Legislative update from Sen. Steve Fitzgerald

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-5th Dist.

Some school funding facts:

-Schools are allowed to levy up to eight mills of property tax to fund their capital outlay needs. They include purchases like: buses, building repair, furniture, certain equipment.

-Local Option Budgets can raise money locally for schools through property taxes. -Schools collecting at 81.2 percent or more for LOBs receive no equalization; schools collecting less than 81.2 percent receive equalization money from the state general fund or SGF.

-Equalization is a process that sets out to equalize the difference in money collected between school districts.

– Richer school districts collect more taxes from a 1 mill levy than poorer school districts. Equalization difference is made up by the state giving districts collecting less tax revenue money out of the state general fund or SGF to make up the difference.

A sales tax holiday for Kansas?

A House committee narrowly approved a bill last week to allow Kansas to hold a sales tax holiday similar to the one currently held in Missouri prior to the start of the school year in August.

HB 2607 would allow sales tax exemptions on school supplies, including clothing, computers and peripheral devices and computer software.

The first holiday would occur in 2015.

The measure was being considered by the House Taxation Committee and now moves to the full House for action.

The holiday would occur on the first Thursday in August at 12:01 a.m. and end at midnight on the following Sunday.

The bill would exempt all sales of any article of clothing having a taxable value of $300 or less; all back-to-school supplies not to exceed $100 per purchase; all computer software with a taxable value of $300 or less; and all personal computers or computer peripheral devices not to exceed $2,000.

While this would save consumers money, the state and local government would lose revenue.

The Department of Revenue estimates the holiday would decrease state revenues by $5.47 million in FY 2015.

This bill also is estimated to decrease local revenues by $1.37 million in FY 2015.

Student financial knowledge

How much do students know about balancing a checkbook or making a household budget or even getting a car loan?

It’s called financial literacy and the Kansas House wants to make sure students have a lot better knowledge of the subject.

HB 2475 was approved by the House Wednesday March 19 and would require school districts to add more personal financial literacy to the curriculum at all grade levels within the existing mathematics curriculum or other appropriate subjects.

It also would require training in a firm professional handshake, an amendment added to the bill on the floor of the House.

The bill passed 110 to 12.

House approves compromise autism bill

A compromise bill that would provide health insurance coverage to Kansas children with autism was approved Friday, March 21 by the Kansas House.

Coverage would be subject to the following limitations: 1,300 hours per calendar year beginning with ASD diagnosis and no later than age five for any covered individual for the first four years following diagnosis. And then, 520 hours per calendar year for covered individuals less than 12 years of age. T

he bill, HB 2744, was the product of lengthy negotiations with the state’s health insurance industry. The vote was 114 to 3. The measure now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Drug testing for teachers, school employees

The Senate approved a bill Wednesday March 19 requiring school districts to conduct drug screening, drug and alcohol treatment, fingerprinting, and background checks for various school district employees.

Senate Bill 335 would require the board of education of each public school district to adopt policies and procedures for a drug screening program.

The screening program would be based on reasonable suspicion of illegal drug use by any employee.

An amendment added to the bill on the floor of the Senate would require drug screening for member of the Legislature as well.

Any school employee who tested positive for the illegal use of drugs would be permitted to request that the specimen be tested in an additional facility, in which case the employee would be required to pay the cost of the additional screening.

It would prohibit any action taken against an employee as a result of a positive drug test unless the employee has tested positive during two consecutive screenings of the same specimen.

However, a school district would be permitted to take disciplinary action against an employee if the employee initially tests positive and does not request a second screening.

Senate would end mortgage fee

The Kansas Senate approved Senate Bill 298 last week designed to eliminate the Kansas mortgage registration fee over a five-year period.

The measure passed on a 26 to 12 vote.

The fee currently costs real estate buyers seeking financing through local institutions $47 million each year.

The fee puts home and business buyers who have to finance their purchases at an unfair disadvantage to cash buyers who don’t use traditional mortgages, as well as those using Farm Credit services.

The measure will now be considered by the Kansas House of Representatives.

Legislative update from Rep. Pam Curtis

Rep. Pam Curtis

Rep. Pam Curtis, D-32nd Dist.

It’s a very busy time at the Capitol as we get closer to first adjournment. Numerous bills were debated on the House floor and continued to work bills in committee. This week I sat in as a member of the House Education Committee and the House Federal and State Affairs Committee.

In the Education Committee we voted SCR 1619 out favorably to support implementation of information technology education in Kansas schools.

The House Federal and State Affairs Committee passed favorable SB 346, that will allow microbreweries to increase production from 15,000 to 30,000 barrels a year.  The committee also approved Sub. for SCR 1618, a state constitutional amendment for consideration at the next general election, in November 2014. The amendment, if approved by voters, would allow charitable raffles by certain nonprofit organizations.

Friday was the last day for bill introductions in non-exempt committees. This week we will be on the House floor all day, Monday through Wednesday.

