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Legislative update from Sen. Steve Fitzgerald

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Guest column

by Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-5th Dist.

Quick facts:

Kansas currently has a record 1.4 million people employed. (Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics)

“The most recent figures show just shy of 86% of Kansas kids get their high school diplomas. That’s slightly above the national average, which is at a record high.” (KCUR)

According to the Department for Children and Families, since 2011, over 45,040 new employments have been reported by TANF individuals. Those who left public assistance saw their earnings more than double, and incomes continue to climb each year for those removed, eventually more than tripling – increasing by 247 percent within four years. Over that same period, these families saw an estimated $48 million increase in wages.

High utility rates are a problem in Kansas. In the last decade, residential utility rates from both Westar and KCP&L have increased dramatically. Westar’s rates increased 30% since 2012 and 58% since 2007. For KCP&L, the increase has been 36% since 2012 and 64% since 2007. Including all sectors (residential, commercial, and industrial), Kansas electricity prices are the highest in the region.

Monday marks the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. Since the landmark decision, there have been over 59 million abortions, according to the National Right to Life Committee. The good news is that the number of annual abortions has dropped significantly over the last few years. (Source:

The Kansas Contractors and associated groups have provided a really well written opinion piece that makes the case for better state spending. Highly recommended reading.

The Senate has 13 standing committees including education, agriculture, judiciary, and utilities-to name a few. You can find information concerning Senate committees on the website.

I serve on the following committees: Transportation, Ethics and Elections, Local Government, Judiciary, and Education. I am also the chair of the Joint Committee on Kansas Security. There is no Veterans Committee in the Senate as there is in the House. I am discussing this with other senators and hope that we will be able to have a Senate Veterans Committee in the future.

In observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Legislature and state offices were closed Monday, Jan. 15. As of Friday, the Senate has introduced roughly 50 bills in the first two weeks.

Anyone can bring a bill to a committee for introduction. I recommend meeting with a senator and getting help from the staff first. Introduction of the bill is voted on by the committee and if accepted it is sent to the President of the Senate for assignment to a committee for work. Once a committee completes hearings and passes a bill, it then goes to the Senate floor for debate and vote.

Please keep in mind that a bill can be stopped at any point by an adverse vote or by an action of leadership. Most bills do not survive the process and those that do have to go through essentially the same process in the House.

Floor debates and votes will begin in the coming weeks.

If you’re interested, you can go to and click on the calendar tab at the top of the webpage to view the Senate’s daily schedule. You can also view live streams of the senate sessions on the Legislature’s YouTube page at

Let’s review the HOPE Act

The Kansas HOPE Act is the most comprehensive welfare reform legislation passed by any state in the nation.

Employment is the most effective path out of poverty. Government’s role is to help individuals obtain self-sufficiency and remain independent.

Results of comprehensive welfare reform on TANF caseload

45,040 new employments reported for TANF clients since Kansas implemented meaningful work requirements in 2011.

Kansas families that left welfare after finding work through the work programs, saw their earnings more than double and continue to increase each year, eventually more than tripling -increasing by 247 percent within four years.

The number of children in poverty has decreased by 12,000 and the childhood poverty rate has dropped from 19 to 14 percent.

Floor action

Tuesday the Senate confirmed 17 governor nominated appointments:

New appointments:

Billingsley, David – Member, Public Employee Relations Board
Confirmed on a vote of 39-0

Anderson, C. Scott – Member, Kansas Development Finance Authority
Confirmed on a vote of 39-0

Cusser, James – Member, Kansas Public Employees’ Retirement System Board of Trustees
Confirmed on a vote of 39-0

Mitchell, Irvin – Member, State Banking Board
Confirmed on a vote of 39-0

Westbrook, Jonathon – Member, Human Rights Commission
Confirmed on a vote of 39-0

Wolfe, Leonard – Member, State Banking Board
Confirmed on a vote of 39-0


Bangerter, Daniel – Member, State Board of Regents
Confirmed on a vote of 38-1

Brandau Murgula, Ann – Member, State Board of Regents
Confirmed on a vote of 38-1

Brant, David – Member, Human Rights Commission
Confirmed on a vote of 39-0

Donnelly, Chris – Member, Kansas Development Finance Authority
Confirmed on a vote of 39-0

