Opinions

Rep. Pam Curtis
Rep. Pam Curtis

The primary election for local offices is this Tuesday, March 3, and your participation is very important. If you have not already voted, please remember to do so on Tuesday at your polling location. If you have any questions about the election contact the Wyandotte County Election Office at 913-573-8500.

Friday marked the “turnaround” deadline for the Kansas Legislature, which means the session is halfway over. Focus turned from committees to the House floor as bills were debated and voted on. On Wednesday, we will begin working on bills sent over from the Senate, and conference committees will begin meeting on bills that have been approved by both chambers.

It remains an incredible honor to represent our community in the Kansas House of Representatives. While the Legislature is in Session, I do my best to stay in touch and keep you informed by email, and I spend countless hours every week helping my constituents solve problems. If I can be of service to you or anyone you know call my office at 785-296-7371 or email me at pam.curtis@house.ks.gov .

Pam Curtis
State Representative, District 32

2015 Legislative Newsletter – Issue 6

February revenue numbers
Revenue numbers for February were slightly above estimates, marking the first time in seven months incoming state revenue has met or exceeded projections. However, the state remains $37 million below estimates for the fiscal year with four months remaining.

While the governor and the Legislature have cut more than $300 million from state agencies and public education already this fiscal year, the state still faces a budget shortfall of more than $600 million next year.

The state is constitutionally prohibited from running a deficit, so creating a balanced budget is a top priority this legislative session. Unfortunately, we are halfway through the session and have yet to see a comprehensive budget bill.

We must have a budget plan that is fair, equitable, and sustainable and puts the needs of middle class families first. The future success of our state depends upon providing our children with a high-quality education, creating good paying jobs, and investing in the growth and development of our state’s economy.

Education
Education continues to be a top priority for me because it is critical to the future success of our state. Unfortunately, not every member of the House shares my view on prioritizing education in Kansas, and that was apparent this week as the House debated several bills relating to public education and school teachers.

Teacher’s bargaining rights
The House passed a bill that would protect teachers’ contract negotiating rights. Currently, the process for negotiating allowed an unlimited number of issues to be discussed by school boards and teachers’ unions. The House voted to approve a process that allows each party to bring five issues up for discussion during negotiations, in addition to salary and work hours. The bill reflects a compromise that was reached by representatives on behalf of both groups in January.

Common Core standards

Testimony on a bill to repeal Common Core standards began this week. Originally proposed by the bipartisan National Governors Association and the National Council of Chief State School Officers, Common Core establishes uniform national education standards that each state should meet. The bill will repeal the 2010 Common Core standards in reading and math, and also the recently adopted standards for science, history and social studies, health, and character development.

If Common Core is repealed, the state will revert back to the standards as they were in 2010, erasing five years of educational progress. The bill will also destroy the Kansas College and Career Ready Standards, standards for college admission tests, advanced placement courses, and approved curriculum for virtual schools.

I am concerned this initiative would create inefficiencies in our public schools, because they would incur the high costs of changing their curriculum to meet the new standards. Repealing Common Core is unnecessary and distracts from the real problem facing schools — that they are drastically underfunded.

Criminalizing teachers
A bill that passed in the Kansas Senate would criminalize teachers for using potentially offensive materials in the classroom. If adopted, parents could file criminal charges against their child’s teachers if they felt the teacher was using “any material which is harmful to minors,” and teachers could face up to six months in prison and be fined up to $1,000. Critics of the bill argue that there is no clear interpretation of what materials would be considered harmful, and argue that it would impede schools ability to accurately teach certain subjects like literature and sex education.

Parents as Teachers
Next Thursday, the House Social Services Budget Committee is scheduled to hear a measure that would eliminate the state’s $7.2 million contribution to the Parents as Teachers program. The early childhood program offers services to at-risk families from before a child is born until they are three years old. Eliminating the state’s contribution would cut more than half of the program’s $12.4 million budget, and many believe would end the program. Early childhood education is critical to a child’s lifelong development. Cutting funding from the program would adversely affect Kansas’ poorest citizens who have already felt the consequences of cuts to social services and education by the Brownback Administration.

Kansas Highway Patrol short staffed
The Kansas Highway Patrol (KHP) is supporting a bill that would offer incentives to officers to stay past their eligible retirement date. The bill, which was debated by the House Pensions and Benefits Committee, will allow firefighters and police officers covered by the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System (KPERS) to defer their retirement for three to five years.

Currently the Kansas Highway Patrol is operating with only 400 officers, leaving them 100 officers short. The Highway Patrol argued the program is critical to the immediate future of their force because over 50 troopers are eligible to retire this year. The strength of the KHP is at a nine-year low, with 29 counties having no designated trooper and 34 counties assigned only one trooper.
This is an important public safety issue.

