• 113 days: Longest session in history adjourns
• Largest tax increase in history
• Budget still has holes
• KPERS bonds
• Working after retirement
• Bad year for universities
• School finance update
• Changes to local elections
• Kobach’s power
• Bills signed into law
113 days: Longest session in legislative history adjourns
Session adjourned Friday, June 12, after voting on the last item of business for the session – a tax package to fill the $400 million budget hole. This year’s session reached 113 days, the longest session in the history of Kansas. The official last day of session, called sine die, was Friday, June 26.
In the extended time that we were in Topeka, the primary focus was supposed to be passing an updated budget and tax package. However, we covered a number of issues first that were considered unfinished business for the session, including: moving local elections to the fall, giving the secretary of state the authority to prosecute voting crimes, requiring private sector veterans preference, changing the renewable portfolio standard, making corrections to the block grants, and revising how KPERS retirees may return to work.
With session officially adjourned, I have returned home and am looking forward to spending some quality time in our community. This summer, feel free to contact me at home 913-579-3741 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is truly an honor to serve you.
Largest tax increase in history
After weeks of gridlock, the Kansas Legislature passed a bill containing the largest tax increase in the history of our state. Gov. Brownback signed this bill into law on June 16. The new tax law:
• Increases sales tax from 6.15 percent to 6.50 percent beginning July 1, 2015; combined with local sales tax rates, Kansas now has the highest sales tax rate on food in the country.
• Eliminates and reduces itemized deductions effective tax year 2015, including the property tax and mortgage interest rate deductions.
• Increases tobacco tax by $0.50 per pack beginning July 1, 2015.
• Implements a new tax on e-cigarettes beginning July 1, 2016.
• Creates a low-income exclusion provision, which eliminates income tax liability for single filers with taxable income of $5,000 or less, or joint filers with taxable income of $12,500 or less, beginning in tax year 2016.
• Extends rural opportunity zones for five years.
• Imposes property tax restrictions on local governments.
• Delays income tax rate reductions.
• Requires a Social Security number for a minimum of year to be eligible for tax credits.
• Authorizes tax amnesty for penalties and interest to certain delinquent taxes.
• Requires the Department of Revenue to mail a copy of motor vehicle registration applications to owners, including all information required to register and pay by return mail.
I voted against this unfair tax policy because it balances the budget on the backs of the poor, the elderly, and the hardworking middle class Kansans for the sake of the governor’s reckless economic experiment. The increased sales tax is especially troubling for those who live on a fixed income and already struggle to meet their daily needs. Further, these tax policies do not provide a real, long-term solution to our state’s budget problems; we will only see additional budget holes to fill in the future.
Budget still has holes
The Legislature passed and the governor signed into law a fiscally irresponsible two-year budget. The new tax law plus one-time revenue transfers still leaves the budget underfunded, and in need of $50 million in cuts to generate a meager ending balance. As a result, core governmental functions such as sound infrastructure, K-12 and higher education, or public safety are at risk.
• Depends on a one-time transfer of more than $350 million from the State Highway Fund, the only proven job creating program.
• Allocates $3 million for a consulting service to assist in examining agency core functions, procedures, and efficiencies.
• Does not invest additional money into K-12 or higher education.
• Does not increase salaries for state employees, who haven’t received a pay increase in years.
• Does not adequately fund the judicial branch, which is charged with keeping our communities safe.
• Does not provide additional funding to the Kansas Highway Patrol, which is more than 100 officers short.
I voted against the budget because it does not meet the long term needs of the state.
After raiding the KPERS fund to help fill the massive budget hole, Gov. Brownback signed into law a bill that issues $1.0 billion in bonds. The bonds are to be applied to the unfunded actuarial pension liability, as directed by the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. In doing this, the amortization period is extended by 10 years, making it so KPERS wouldn’t be fully funded until 2043. This makes it more expensive to make the system solvent. It will cost the state billions of dollars in the long term in order to save millions in the short term. I did not vote for this bill.
Working after retirement
Gov. Brownback signed into law the bill that allows public employee retirees to return to work based on current law until June 30, 2016. After that point, all retirees who have returned to work will be allowed to receive up to $25,000 in compensation annually from a contributing KPERS employer, regardless of whether the retiree is returning to work for the same or different employer. Once the cap is met, the retiree must either terminate employment or forgo monthly KPERS benefits until the end of the calendar year. Under current law, the cap is $20,000.
The caps do not apply to state hospital nurses, local elected officials, legislative staff, emergency substitute teachers, or law enforcement officers employed by the Law Enforcement Training Center. The legislation has a sunset of July 1, 2021, to ensure the Kansas Legislature evaluates the needs of retirees and employers.
