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Legislative update from Rep. Pam Curtis, D-32nd Dist.

Rep. Pam Curtis


by Rep. Pam Curtis

The 2017 session of the Kansas Legislature began last week on Monday, Jan. 9th. My committee assignments for this year include Government Technology and Security, Children and Senior’s, Elections and the Judiciary Committee. The calendar will remain full over the next few weeks as bills are introduced and committees begin their work. You can follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org.

In addition to my newsletter, I am working to keep constituents more informed via Facebook and Twitter, so be sure to follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PamCurtisKCK/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pcurtiskck.

It is a special honor to serve as your state representative. I both value and need your input on the various issues facing state government. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions. My office address is Room 452-S, Kansas Statehouse, 300 SW 10th, Topeka, KS 66612. You can reach me at 785-296-7430 or call the legislative hotline at 1-800-432-3924 to leave a message for me. Additionally, you can email me at pam.curtis@house.ks.gov.

State of the State address

Gov. Sam Brownback gave his 2017 State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 10. Brownback referred to Kansas as the “envy of the world,” and assured a rather subdued Legislature and audience that his tax plan is working. This claim is easily refuted by the fact that our state’s budget deficit is nearly $1 billion.

Brownback’s tax plan, passed in 2012, allows the exemptions of income taxes for LLCs. This was supposed to bolster job creation – however, Kansas is experiencing negative job growth. The governor also asked the Legislature to pass a bill addressing the 2016 fiscal year budget shortfall by the end of January.

In addition, Gov. Brownback suggested performance-based pay for teachers, proposed the creation of a dental school at KU Medical Center, and announced that he would present a structurally balanced budget.

Governor’s budget report

The governor’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, delivered a briefing of the governor’s budget proposal on Wednesday morning. The proposal includes the following:

– Doubling taxes on tobacco and alcohol sales, with a $1 tax per pack of cigarettes.
– Delaying $75 million in payments to K-12 until 2018.
– Removing $13 million from the Extraordinary Needs Fund.
– A transfer of $15.4 million from the State Highway Fund in 2017, $288.3 million in 2018, and $293.1 million in 2019.
– Securitization of the state’s tobacco funds.
– Extend the KanCare contracts for one year.
– Create a dental school at KU Medical Center.
– Create a scholarship for teachers who agree to work in rural areas of Kansas.
You can find the full details of the budget report at http://budget.ks.gov/gbr.htm.

Special election bill

President-Elect Donald Trump has chosen U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo from Congressional District 4 as his CIA director, which will leave a vacancy in that district upon his confirmation. A representative of the U.S. Congress can only be elected by the people, not appointed, which will force a special election for that seat. The bill (HB 2017) passed easily through the Kansas House on Thursday, extending the deadline for military ballots, establishing a process for Libertarian candidates to be on the ballot, and lowering the number of signatures required for a petition candidate.

Persons who are registered as unaffiliated can only get on the ballot by petition. Instead of requiring 17,000 signatures, the number has been lowered to 3,000. Amendments to the bill included establishing a time frame to begin gathering signatures (only after the governor has declared the vacancy), and changing the time frame that the Board of Canvassers can accept mail ballots.

Newly elected legislators face challenging task

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Opinion column

by Murrel Bland

Some if not all of the newly elected 60 Kansas legislators may be asking the question, “What have I done?” At least that is the comment from Kathy Damron, a lobbyist who expressed that view at the monthly meeting last Friday, Jan. 13, of the Legislative Committee of Kansas City, Kan., Area Chamber of Commerce.

Legislators are scrambling to find $342 million to fill the budget hole for the current year and $582 million for the next fiscal year, which will begin July 1.

Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed his version of the budget. However, strong indications are that much of his proposals will be rejected. The governor wants to securitize the tobacco settlement dollars that the state will receive—this is estimated to be about $530 million. Critics of this plan argue that these funds were supposed to benefit needy children.

The governor has also proposed to increase the filing fees for nonprofit organizations and businesses by 500 percent. He also wants to hike the tax on cigarettes a dollar a pack and double the enforcement tax on alcohol.

The governor has not called for any adjustment on the “LLC Loophole” which allows for small businesses to escape paying state income tax. This provision, promoted by the governor, was passed in 2012 as a way to promote economic development. Gov. Brownback’s critics have argued that it has not worked, but rather given small business owners a free ride.

The governor continues to argue that his LLC exemption will work. He blames an economic downturn in three major Kansas industries—gas and oil, aircraft and agriculture. Once these industries recover, the exemption will show positive results, the governor argues.

Legislative observers expect a combination of new moderate Republican legislators and veteran Democrats to form an alliance that will either eliminate or severely modify this LLC Loophole. This could produce an estimated $300 million annually.

The unknown factor that is expected to face legislators is the pending school finance decision that the Kansas Supreme Court will hand down soon. This could mean the Legislature would have to come up with another $500 million, according to legislative watchers.

The Johnson County League of Women Voters will sponsor a legislative forum at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, at the Main Library, 625 Minnesota Ave., Kansas City, Kan. All members of the Wyandotte County legislative delegation have been invited.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is executive director of Business West.

Movie review: ‘Hidden Figures’ reveals fascinating story about early space exploration

“Hidden Figures, ”a motion picture directed by Theodore Melfi; screenplay by Melfi and Allison Schroeder. Starring Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer, Taraji Henson and Janelle Monae; rated PG, 2 hours, 7 minutes.

by Murrel Bland

Every American should see the move “Hidden Figures” that is now playing at the AMC 14 Legends Theaters. It is an untold story of the group of black women who played a very significant role in the early days of space exploration.

Much of the movie is set at Langley Air Force Base, Va., in the early 1960s when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was in a race with the Soviet Union to explore outer space. There was an immense pressure from the federal government in general, and President John F. Kennedy specifically, to be the first country to put a man on the moon.

The Soviet Union was the first to launch a satellite—Sputnik—in October of 1957. The first U.S. satellite—Explorer– wasn’t launched until January of 1958. The Soviet Union had the first man in space—Yuri Gagarin-in April 1961. Then about a month later, the first American in space was Alan Shepherd, a Mercury astronaut. The space race was moving ahead rapidly.

Kevin Costner portrays the supervising NASA engineer who was responsible for making certain that the Mercury (single-man) and Gemini (two-man) capsules were launched successfully. Katherine Johnson (portrayed by Taraji Henson) was the only woman and the only black person in a huge room at Langley to work on this project. Johnson quickly demonstrated mathematic skills that helped the success of the space venture.

Janelle Monae Robinson, a Kansas City, Kan., native, portrays Mary Jackson who had to go before a Virginia judge to get permission to attend an all-white high school where extension courses in aeronautical engineering from the University of Virginia were being taught. According to the movie, she was the first black woman in the United States to receive an aeronautical engineering degree. She joined NASA and played a very significant role.

The film is well acted and directed. It moves quickly and is particularly interesting for those of us who lived through this era. Most of those who attended the matinee performance Saturday, Jan. 7, probably would agree it is worth seeing, judging from the applause at the end of the movie.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press.