In this issue:

• Full House amends and advances financial literacy bill

• “Gotcha” amendment proposed on the House floor

• House Democratic Caucus receives update on status of early childhood policy

• House debates Health Care Compact

• Keep in touch

Full House amends and advances financial literacy bill

On Tuesday, the House debated HB 2475. This bill started as a requirement for all high school students to take a one semester class on financial literacy during the junior or senior year in order to graduate.

The bill had been amended in committee to infuse financial literacy standards throughout the curriculum in all grades and to test financial literacy standards on the state assessments. A report on progress would be made to the Legislature. The curriculum would be taught in math classes or other appropriate courses such as family and consumer science or economics. Proponents say students need to know more about managing money. Topics to be covered in the instruction include saving and investing, credit and debt and the importance of setting a budget.

Rep. Pete DeGraaf proposed an amendment that would take the bill back to its original form requiring a financial literacy class for graduation. Education Committee Chair Kasha Kelley supported the amendment even though her committee had amended the bill. This amendment failed on a vote of 31 to 86. The bill as it came out of committee plus the handshaking amendment was then advanced on a voice vote. On Wednesday, the House passed the bill on final action 110-12 sending the measure to the Senate.

Proponents say students need to know more about managing money. Topics to be covered in the instruction include saving and investing, credit and debt and the importance of setting a budget.

The bill also requires the State Board of Education to give lawmakers a report on student scores on financial literacy tests before the start of the 2015 legislative session.

Gotcha’ amendment proposed on the House floor

On Wednesday, Rep. Scott Schwab offered an amendment on a bill creating an income tax deduction on the sale of certain livestock during floor debate that was characterized as “political gamesmanship.” His amendment would have restored the income tax back to the rates used before the Brownback cuts were enacted in 2012.

Schwab announced that he would vote against his own amendment but merely wanted to show Kansans who complained about the tax cuts that there was not the “political will” to repeal them.

Representatives from both sides of the aisle came to the well to speak against the amendment which they said was an inappropriate tactic designed merely to embarrass those who think the cuts were reckless by making them vote for full repeal – a vote which would be characterized as a vote for a massive tax increase.

No one took the bait and the amendment failed 0 to 120.

House Democratic Caucus receives update on status of early childhood policy

On Thursday, our caucus met for our weekly luncheon that we call “Thursday Summit” where we receive updates and invaluable information from various organizations and advocates from around the state. This week, we heard from April Holman with Kansas Action for Children. April gave us a presentation on the status of early childhood policy in the state and Kansas Action for Children’s top priorities.

One of the top priorities for KAC this year has been HB 2767, which would allow researchers and public health officials to access data from the State Child Death Review Board in order to identify risk factors which contribute to child death. This would be a huge step forward in child death prevention. The bill preserves confidentiality of child death cases through the use of de-identified data, and the data is released only when approved by the State Child Death Review Board.

April provided some staggering numbers that reinforce the need to release this data – Kansas’ infant mortality rate for 2011 was 6.23 deaths per 1,000 live births, which is more than the national average at 6.05 deaths per 1,000 births. Since its inception, the State Child Death Review Board has reviewed nearly 8,700 child deaths.  I support releasing this data, as it would shed light on the risk factors facing Kansas children.

We also received some background on the Children’s Initiative Fund, which is funded by payments made to the state from the master tobacco settlement. The CIF is administered by the Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund, and serves nearly 200,000, roughly one-third of Kansas children.

April explained that Kansas recently entered into a settlement with tobacco companies, providing the state with $46 million that the state did not receive during arbitration with tobacco companies.  In 2014, Kansas is to receive $17.2 million.

House debates Health Care Compact

On Friday, the House debated at length HB 2553, which would allow Kansas to join the Interstate Health Care Compact. Under the Compact, member states would be able to regulate health care within their boundaries, and to secure federal funding. More precisely, federal funding for all health care services and health plans would be placed under the control of the state legislature and governor.

This bill is potentially harmful to Kansas’ most vulnerable. Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger has pointed out that this legislation would include but is not limited to Medicare, Medicaid, the children’s health insurance program (HealthWave), rural hospitals, Hospice and federally qualified health centers. The funding would be received in a block grant to the state, and the state legislature would decide how to spend those health care dollars.

In response to the potential harm that would be caused by this bill to Kansas’ most vulnerable, several legislators proposed amendments. Rep. Wilson first proposed essentially transforming the bill into legislation which would carve out all managed care for individuals with an intellectual or developmental disability from KanCare, as favored by the I/DD community.  The amendment was ruled not germane. As we continued to debate the bill, Rep. Ward proposed an amendment which would exempt Medicare from the Health Care Compact. Under this bill, Medicare would essentially become privatized, yet again harming Kansas seniors.

The original Health Care Compact bill passed in its original form on a voice vote and will be voted on final action on Monday.

Keep in touch

It is a special honor to serve as your state representative.  I 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 173-W, 300 SW 10th, Topeka, KS 66612.  You can reach me at 785-296-7371 or call the legislative hotline at 1-800-432-3924 to leave a message for me.  Additionally, you can e-mail me at pam.curtis@house.ks.gov.  You can also follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org.

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.”