Legislative update from Rep. Pam Curtis

Opinion column

Rep. Pam Curtis

by Rep. Pam Curtis, D-32nd Dist.

Week 7 was very busy. It was the last week for non-exempt committees to meet and pass out bills for consideration by the full House. The House did take action on the floor last Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and passed out 18 bills, which are listed below.

In the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee, we debated and worked a comprehensive unemployment bill. I offered an amendment to keep the rate triggers in place to provide the same number of weeks of benefits available today. Unfortunately, my amendment failed. This is not the time to reduce benefits while we still have a health emergency with COVID-19 and it will take time for people to get back on their feet. We also have not addressed many of the barriers keeping people from going back to work such access to quality childcare, students attending school from home and safety concerns.

In the House Judiciary we are scheduled to meet early Monday morning to continue to work on the Kansas Emergency Management Act (KEMA) HB 2416. We are under a deadline to pass KEMA legislation as the state of emergency and special rules set in place for COVID-19 will expire March 31. This legislation will determine how state and local officials can respond to health emergencies in the future.

It is a special honor to serve as your state representative. I value and appreciate your input on issues facing state government. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions. My office address is Room 452-S, 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. You can also e-mail me at pam.curtis@house.ks.gov

Legislative veto

On last Tuesday, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and GOP leaders introduced a constitutional amendment that would give the legislature the ability to block regulations from executive agencies. This would create a “legislative veto.” This is nothing more than another attempt to undermine Gov. Laura Kelly’s ability to govern. During a time where Kansans are suffering due to the ongoing pandemic one would think that AG Schmidt and GOP leaders would be more focused on helping Kansans and their families rather than putting their political agendas ahead of the people.

Tuesday on the floor

On last Tuesday, the House caucus addressed and voted on five bills. All five of these bills passed on general order by voice vote. This moves all of them to final action on Wednesday to be voted on by the House caucus.

Below are the five bills that passed on voice vote, and were placed on final action for the following day:

• HB 2262 – Eliminating the requirement to provide a permit to cremate in certain circumstances and authorizing electronic permits to cremate.
• HB 2237 – Extending the time period for eligibility in the loan repayment program and the income tax credit.
• SB 27 – Amending the Kansas storage tank act to extend the sunsets of certain funds and to increase certain liability and reimbursement amounts.
• HB 2254 – Increasing the monetary cap on irrevocable prearranged funeral agreements to $10,000.
• HB 2191 – Increasing criminal penalties for the crimes of riot and incitement to riot when the crime occurs in a correctional facility.

Wednesday on the floor

On Wednesday, the House caucus took final action on the five bills that were heard and passed on voice vote the previous day.

Below are the results from final action being taken on these bills:

• HB 2262 – Passed on final action 122-1
• HB 2237 – Passed on final action 107-16
• SB 27 – Passed on final action 123-0
• HB 2254 – Passed on final action 123-0
• HB 2191 – Passed on final action 123-0

After final actions, the House caucus addressed six more bills. All six of these bills passed on general order by voice vote. This moves all of them to final action on Thursday to be voted on by the House caucus.

Below are the six bills that passed on voice vote, and were placed on final action for the following day:

• HB 2078 – Suspending statutory speedy trial rights until May 1, 2024, in all criminal cases filed prior to the effective date of this act and eliminating such rights in any criminal case filed on or after the effective date of this act.
• HB 2052 – Authorizing legislative assistants and committee assistants to accept gifts of not to exceed $150 in value each legislative session from certain legislators.
• HB 2243 – Adjusting the frequency of the KPERS actuarial experience study.
• HB 2093 – Increasing criminal penalties for fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer when operating a stolen vehicle and making fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer evidence of intent to commit theft of a vehicle.
• HB 2192 – Authorizing court services officers and community corrections officers to provide a certification of identification to offenders for use to obtain a new driver’s license.
• HB 2136 – Updating certain statutes relating to the regulation of the business of insurance; granting the commissioner of insurance certain investigative powers.