Bad year for universities
Under Gov. Brownback’s leadership, Kansas’ Regents institutions have been the constant target of attacks. This year proved not to be any different. To start, in the middle of the fiscal year, the governor used his independent authority to cut state universities’ budgets by 2 percent as the solution to the impending negative ending balance. Then, the legislature approved – and the governor signed – a measure prohibiting institutions from raising tuition by more than 3.6 percent. As a result, universities are not able to offset the allotments and are forced to cut within their institutions. The governor also made a line item veto for the funding of a GED program as part of the $50 million in additional cuts needed to balance the budget.
School finance update
Providing a high quality education to Kansas children is a core function of our state government. It has always been a priority, that’s why it is included in our state’s Constitution. Unfortunately, the governor and the Kansas Legislature continue to fall short on their responsibility. This session was no different, with:
• Block grants – One of the first items of business this session included the legislature approving and the governor signing a law repealing the 20 year-old school finance formula. Instead, school districts will receive funds using block grants. This change resulted in a cut of more than $51 million to school districts across the state this year alone.
• Corrections to block grants – The legislation creating the block grants passed in a matter of 12 days. As a result, mistakes were made and a second piece of legislation had to pass to correct those mistakes, including prohibiting out-of-state students from being eligible for state aid through virtual schools. The bill also specifies that school districts cannot deny enrollment to out of district transfers if they were already attending the school during the 2014-2015 school year. Finally, it revises the Professional Negotiations Act to specify that compensation, hours, and amounts of work along with three other items from each party may be negotiated in the contracts of professional employees.
• Vouchers – The Legislature cut money from public schools, but passed a budget that included additional money for private schools. A section of the new budget law allows both businesses and individuals to receive tax credits, if they pay for private school tuition for up to $8,000. To be eligible, the student must be attending or has attended a Title 1 public school. Tax credits apply to tuition at any school – regardless of accreditation.
• Constitutional challenge – Kansas is currently in the midst of a lawsuit that claims the state is failing to meet its constitutional responsibility to adequately and fairly fund public education. In early May, the court met to hear arguments also challenging the constitutionality of the block grants. A decision is expected as early as sometime this summer. If the court rules the state is not meeting its obligation, the legislature will immediately have to take corrective actions, or face a constitutional crisis. (A three-judge panel made a ruling in this case on Friday, June 26, after this column was written, and the ruling may be appealed. See more information, http://wyandottedaily.com/judicial-panel-says-school-block-grant-funding-is-unconstitutional/)
Changes to local elections
The governor has signed into law the bill that moves local elections from the spring of odd numbered years to the fall, but they will remain nonpartisan. This change applies to all elections for elected local government officials.
Terms for those currently holding elected positions that originally expired in 2017 will be extended to the second Monday in January of 2018. Newly elected officials will begin their terms in January as well. This causes concern especially for members of a school board. The transition will occur in the middle of the school year, rather than at the beginning.
Finally, the new law increases the candidate filing fee from $5 or $10 to $20. I voted against this bill. No school board or local unit of government supported this legislation. I believe this is state over-reach.
The governor signed into law the bill that gives Secretary of State Kris Kobach the authority to prosecute election crimes. In addition, Senate Bill 34 creates a separate crime of voting more than once in the same jurisdiction in an election held on a particular date, voting in more than one U.S. jurisdiction in an election held on a particular date, or inducing or aiding any person to take the above actions.
I voted against this bill because I do not believe it is necessary for the Secretary of State to have the power to prosecute. We have very little evidence of voter fraud and our local district attorneys are capable of handling the issues. Secretary Kobach is only interested in creating a problem and making it more difficult for citizens to vote.
Bills signed into law
The governor signed 103 bills into law. It is important to note that the majority of these bills were worked and passed by the Legislature prior to the veto session and before any work on the budget or the tax plan had been completed.
• Senate Substitute for House Bill 2135 – expands the governor’s authority to make allotments, but prohibits cuts to K-12 funding or KPERS contributions.
• House Bill 2048 – establishes the Scrap Metal Theft Reduction Act, which gives the Attorney General jurisdiction and authority to adopt rules and regulations to implement and enforce the act. The act establishes a database of scrap metal sales and imposes civil penalties of $100 to $5,000 for each violation of the act by a scrap metal dealer.
• Senate Substitute for House Bill 2258 – makes changes to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families by creating a lifetime limit for benefits at 36 months and implementing a daily limit of cash that can be withdrawn from an ATM.