Guest column

Sheriff Don Ash
Don Ash

by Don Ash
There is no easy solution to reducing crime in our communities. As your leaders in law enforcement, we do all we can to enforce the law, catch the bad guys, prosecute them, and get them off the streets. That’s our job, and it’s our officers’ top responsibility.

But we also take seriously our responsibility to prevent crime and violence—to get ahead of the problems and to avoid the price victims, the perpetrators, and our communities pay for crime.

This demands we put resources into this effort to help our most vulnerable children and families. Research shows that parenting education can be an important component in supporting and developing healthy relationships between children and their parents, setting the stage for strong families and children ready for school success, and that our communities are safer because of it.

Despite this knowledge and experience, we see our state moving in the wrong direction in terms of these critical investments. We are concerned with the Governor’s proposal to sweep more than $30 million from the Kansas Endowment from Youth and the Children’s Initiatives Fund. And Tuesday, the Social Services Budget Subcommittee in the Kansas Legislature voted to strip all Parents as Teachers funds from CIF. This means that there will not be any funds from KSDE for PAT programs in Kansas. Let us detail two of the most important investments that make our jobs as law enforcement officials more effective.

One intervention we value is high-quality coaching for our most vulnerable mothers and children. Providing this coaching, which is voluntary on the mother’s part, provides the support and guidance that new mothers need. There are substantial health and educational aspects to parent coaching—improving infants’ health though good pre-natal care; children are more likely to be identified at an earlier age if there are health or developmental concerns which leads to referral to school and community services for early intervention; teaching mothers how to read and talk to their children resulting in higher reading scores at Kindergarten, 3rd, and 4th grade; and higher scores in symbolic development, math concepts, written language, and oral communication—that can be achieved through good programs such as Early Head Start and Parents as Teachers. And law enforcement especially values the reduction in child abuse and neglect, and infant mortality that results from some high-quality programs.

Moreover, both the mothers and children who participated in the Nurse-Family Partnership were half as likely to become involved in crime over time as similar families who did not get the benefits of home visiting. The return on investment for this program? More than $17,000 per family after subtracting the costs, with most of that savings coming from crime reduction.

The evidence is quite clear that low-income children who participate in a high-quality pre-k program have significant advantages compared to their peers who miss out on the pre-k experience. Again, like the home visiting experience, there are significant educational benefits, including limiting the education gap between poor and middle-class kids. There are really important social development skills that kids learn in pre-k—like following directions, sticking to task, collaboration, and controlling one’s emotions—that can last a lifetime.

But we in law enforcement value the evidence that shows that high-quality pre-k can substantially reduce the chances that those children become involved in crime. Long-term research in Chicago has shown that children who did not participate in high-quality pre-k were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18. Another study shows the return on investment: approximately $5 savings for each dollar invested.

Since 1999, the Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund—which was established by a financial settlement with the tobacco companies—provided the funding to make progress in improving the lives of at-risk kids. This source of funding has been critical to the progress we’ve been making.

However, that funding has been stagnant since 2007, thus making it impossible to maintain the programs it has been supporting, much less moving these investments in kids forward. Despite the full intention of the legislature to support kids, the funds in the Kansas Endowment for Youth have been diverted to other areas.

We ask Gov. Brownback and our representatives in the legislature to carefully consider the importance of maintaining the funding in the Kansas Endowment for Youth Fund. It prevents crime by helping our most vulnerable kids get the right start in life. This investment is of utmost importance, and the gains to our state are enormous. The short-sighted thinking leading to these cuts now will lead to very expensive costs to all Kansans through the criminal justice and jail-incarceration systems later.

Donald Ash is the Sheriff of Wyandotte County and a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

Sen. Pat Pettey
Sen. Pat Pettey

Feb. 24, 2015

It is an honor to represent our community in the Kansas Senate. While the Legislature is in Session, I do my best to stay in touch and keep you informed by email. If I can be of service to you, contact me 785-296-7375, room 125-E
at the Kansas Statehouse.

In this issue:

• Last week at the Capitol
• Joint rules settled
• School finance update
• Democrats introduce tax credit bills
• Republicans introduce revenue proposals
• T-Works declared dead
• County treasurer changes postponed
• Newsworthy Notes

Last week at the Capitol

Last week marked the sixth week of the legislative session. To date, the Senate has debated and voted on 14 pieces of legislation. All received the constitutional majority vote, meaning they passed with 21 votes or more so they will now move on to the House for consideration.

This is a historically low amount of legislation passed for the point we’re at in the session. On average over the past four years, the Senate has debated and voted on 34 pieces of legislation by the Friday before turnaround – the mid-way marker for session.

Feb. 27 was the deadline for most bills to clear their house of origin. With a few exceptions, bills that do not make it out of their first chamber will remain in committee and are considered dead for the session.

