that meets standards that are not in the Constitution.
Nevertheless, the current block grant system was due to expire on June 30th,, and it was always the intent of the Kansas Legislature to adopt a new funding system. However, in doing so, I recommend we move beyond terms like “system” and “formula” and instead begin to look at what’s best for the student.
The Court noted, for instance, how current and previous formulas and funding systems have resulted in a large number of students underperforming. A student-focused approach, rather than a system-focused approach, will take this into account and look at ways to ensure parents have options rather than being forced to send their child to a school that is failing their student. That doesn’t always mean an endless stream of money, but rather having an open mind to solutions that allows the funding to follow the student.
I anxiously await the results of the aforementioned committee. K-12 education spending comprises more than half the state budget. We must move beyond the era of litigation and formulas to a new era where we champion the child. Students are our focus, and that will be my goal as we move forward.
Floor Action & Vote Tracker
Below is a list of bills we considered this week. I voted Yes except on SB 94.
ANNUAL PRIVILEGE FEE INCREASES (SB 94): SB 94 increases the annual privilege fees assessed on every health maintenance organization to 5.77 percent for the reporting period, beginning July 1, 2017, and ending December 31, 2020. After January 1, 2021, the privilege fee would be assessed at 3.31 percent. Money collected from the assessment must be deposited to the credit of the Medical Assistance Fee Fund (in the Kansas Department of Health and Environment). In addition, money collected from the privilege fee is to be deposited to the credit of the State General Fund, except from July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2018, when the money is to be deposited to the credit of the Medical Assistance Fee Fund. This bill passed the Senate 27-13. I voted No. I am against an increase in fees.
WICHITA AREA TECHNICAL COLLEGE (SB 174): SB 174 affiliates the Wichita Area Technical College (WATC) with Wichita State University (WSU). The institutional infrastructure of the WATC would be designated as the WSU Campus of Applied Sciences and Technology, and would be governed by and operated as a technical college campus within WSU. The campus would continue to be a technical college and would remain eligible for funding that is available to technical colleges. This bill passed the Senate 40-0.
KANSAS PROPANE SAFETY AND LICENSING ACT (SB 83): SB 83 changes the definition in the Kansas Propane Safety and Licensing Act of “retail distribution of liquefied petroleum gas” to specify the term would not include the resale of pre-filled tanks less than five gallons in size and containing less than 20 pounds of liquefied petroleum gas. This bill passed the Senate 40-0.
PUBLIC CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS AND PERFORMANCE AND PAYMENT BONDS (SB 55) SB 55 as amended, would revise the Kansas Fairness in Public Construction Contract Act by requiring a contractor involved in a public-private partnership (P3) agreement to provide performance and payment bonds. This bill passed the Senate 39-1.
RENAMING LAKE SCOTT STATE PARK (HB 2192) HB 2192 would rename Lake Scott state park to Historic Lake Scott State Park. The bill passed the Senate 40-0.
TELEPHONIC SIGNATURES (SB 95) SB 95 would amend law for public assistance programs concerning telephonic signatures. The bill would require a telephonic signature by an applicant or an applicant’s authorized representative be accepted to fulfill any signature require for application for public assistance programs administered by the Secretary for Children and Families. The bill would make a telephonic signature an option for applicants, not a requirement. A telephonic signature would constitute a valid and legal signature. The bill passed the Senate 33-7.
ENFORCEMENT OF CERTAIN PROVISIONS OF THE CIGARETTE AND TOBACCO PRODUCTS ACT (SB 96) SB 96 would make a number of amendments to the Cigarette and Tobacco Products Act designed to keep Kansas in compliance with the federal Master Settlement Agreement (MSA).The bill passed the Senate 40-0.
ELECTRONIC CIGARETTES, DEFINITIONS, ENFORCEMENT. (SB 130). Under current law, a tax at the rate of $0.20 per milliliter of consumable material in electronic cigarettes was imposed as of January 1, 2017. The bill would delay the effective date of the tax to July 1, 2017, and would reduce the rate to $0.05 per milliliter. The bill passed the Senate 40-0.
AUTHORIZING THE KANSAS INTELLIGENCE FUSION CENTER (SB 184) SB 184 enacts the Kansas Intelligence Fusion Act and establish the Kansas Intelligence Fusion Center (KIFC). The KIFC is a collaboration among federal, state, local, and tribal agencies, as well as certain private-sector entities. The center helps with intelligence analysis and also will promote and improve intelligence sharing among public agencies at both the state and federal level. SB 184 also codifies the current practices of the KIFC. The bill passed the Senate 40-0.
DECLARING BLACKBERRYS A NOXIOUS WEED (SB 117) SB 117amends the Noxious Weed Law which permits the board of county commissioners to declare a plant to be a noxious weed within the boundaries of their county. The bill would add the everbearing blackberry and the Himalayan blackberry to the list of noxious weeds. The bill passed the Senate 40-0.
OPEN MEETINGS; JUSTIFICATIONS FOR CLOSED OF EXECUTIVE MEETINGS (SB 70) SB 70 would amend the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA) with respect to closed or executive meetings. The bill would require any motion to recess for a closed or executive session include a statement describing the subjects discussed during the session and also the justification for closing the meeting. The bill would require the complete motion be recorded in the minutes of the meeting. The bill passed the Senate 39-1.
In the coming week, we’ll re-visit the Rescission Bill and begin considering the 2018-19 budget, and I fully suspect we will once again talk about raising taxes. Given the recent reports of job growth and increased revenue growth, it is my hope that legislative leaders will keep their tax increase proposals to a minimum. Particular in districts like mine which border neighboring states, I am deeply concerned about the loss of small businesses and jobs that will occur when a large tax increase is passed.