Legislative update from Sen. Pat Pettey

Sen. Pat Pettey

March 21, 2014

In this issue:

• Floor schedule changes

• School finance update

• Mortgage fee elimination

• Drug testing

• Food and farm task force

• Storm shelters

• Local elections

• Over at the House

• Lupus awareness

• Insurance information

• Health information

Floor schedule changes

The legislative session is inching closer to adjournment.  The Senate debated and voted on more than 20 bills this week. This Friday was the last day for non-exempt committees to meet.  Starting Monday, senators will work all day on the floor to consider remaining legislation.

Senators will continue meeting with conference committees through April 4. If a bill that passed the House is amended in the Senate then it goes back to the House for a vote to concur, or to accept the amendments. If the originating chamber votes to not concur, the bill goes to a conference committee. These committees include three members from both chambers who are appointed to iron out any differences between House and Senate versions of bills.

Their compromises, known as Conference Committee reports, are then sent to both chambers for a vote.

The Senate convenes at 10 a.m Monday-Wednesday of next week with no session scheduled for Thursday or Friday.

To listen to legislative proceedings, just click on “Listen in Live” on the homepage of www.kslegislature.org. You can also find daily calendars, committee and district information, and full text and summaries of bills on that website.

If you have any questions about any bills, feel free to contact my office at 785-296-7375 or stop by my legislative office, located in 125-E of the Topeka Statehouse. My assistant’s name is Jennifer Parson.

School finance update

Shortly after the school finance decision came down from the Supreme Court, Gov. Sam Brownback said his administration wouldn’t give legislators advice on how to resolve the equity issue except to fix it, despite just a few weeks remaining in the legislative session.

Yet, on Wednesday afternoon, he issued a release stating his “highest priority is that dollars need to go to the classroom and our students” and provided “eight guiding principles” for achieving this goal, but neglected to outline an actual plan.

This attempt at leadership is too little, too late.

If education funding were truly a priority, Brownback wouldn’t have made the single largest cut to K-12 schools in the history of the state just four months after taking office. And, he certainly wouldn’t have declared it to be a “victory for Kansas.”

Democrats have been urging Brownback and his allies in the Legislature to fully fund equalization since the day the ruling came out.

Bills were introduced a week later in the House and the Senate that would appropriate the $129 million to fund capital outlay and local option budget equalization.

I support funding equalization, and I believe it’s time that we also begin discussions on how to increase base state aid per pupil to ensure schools are being funded adequately and equally.

Early Thursday evening, House Republicans introduced a 59-page bill (HB2773) to address school finance and many other areas related to education, including: expanding charter schools, expanding innovative school districts, creating alternative teacher licensures, establishing tax credits for private school scholarship contributions made by private corporations.

The most important sections – and the only sections needed – are the very last sections of the bill.  They appropriate full funding for capital outlay and local option budget equalization to comply with the ruling of the Supreme Court.

However, since being introduced, it has been reported that a new version will be drafted without the charter school component. Supposedly, Gov. Brownback, House leadership, and Senate leadership were unaware of it being included.

Mortgage registration fee

On a vote of 26-12, the Senate passed Senate Substitute for Senate Bill 298, which phases out the mortgage registration tax over five years, but phases in a certain per-page fee increase over four years.

By repealing the mortgage registration fee and simultaneously increasing the document fees collected by local units of government well beyond the cost of recording those documents, it is clear that these increases are intended to generate revenue for those local units in place of the mortgage registration fee.

This is not a fee increase; it’s a tax increase that leaves a hole in local budgets that will undoubtedly result in more property tax increases.

This will create a loss in Wyandotte County revenues starting at $105,000 in 2015 and progressing to $752,000 in 2019. Johnson County will lose $1.7 million in 2015 progressing to $10 million in 2019.

These losses will force our counties to either look at a property tax increase or service reductions. This repeal shifts the county cost of doing work for the lender on a home or land purchase to all taxpayers. I voted against it.