Joint rules settled

Work has been somewhat delayed because the House and Senate were working to resolve a disagreement over a rule added to the Joint Rules. The rule limits the number of bills that can be bundled into one conference committee report. The agreement both chambers came to was to only allow five bills to be bundled, but exempted tax measures from the rule.

School finance update

The truth is there isn’t a school finance update. As you may recall, the governor has proposed to repeal the school finance formula and replace it with block grants for the next two years. Next week marks the mid-point of session and neither chamber has had pieces of legislation introduced that specify the governor’s proposal to reform the school finance formula. This is going to quickly become a problem as school districts begin planning their budgets for the next school year.

Democrats introduce tax credit bills

Senate Democrats introduced two bills that seek to help those who were impacted the most by the governor’s failed experiment – low income Kansans. Senate Bill 199 would restore the child care tax credit and Senate Bill 200 would increase the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) from 17% to 20%. The EITC encourages low-wage earner to stayed employed and off of assistance programs.

Republicans introduce revenue proposals

Republicans have introduced a number of revenue proposals that unfairly target groups of Kansans. These proposals include:
•Sen. Jeff Melcher (R-Leawood) introduced a bill that would change a nearly 30-year standard of how agriculture property value is assessed. An early estimate of a fiscal note for Senate Bill 178 indicated the average agriculture land property value would increase from $4.25 an acre to as much as $20 an acre.
•Sen. Les Donovan (R-Wichita) introduced in the Senate Committee on Assessment and Taxation a bill that would repeal the sales tax exemption on farm equipment and
machinery. An estimated fiscal note indicates revenue of $73 million. A bill number has yet to be assigned. Cities and counties across the state would be happy to see a bill introduced to remove the exemption on machinery to equipment. This would bring over $6 million into the general fund of the Unified Government.
•Sen. Donovan also introduced a bill that would repeal of the sales tax exemption on residential and agriculture utilities. An estimated fiscal note indicates revenue of $183. A bill number has yet to be assigned.
•Senate Bill 251 reduces the Earned Income Tax Credit from 17% to 8% and makes it a non-refundable credit. This reduction would cause a reduction in Temporary
Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds.
•Senate Bill 233 increases the tobacco and liquor taxes. It’s estimated it would generate $212 million over two years.

None of these bills present real solutions. I will not support policies that fail to address the root cause of the state’s budget crisis – the governor’s failed economic experiment – and, instead, pit groups of Kansans against each other.

T-Works declared dead
The Kansas Contractors Association has declared the T-Works Transportation Program is dead after the Kansas Department of Transportation released data indicating the Brownback administration has raided the highway fund by $2.1 billion.

For the current fiscal year alone, the governor has swept the highway fund by nearly half a billion dollars, and proposed in his budget to take an additional $725 million in Fiscal Year 16 and Fiscal Year 17. So, in the next three years, the highway fund would be raided, again, for more than $1 billion.

This sweep of funds leaves nothing left to fund new highway construction. It also makes it difficult to maintain current roads. This is a direct attack on a proven job-creating program. I have not supported and will continue to not support any efforts to further de-fund T-Works.

County treasurer changes postponed
Last week I told you that the Kansas Department of Revenue had identified an
“efficiency” and were no longer going to send letters to notify motorists when their vehicle tags renewed. This week, the department issued a statement that it would be indefinitely postponing these changes in order to further consider concerns raised by county treasurers.

Newsworthy notes
•Senate Bill 222- This is a bill I introduced that will add loaded firearm in a place accessible to children to the statute, dealing with child endangerment. This bill was heard today. Thank you to Wyandotte County, Assistant District Attorney, Sheryl Lidtke and to Theodore Redick from KCK for testifying at the hearing.
•Dairy Farmers to Kansas City, Kan. – Kansas City’s largest held private company is moving its headquarters and all 325 of its employees to Kansas. The Dairy Farmers of America are moving to the Village West district in KCK. Anew facility, which will be utilized as a new base for their operations will be built and finished by December 2016. This continues the trend of making western Wyandotte the place where people go to work.
•New job for Joe Reardon- Two years after leaving office, former Kansas City, Kan., Mayor Joe Reardon is returning to public life to head the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority in a newly created position. Mayor Reardon is a perfect fit in this position to expand and unify the region’s public transit system.
•Bone marrow Registry Drive- A former preschool student of mine, Mason Caudle is battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia and is in need of a bone marrow transplant. There will be a Bone Marrow registry Drive for ages 18 to 44 on March 7 at the Turner Recreation Center Gym. Please lend your support for a great cause.
•There is new online tool available at http://standards.ksde.org that provides Kansas citizens the opportunity to study and submit feedback on the state’s current English language arts and mathematic academic standards. Kansas College and Career Ready Standards, approved by the State Board of Education, represent what students should know and be able to demonstrate at each grade level.
•Don’t forget to vote! Local elections will be held on March 3.

STAY CONNECTED