Thursday on the floor

On Thursday, the House caucus took final action on the six bills that were heard and passed on voice vote the previous day. Below are the results from final action being taken on these bills:

• HB 2052 – Passed on final action 119-5.
• HB 2078 – Passed on final action 107-17.
• HB 2093 – Passed on final action 124-0.
• HB 2136 – Passed on final action 124-0.
• HB 2192 – Passed on final action 124-0.
• HB 2243 – Passed on final action 123-1.

After final actions, the House caucus addressed and voted on seven more bills. These bills were moved to emergency final action and each were passed out of the House.

Below are the seven bills that passed on emergency final action.

• HB 2244 – Establishing requirements for the effective disposal of industrial hemp and requiring industrial hemp processors to register with the state fire marshal. Passed on emergency final action 97-27.
• HB 2277 – Clarifying the definition of possession in the Kansas criminal code. Passed on emergency final action 116-8.
• HB 2175 – Creating the Dwayne Peaslee technical training center district. Passed on emergency final action 122-2.
• SB 39 – Changing Kansas department of agriculture division of animal health license, permit and registration renewal deadlines and allowing the animal health commissioner to recover the actual cost of official calfhood vaccination tags. Passed on emergency final action 117-7.
• HB 2101 – Extending transfers from the expanded lottery act revenues fund to the university engineering initiative. Passed on emergency final action 112-12.
• SB 29 – Updating the version of risk-based capital instructions in effect. Passed on emergency final action 124-0.
• SB 40 – Updating provisions related to the Kansas department of agriculture division of conservation. Passed on emergency final action 123-1.

Education bill (HB 2119)

On Thursday, the House K-12 Education Budget committee kicked out HB 2119, amended into a more extreme anti-education bill. It is extremely disappointing that Republicans would rather play games with the future of our children than work to ensure that they return to the classroom quickly and safely. This bill is a clear attempt to use the governor’s recommendations and bits of important educational enhancements as a thinly veiled disguise to shove through a Republican wish list of anti-public education bills. This Frankenstein of a bill will ultimately defund education, force us back into the courts, and is a clear message from Republicans that they do not have our children in mind–rather, they prefer to play political games.

Medical marijuana

We expect to see work done on the medical marijuana bill in the coming weeks. The passage of medicinal marijuana is not just important for Democrats, but also Republicans. According to a Republican poll, 66% of Kansans–both Democrats and Republicans–have indicated they supported medical marijuana. This makes it obvious that it is now the time to pass this important piece of legislation to provide Kansans with additional access to much-needed health options.

Friday media advisory

House Democratic Leader Tom Sawyer and Senate Democratic Leader Dinah Sykes had a joint media availability in which they discussed many important issues coming up next week. This discussion included school vouchers, the Kansas Emergency Management Act, giant multinational corporation tax cuts, medicinal marijuana and Medicaid expansion. These are all issues that we plan to address this session. You can watch the Friday’s media advisory on Kansas House Democrats’ Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/kshousedems

Kansas State Library

Ferguson’s Career Guidance Center https://kslib.info/Fergusons is an online career exploration and planning resource provided by the State Library of Kansas. It provides detailed and up-to-date profiles of thousands of today’s most popular jobs. Included: an undergraduate and graduate school finder, databases for internships and apprenticeships, planning timelines that cover education to career, and a database of sample resumes and cover letters. New: workplace predictions for 2021, how to dress for video interviews, and how to deal with work from home stress.

Resources

My Legislative Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/PamCurtisKCK

My Twitter Account https://twitter.com/pcurtiskck

Kansas Legislature website http://kslegislature.org/li/

School district faces many challenges

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Opinion column

by Murrel Bland

One of the most significant challenges for the Kansas City, Kansas, School District is that nearly 9,000 of its 21,000 students do not speak English.