Jones, Brandon – Member, Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission
Confirmed on a vote of 39-0

Kane, Michael – Member, Human Rights Commission
Confirmed on a vote of 39-0

Knutson, Kirk – Member, State Banking Board
Confirmed on a vote of 39-0

Padmanabhan, Suchitra – Member, Kansas Development Finance Authority
Confirmed on a vote of 39-0

Schmidt, Allen – Member, State Civil Service Board
Confirmed on a vote of 39-0

Van Etten, Helen – Member, State Board of Regents
Confirmed on a vote of 37-2

Wurtz, Ronald – Member, Kansas State Board of Indigents’ Defense Services
Confirmed on a vote of 39-0

Lansing Correctional Facility

The State Finance Council was scheduled to meet on Thursday, Jan. 18, to vote on a plan to rebuild Lansing Correctional Facility but shortly before the 10:30 a.m. meeting, Gov. Brownback postponed the vote.

The vote was originally scheduled for Jan. 4 but was pushed back until Jan. 18 to allow legislators time to gather more information on the plan. Many legislators expressed concern with the cost of the proposed $363 million rebuild and CoreCivic, the contractor to build the new Lansing facility.

The plan as introduced is a 20-year, $362 million contract for the finance, design, construction, and maintenance of a new state prison in Lansing. Under the plan developed by KDOC and CoreCivic, the new facility will have 1,920 maximum and minimum-security beds and 512 medium security beds. Technology and design upgrades would allow the KDOC to reduce staffing from 682 to 371.

First-year payment by the state would be $14.9 million and would rise 1.9 percent yearly during the contracted 20-years.

A spokesperson for the governor said the following on the postponement: “There are some questions that still need to be answered. It’s not dead.”

At this time, it is unknown when the vote will be rescheduled.

Dwight D. Eisenhower statue

On Wednesday, the Senate Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on S.B. 262 authorizing the construction of a statue honoring Dwight D. Eisenhower. S.B. 262, sponsored by Senators Elaine Bowers (R-Concordia) and Randall Hardy (R-Salina) allows for construction on the northwest quadrant of capitol grounds.

State law requires legislation to be passed before any statue or memorial be placed on capitol grounds. The monument is to be a replica of the Jim Brothers statue of Eisenhower in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. The funds required for the installation and construction of the statue were raised through a private fundraising campaign.

At Wednesday’s hearing the great-grandson of Dwight D Eisenhower, Merill Eisenhower Atwater, endorsed the legislation.

Final action on S.B. 262 in the Senate Ways and Means Committee is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 25.

Hemp legislation

On Monday and Tuesday of this week the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee held hearings on S.B. 263, a bill that creates a program to research the use of industrial hemp. This is one of two bills on this subject in the legislature.

The other bill, H.B. 2182 was passed in the House in 2017 and allows for the growth of industrial hemp across the state. In H.B. 2182, industrial hemp would not be considered a controlled substance or marijuana as defined by state law.

Overview of S.B. 263

The Department of Agriculture, alone or in coordination with a state educational institution (regent schools), may cultivate industrial hemp grown from certified seed and promote the research and development of industrial hemp.

Overview of H.B. 2182

Representatives from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and various law enforcement officer associations spoke in opposition to H.B. 2182 in 2017. They expressed concern the bill would provide a legal defense to the possession of marijuana by a person holding an industrial hemp license.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) testified neutral to S.B. 263 but was opposed to H.B. 2182. The Farm Bureau testified in support of S.B 263 but was neutral to H.B. 2182.

This week

Informational briefing on: Human Trafficking – [Senate Judiciary Committee joint meeting with House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee; Jan. 22 at 1:30 p.m.]

Presentation on: Kansas School Mental Health Advisory Council – [Senate Education Committee; Jan. 22 at 1:30 p.m.]

Presentation on: Job Trends in Kansas by Jeremy Hill, director, Center for Economic Development and Business Research – [Senate Commerce Committee; Jan. 23 at 8:30 a.m.]

Hearing on: S.B. 281, Protection orders for human trafficking victims under the protection from stalking, sexual assault, or human trafficking act. – [Senate Judiciary Committee; Jan. 23 at 10:30 a.m.]

Presentation on: Teacher of the Year – [Senate Education Committee; Jan. 23 at 1:30 p.m.]