Drug testing

SB 335 requires any teacher who has not already submitted fingerprints when applying for a new or renewed teaching license and requires school districts to adopt policies and procedures for a drug screening program for all employees as well as an impairment program to help rehabilitate teachers who test positive passed the Senate on a vote of 30-4.

The fingerprinting requirement would also apply to nonlicensed teachers in the public innovative districts. The drug testing program would only test employees under reasonable suspicion.

Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley offered an amendment to the bill that establishes penalties and procedures for legislators who are subject to drug testing under reasonable suspicion and test positive. This is a follow-up to the amendment passed last year that would require drug testing of legislators.

Hensley’s amendment is the same as the bill he introduced, but never received a hearing in the Senate Committee on Judiciary. The amendment passed on a voice vote.   I passed on this bill.

Food and farm task force

The Senate passed a bill this week that establishes the Local Food and Farm Task Force, which would be responsible for preparing a local food and farm plan containing policy and funding recommendations to increase locally grown food production. The bill could help farmers understand the opportunities presented by the new federal farm bill.

It also can help educate citizens as to how to set up farmers markets in their communities.

Senate Bill 380 was sponsored by Democratic Sen.  Tom Hawk, Manhattan, and passed on a vote of 28-12. I voted for it.

Storm shelters  

The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 264, which requires a storm shelter to be built at all student attendance centers if constructing a new building or modifying an existing building that does not already have a storm shelter. This does not impact any bonds that have already been passed for school district construction.

Local elections  

The Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections voted out of committee the bill that changes local elections to the fall of even-numbered years at the same time as state and federal elections, if there are state and federal elections in those years.

Otherwise, local elections can be held in their current odd-numbered years.

Proponents of Senate Substitute for House Bill 2141 argue moving the elections would lead to greater voter turnout.

Opponents argue it would strip away local control; they would no longer be allowed to determine when they’ll hold elections.

No unit of government or school district supports this legislation, in fact all are totally opposed to the proposed changes.

The bill has been sent to the Senate floor for full consideration. I plan to oppose this bill.

Over at the House

• Financial literacy and handshake curriculum On a vote of 110-12, the House passed a bill that initially included mandates for financial literacy curriculum in schools, but was also amended to also include curriculum on a proper handshake. The problem with the Kansas Legislature making curriculum mandates, such as in HB2475, is that it steps on the toes of the Kansas Board of Education and local districts.

• Tanning bed The House Committee on Health and Human Services has passed out of committee the bill (HB2435) that prohibits minors from using tanning beds unless they’ve received written authorization from a person licensed to practice medicine or surgery. Any tanning salon found in violation of the law would be fined $250. The Board of Cosmetology oversees the licenses of tanning salons. It will now go to the House floor for full consideration.

Lupus awareness  

Wednesday was Lupus Advocacy Day at the Capitol, and advocates shared important information about the disease:

“Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in various parts of the body. The disease can range from mild to life-threatening. Ninety percent of those diagnosed with lupus are females between ages 15 and 44, but lupus also occurs in males, children, and younger teens. Lupus can be very hard to diagnose because symptoms vary from person to person, can come and go, and can mimic symptoms of other illnesses.

“The causes of lupus are not known, but scientists believe that genetics (heredity), hormones, and environmental factors all play a role. Environmental factors that can trigger lupus include: ultraviolet rays from the sun or from artificial light, certain drugs (sulfas, tetracyclines, penicillin and other antibiotics); and anything that causes stress to the body (infection, surgery, an accident, a cold or a viral illness, being pregnant, or giving birth).   If you think you have lupus, see your doctor. There is no one test for lupus, so your doctor will need to take blood for a variety of tests.”

Insurance information

The Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City provided information about people in Kansas who are without health insurance. It included statistics about insurance and employment:

• In 16 percent of uninsured families no adults are working

• In 19 percent at least one adult is working part-time

• And in 65 percent of uninsured families, one adult is working full-time.

Health information  

From the American Heart Association: “Obese children as young as age 3 show indicators for developing heart disease later in life. Active play for 60 minutes a day and eating a healthy diet is recommended for children to improve their health.”