That was the message that Dr. Alicia Miguel brought to a meeting of the Congressional Forum Friday, Feb. 19, via Zoom. About 45 persons attended. Miguel is interim superintendent of the school district. Another challenge is that 83 percent of the district students qualify for reduced or free meals.

Dr. Alicia Miguel

And then there is the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic including the high cost of providing masks and partitions for student desks. Federal funds helped pay for $8 million of that cost; the district hopes more federal funds will come during the next three years.

Another challenge is that many of the students do not have access to the internet for distance learning. To help solve that problem, the district developed connectivity centers.

Dr. Miguel praised the cooperation of the Unified Government’s Health Department in providing vaccinations for the district’s staff. So far about 2,200 members of the staff have been vaccinated.

The Kansas City, Kansas, district has a graduation rate of 69 percent—something that Dr. Miguel says must improve.

The cost of educating students is very expensive in Kansas City, Kansas—more than $17,000 a student, according to the district’s website. When many district students who do graduate show up at Kansas City Kansas Community College, they lack basic skills in areas such as mathematics and reading.

Joe Vaught, a member of the Congressional Forum and a Realtor, suggested the district invite real estate agents to visit schools to help improve its image.

Edwin Birch, the spokesman for the district, touted the various things it does to inform the public including a direct mail newsletter and its cable television channel. Birch is a former spokesman for the Unified Government.

Dr. Miguel said she is opposed to bills in the Kansas Legislature that provide public money for tuition to private schools. Private schools would not be accountable, she said.

Dr. Miguel said students will return to classrooms starting with a select group of grade school and senior high students Monday, Feb. 22; a select group of middle school students Monday, March 1; and early childhood students Monday, April 5. Many students returning Feb. 22 and March 1 have had connectivity problems that affected remote learning.

Dr. Miguel, a native of Argentina, was the district’s executive director of early childhood education before becoming interim superintendent.

The Congressional Forum is part of the Kansas City, Kansas, Area Chamber of Commerce.

Murrel Bland is former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is executive director of Business West. Opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of this publication.

Remembering Meredith Roberts Schraeder

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Opinion column

by Murrel Bland

I was saddened to learn of the recent death of Meredith Roberts Schraeder. She had suffered for several years from leukemia and complications following a bone marrow transplant. She was a few days from her 74th birthday.

I first met Meredith in the early 1970s when she was public information officer for the city of Kansas City, Kansas. It was a very challenging time for her as the newly elected mayor, Richard Walsh, was on a political house-cleaning binge; the mayor fired Meredith’s predecessor, Nancy Jack, who was aligned with the previous mayor, Joe McDowell. Nancy was very popular with reporters and a very trusted source.

Meredith was a quick learner and rose above the political fray. It didn’t take long for her to win the confidence of reporters. When Jack Reardon defeated Mayor Walsh in 1975, he chose to keep Meredith. During her stint at City Hall, she and Larry Hancks of the City Planning Department co-authored a book entitled “Roots,” which told of the architectural history of Wyandotte County; it was a project of the Kansas City, Kansas, Bicentennial Commission.

In the late 1970s, I helped Meredith found the Grand Central, a newspaper serving the 10,000 homes on and near Central Avenue. She also was a public relations counselor with a company aptly named “MRS” (her initials).

During the mid-1990s, Meredith served as the first executive director of Business West. In the late 1990s, she was part of a reform slate that was elected to the Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Education.

Meredith was an active volunteer with several organizations including the Wyandotte Players, the Historic Westheight Neighborhood Association, the Junior League of Wyandotte and Johnson Counties and Trinity United Methodist Church.

Surviving family members include her husband Jim, her daughter, Laura Schraeder Madden and her husband Justin Madden and their daughter Lydia.

The family is planning a memorial service this fall. The family has suggested that memorial contributions be made to the National Marrow Donor Program. That would be most appropriate.

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