• Senate Substitute for House Bill 2281 – creates the Medical Assistance Fee Fund and increases the annual privilege fees paid by every health maintenance organization. This bill also amends S Sub for HB 2258 by authorizing the Secretary of the Department of Children and Families to determine the cap on cash withdrawals from ATMs by individuals receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
• Senate Bill 113 – creates a civil cause of action that allows victims of human trafficking, aggravated human trafficking, or commercial sexual exploitation of a child to seek damages from the individual(s) engaged in such conduct if the victim suffered personal or psychological injury of at least $150,000.
• House Substitute for Senate Bill 12 – amends the law for committing and treating sexually violent predators, including the civil commitment of sexually violent predators. Strengthens the law on litigation related to release of sexually violent predators.
• House Bill 2013 – establishes the Commercial Driver’s License Drive Test Fee Fund within the Department of Revenue and a $15 driving test fee for the drive test portion of the CDL application for the purposes of funding the administration and operations of the CDL drive test.
• House Bill 2391 – permits the conversion of public employees in classified positions to unclassified positions, including any employee in a newly hired position and any current employee who voluntarily transfers or is voluntarily promoted or demoted.
• House Bill 2097 – authorizes the State Fire Marshal to establish regional search and rescue teams to respond to search and rescue incidents.
• House Bill 2051 – increases the amount of good time credit an inmate sentenced for a drug severity level 3 crime committed on or after July 1, 2012, may earn from 15 percent to 20 percent.
• Senate Substitute for House Bill 2043 – allows the Secretary of Aging and Disability to request criminal background checks from the KBI for determining employment eligibility of individuals working closely with vulnerable children and adults.
• Senate Bill 154 – creates a maximum weekly benefit cap for unemployment benefits of $474 or 55 percent of the average weekly wages paid to employees in insured work during the previous calendar year, whichever is greater. It also removes provisions prohibiting employees in the unemployment insurance department from being partisan.
• House Bill 2155 – legalizes fantasy sports, creates a new law regulating charitable raffles, and makes changes to the Bingo Act.
• Senate Bill 101 – known as the Uber bill, it amends language of the Transportation Network Company Services Act to remove the requirement to obtain a local and national criminal background check on an individual acting as a driver. It also removed the requirement to provide proof of comprehensive and collision insurance coverage on the vehicle.
• Substitute for House Bill 2159 – amends the DUI law to allow a person to petition for expungement of their first offense after five years or a second or subsequent conviction after 10 years. The law also allows the Division of Vehicles to issue a restricted driver’s license with a designation for ignition interlock device users for a $10 additional fee.
• Senate Substitute for Substitute for House Bill 2170 – creates the Freedom from Unsafe Restraint and Seclusion Act, regarding the use of seclusion and restraint of students in the school setting.
• House Bill 2395 – increases the threshold of capital improvement costs to $1 million – up from $750,000 – before the Secretary of Administration must convene a meeting of the State Building Advisory Commission.
• House Bill 2154 – permits private employers to establish a policy to give a hiring preference to a veteran who meets the requirements of the job. It also provides employment reinstatement protections to any person employed in Kansas who is called or ordered to state active duty and grants in-state tuition and fees to current military personnel, veterans, military spouses, and dependents.
• House Bill 2055 – enhances the severity level of punishment for injury from a DUI resulting in permanent disability of another person.
• House Substitute for Senate Bill 91 – establishes a renewable energy standard of a voluntary goal that 20 percent of a utility’s peak demand within the state be generated from renewable energy resources by the year 2020.
• House Bill 2005 – the budget of the judicial branch, where funding is tied to the expectation that the courts will not rule.
My final thoughts
Working for the 6th district and all the citizens of Kansas for 23 extra days was totally unnecessary. We spent $1 million on salaries and there was no compromise with a governor who is determined to keep in place a tax policy that is not working. I do not believe the state of Kansas has a spending problem. All state departments have been reduced to the point where services are affected or eliminated.
Education is a constitutional responsibility and it is the most effective way to fight poverty and provide a qualified workforce.
This week the Supreme Court has ruled the Affordable Health Care Act should be upheld and that same sex marriages should be recognized. Both of these rulings support Kansans’ right to live healthy productive lives.
If you live in Wyandotte County take advantage of the opportunity to let Mayor Holland and the commissioners know how you feel about the sales tax money that the UG will be receiving in 2017 when the STAR bonds are paid off. You can check the UG website for the next meeting. I want to offer special condolences to the family of George Breidenthal, a long-serving member of the KCK school board who passed away this week. He cared deeply about his community and the KCK schools.