Presentation on: New Economic Index by Dr. Marc Fusaro – [Senate Commerce Committee; Jan. 24 at 8:30 a.m.]

Presentation on: Kansas Department of Labor Overview by Secretary Lana Gordon and Justin McFarland, legislative liaison and deputy general counsel – [Senate Commerce Committee; Jan. 25 at 8:30 a.m.]

Presentation by: Alan Conroy, executive director, Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS): Update on KPERS, including information about the most recent actuarial valuation and KPERS funding – [Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee; Jan. 25 at 9:30 a.m.]

Informational hearing: Alzheimer’s Research Center- KUMC – [Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee; Jan. 25 at 9:30 a.m.]

2018 session dates and deadlines
Please be aware of the following dates and deadlines for the 2018 legislative session. As always, each is subject to modification and leadership will keep you updated on any changes which might occur.

Monday, Jan. 29, Last day for members to request bill drafts
Monday, Feb. 5, Last day for non-exempt committees to request bill drafts
Wednesday, Feb. 7, Last day for bill introductions by members
Friday, Feb. 9, Last day for non-exempt committee bill introduction
Friday, Feb. 16, Pro forma
Monday, Feb. 19, Last day for AM/PM committees to meet
Tuesday, Feb. 20, On floor all day
Wednesday, Feb. 21, On floor all day
Thursday, Feb. 22, Last day for non-exempt bills in house of origin
Feb. 23-27, No session
Friday, March 2, Pro forma
Friday, March 23, Last day for non-exempt committee consideration
March 26-28, On floor all day
Thursday, March 29, On floor all day; Last day to consider non-exempt bills not in originating chamber
Friday, March 30, No session
Friday, April 6, Drop dead day; first adjournment
Thursday, April 26, Veto session begins
Thursday, May 4, Day 90

Sen. Fitzgerald represents the Kansas Legislature’s 5th Senate District, including parts of western Wyandotte County and Leavenworth County.


Former hospital worker sentenced in attack at Fort Leavenworth

A former civilian hospital employee was sentenced today to the statutory maximum of 20 years in federal prison plus three years of supervised release for attacking a woman whom he set on fire, U.S. Attorney Tom Beall said.

In addition, the defendant was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $3,464,965.80 to the victim, Lt. Katie Ann Blanchard.

In August, a jury found Clifford Currie, 55, Leavenworth, Kan., guilty of one count of assault with intent to commit murder.

During trial, prosecutors presented evidence that on Sept. 7, 2016, Currie threw gasoline or some other inflammable liquid on his supervisor, Katie Ann Blanchard, lit her on fire and assaulted her with a straight-edge razor and scissors.

A co-worker came to Blanchard’s aid when she heard screams and saw Blanchard on fire from the chest up.

Currie was subdued by hospital employees and then arrested.

Beall commended the FBI, the U.S. Army Military Police, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Flannigan and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney James Ward for their work on the case.


Leavenworth business owner pleads guilty to bank fraud

A Leavenworth woman who owned businesses in the Kansas City area pleaded guilty Tuesday to bank fraud in U.S. District Court, U.S. Attorney Tom Beall said.

Brenda Wood, 49, Leavenworth, Kan., pleaded guilty to two counts of bank fraud. In her plea, she admitted she made false statements to Farmers Bank in Great Bend.

She told the bank that her company, Professional Cleaning and Innovative Building Services (PCI), had received a contract to provide cleaning services at an Internal Revenue Service building in Kansas City, Mo.

In fact, the company did not receive the contract and did not even make the final round of bids, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. As a result, the bank extended a $350,000 line of credit. Wood submitted draw requests to the bank, falsely stating that the funds were needed to fulfill the contract.

In another incident, Wood created a check kiting scheme to artificially inflate her bank account balances. She exchanged and cross-deposited more than 473 insufficient fund checks between her accounts at Capital Federal Savings, Intrust Bank and the Credit Union of Leavenworth County, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Sentencing is set for Jan. 17. Both parties have agreed to recommend a sentence of 78 months in federal prison and restitution of at least $4.6 million.

Beall commended the Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, the Special Investigator General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the Department of Labor Employee Benefits Security Administration, the FBI and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jabari Wamble for their work on the case.