‘Jayhawkers’ movie more than story about basketball

Views West

by Murrel Bland

The Boss Lady (Carol) and I walked into the Standees movie theater Saturday, March 15, to watch the independent “Jayhawkers” film.  The theater and an ancillary restaurant are in the Prairie Village Shopping Center.

As we walked up to the ticket counter, we visited very briefly with  three other couples—also obviously Jayhawk fans.

“Well, we don’t have to watch the Jayhawks tonight, so we came to see the movie,” one man said.  KU lost the night before in the Big 12 tournament to Iowa State.

The feature film “Jayhawkers” tells the story of how Wilt Chamberlain was recruited and played basketball at the University Kansas in Lawrence. But it is much more than a film about basketball. It is a story about how the greatest basketball player ever helped change the hearts and minds of Kansans when it came to race relations.

The film tells of Wilton Norman Chamberlain who was born in 1936 in Philadelphia, Pa. He led his Overbook High School basketball team to two city championships; once he scored 90 points in a single game.

B.H. Born, a KU graduate who played for coach Phog Allen in the early 1950s, had spotted Chamberlain and encouraged Allen to recruit him. Allen visited Chamberlain and his parents and found that more than 200 other schools were recruiting the basketball sensation; Allen, known not only for his coaching skills but also for his power of persuasion, convinced Wilt to visit Lawrence.

A special delegation welcomed Chamberlain to Lawrence, meeting him at the Lawrence Airport.  He decided to play for KU.

However, after he came to Lawrence, Chamberlain ran into ugly racial discrimination. Black persons were not allowed to attend downtown Lawrence movie theaters or eat in restaurants. There are scenes where Chamberlain integrates a movie theater and a restaurant.

Franklin Murphy, the KU chancellor, saw Chamberlain not only as a great basketball player, but also as an agent of change who had—through sports– the power to lead the way toward racial justice.

I recall conversations with Roy Edwards Jr. and his wife Joan, about how they befriended Chamberlain, inviting him to their Kansas City, Kan., home for Sunday dinner, despite certain neighbors who looked disapprovingly. Chamberlain would lift the Edwards children up to a goal so they could dunk the basketball.

Justin Wesley, a current member of the KU basketball team, does an excellent job of portraying Chamberlain. His coach, Bill Self, had suggested to Kevin Willmott, the film’s director, that Wesley would do a good job in the movie. Wesley did.

Willmott , a native of Junction City, Kan., is an independent moviemaker and an associate professor of film at KU. His other films include “CSA,” a story of what it would be like if the South would have won the Civil War and “The Only Good Indian,” a story about students who escape from Indian schools.

Jayhawkers” also provides insight into the life of coach Allen. Allen, portrayed by Kip Niven, played in the early 1900s for James Naismith, the man who invented the game of basketball and KU’s first head basketball coach.

Allen told Naismith that he wanted to coach basketball. Naismith said basketball didn’t really need a coach—that “you just let players play.”

According to legend, there were times during Naismith’s coaching tenure that he didn’t attend games; at other times, he served as a referee. Coaching was a sideline for Naismith—his other duties included teaching hygiene classes and conducting chapel meetings; he also was an ordained Presbyterian clergyman.

Allen was considered the man who invented basketball coaching. He wanted to coach Chamberlain; however state law forced him to retire at age 70. He was bitter that Chancellor Murphy refused to seek an exemption; instead Murphy appointed Dick Harp, Allen’s assistant, as the new head coach. Allen had favored Ralph Miller who had played at KU for Allen in the late 1930s. Miller was a very successful basketball coach at Wichita University, the University of Iowa and Oregon State.

Kathleen Warfel, an actress that I first met when she was at Washington High School in the early 1970s, does an excellent job of portraying Bess, Phog Allen’s wife. Warfel has appeared in several local theater productions and is a KU graduate.

The “Jayhawkers“ film is in black and white–consistent with the films of the 1950s era—except for the final scenes that are in color. The movie closes with shots from a halftime ceremony in early 1998 during halftime of a KU-K-State game when Chamberlain’s jersey was retired. I was fortunate to have attended that game.

Chamberlain had been reluctant to come back to KU for the ceremony; when he started to speak to the packed field house of more than 16,000 loyal Jayhawk fans, he started to apologize for losing the national championship game in 1957 to the University of North Carolina. But the fans didn’t want to hear that. There was no need for him apologize. And in that moment, he praised his KU experience, ending with ”Rock Chalk Jayhawk.”

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

Column: Do you like where this road could lead?

by Lawton R. Nuss

Last year several legislators crafted a proposal for changing the constitutional process chosen by the people of Kansas for selecting Supreme Court justices.  These legislators sought endorsements by the Kansas Bar Association and the Kansas District Judges Association (KDJA).

According to several sources, the endorsements would induce the Legislature to give judicial branch employees their first pay raise in more than 4 years.  I told our 1,500 employees that while the justices supported the pay raises, we opposed the trade.  Later one of the crafting legislators publicly denied any linkage between the overdue pay raises and selection of justices and demanded my apology.

Recently one of these legislators advanced a new proposal.  Linking money to other court issues can no longer be denied.  Rather, it is glaring.

Instead of pay raises, this time legislative money is being offered to keep all Kansas courts open after July 1 – in direct exchange for some important restructuring of the judicial branch.  More specifically, the money would be given if the KDJA now endorsed the “package deal.”  The package includes changing the statewide unified court system in two fundamental ways.

First, it allows the chief judge in each of Kansas’ 31 judicial districts to submit and control his or her own budget.  Second, it allows the judges in each judicial district to choose their own chief judge.  The Supreme Court has exclusively exercised the authority for both actions since at least the late 1970’s after a constitutional amendment. All 31 chief judges – the ones most directly affected by the decentralizing budget provision – oppose it.  Additionally, many prefer the Supreme Court’s traditional chief judge selection process, where for almost 40 years the Court has sought input from all judges and employees working closely with them before making the appointment.  Chief judges and justices alike ask, “What needs fixing?”

One packaging legislator informed the KDJA that without a positive statement about the entire package, it would fail.  The money for keeping the courts open would then be lost.  And no other legislative revenue proposal for keeping courts open was planned.  In other words, no endorsement means closed courts.  So while disagreeing with a significant part of the package, the executive committee concluded, “The KDJA can accept [it], because the courts of Kansas will be allowed to remain open for business.”  The Kansas Senate approved it a few hours later.

The Supreme Court strongly opposes the package – for reasons that should be clear.  Most objectionable is the diffusion of the unified court system’s centralized authority in exchange for money to keep Kansas courts open.

Some argue this legislative action violates the people’s constitution.  The 1968 Legislature’s “Citizens’ Committee” recommended all the various courts be unified, modernized and administered by one central authority.  This recommendation was followed by a 1972 statewide election in which Kansans voted to add this language to their constitution:  “The supreme court shall have general administrative authority over all courts in this state.”  Acknowledging this mandate for unification and modernization, a later committee chaired by Edward Arn – former Attorney General, Supreme Court justice, and two-term Republican Governor – specifically recommended one budget for the entire judicial branch.

I express no opinion on the constitutionality of the package.  Because if it is challenged in a lawsuit, the Supreme Court may need to answer that question.

But as the package moves through the House of Representatives, all Kansans should ask themselves at least two questions:    First, is this package true to the will of the people when they voted to change their constitution and place all administrative authority under the Supreme Court and to eventually unify all Kansas courts??

Second, if Kansans start down the road where judges feel compelled to help bargain away the Court’s authority, where does that road end?  Will otherwise fair and impartial judges be asked to decide court cases the way some legislators want them to be decided – in exchange for money to keep the courts open for the people of Kansas they all are supposed to be serving?

Lawton R. Nuss is a Salina native and a fourth-generation Kansan.  He has served on the Kansas Supreme Court since 2002 and as chief justice since 2010.