Legislative update from Rep. Pam Curtis, D-32nd Dist.

Rep. Pam Curtis

by Rep. Pam Curtis

It was another busy week at the Capitol as we completed week 3 of the 2019 Kansas legislative session.

This week Joe Reardon, president-CEO Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce (our former mayor), gave an excellent presentation to the Early Childhood Learning Caucus. In the presentation, Reardon made the business case of the benefits of early childhood education. The chamber’s efforts toward quality early childhood education goes back to 2014 when kindergarten readiness was declared one of the chamber’s Big 5 goals for Kansas City.

On Tuesday, Karen Weichert, president-CEO Midland Care, provided information about the services provided by Midland Care at the Wyandotte County Legislative Delegation Lunch and Learn. We appreciate the information which was very helpful as was the discussion about matters of interest before the Kansas Legislature. Nancy Burns, Wyandotte County Register of Deeds, and legislative pages, Sydney and Paige, students at St. Patrick School, also attended the luncheon as special guests.


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 at the Statehouse 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 email me at: pam.curtis@house.ks.gov.


KPERS re-amortization


There has been a lot of discussion surrounding Gov. Kelly’s plan on KPERS re-amortization as part of her budget.

During Gov. Brownback’s administration, as a result of the failed Brownback tax plan, the state skipped and reduced KPERS payments. Because of this, the state’s employer contribution obligations will skyrocket next year and continue to increase over time, straining the Kansas budget. This negatively impacts the state’s ability to fulfill other vital obligations such as public education, public safety, and healthcare.

Comparable to refinancing a house, re-amortization will “reset” the KPERS payment structure, deleting “layering” additions, and better position Kansas to make full, timely KPERS payments. Re-amortization is a common, fiscally sound method that is used in over 30 states as a means of managing pension system cash flow. The KPERS Board of Trustees is statutorily required to review re-amortization options every three years. The goal of Kelly’s budget is to focus on a realistic and sustainable long-term budget for Kansas, which starts with the re-amortization.

A coalition of bipartisan legislators and nonpartisan researchers have all stressed that it is a matter of when, not if, another recession occurs.

The Brownback tax plan decimated state finances and left Kansas not only unable to fulfill current obligations but unprepared for any major emergency or inevitable economic downturn. The Kelly administration argues that by re-amortizing, it strengthens the state’s ability to honor its commitment and be less likely to skip, delay, or reduce KPERS payments, should revenue decrease as a result of a recession.

On Wednesday, Jan. 30, at a presentation to the House Financial Institutions and Pensions Committee, Alan Conroy, executive director of KPERS, confirmed that re-amortization will have no effect on benefit payments for current and future retirees.

Medicaid expansion


On Kansas Day, Tuesday, Jan. 29, Gov. Kelly released her Medicaid Expansion bill (House Bill 2102 and Senate Bill 54). The bill is based on the version of the 2017 bipartisan expansion bill that passed the House and the Senate and was later vetoed by former Gov. Sam Brownback.

Expanding Medicaid is a key priority for House Democrats this session. By expanding Medicaid, it will allow our hospitals and clinics to stay open and provide access to affordable health care for 150,000 Kansans currently without insurance.

Without it, rural communities are most at risk, with reports showing that 30 percent of our state’s hospitals are considered financially vulnerable. Seventy-seven percent of Kansans across the political spectrum support expansion and both Republican and Democratic-led states have had incredible results with expansion.

Right now, Kansans have lost over $3 billion of our tax dollars to other states that have expanded because of the failure to expand Medicaid in our own state. Our money should be here, helping our people, our hospitals, and our economy and I look forward to supporting expanding Medicaid in Kansas.

On the Senate side


Last week, Sen. Susan Wagle, president of the Senate, took the unusual step of creating a separate tax committee and appointed herself the chairwoman (sidelining the existing tax committee and its chairwoman, Republican Sen. Caryn Tyson).

Sen. Wagle’s main objective is to advance Senate Bill 22, which bears a stark resemblance to the failed Brownback tax plan, by cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy effectively shifting the burden onto the middle and lower classes. Kansas voters vehemently rejected the Brownback tax plan and the House Democrats stand with our voters.

The Senate bill passed on Thursday, Jan. 31, and is set to be debated next Wednesday or Thursday on the Senate floor. We will continue to monitor this and reject any legislation that doesn’t put Kansas on a path to fiscal responsibility.

Celebrating Kansas’s birthday


On Jan. 29, we celebrated Kansas Day at the Capitol with a variety of festivities, including singing “Home on the Range” on the House floor. Although we won’t be nominated for a Tony award anytime soon, we believe we did a good job. The holiday is celebrated annually on Jan. 29 to commemorate the anniversary of the state’s 1861 admission to the Union. It was first celebrated in 1877 by schoolchildren in Paola. Kansas turned 158.

Equality Day at the Capitol


Despite the polar vortex, Kansans from across the state gathered to celebrate Equality Day at the State House. The energy was a stark departure from previous years. Gov. Laura Kelly was the main speaker, she was cheered for signing an executive order to protect LGBT state workers from discrimination on her first day in office, repealing former Gov. Brownback’s previous discriminatory order. This was a historic year in Kansas politics for the LGBTQIA community, electing two of the first openly gay state representatives and a congresswoman.

Resources


My Legislative Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/PamCurtisKCK.
My Twitter account, https://twitter.com/pcurtiskck
My website, https://www.curtisforkck.com/
Kansas Legislature website, http://kslegislature.org/

Analysis: The stories behind the fights brewing in the Kansas Legislature

by Jim McLean, Kansas News Service

Three weeks into the 2019 legislative session, the battle lines are becoming clear.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is keeping a relatively low profile (for a new governor) and sticking to her plan of triaging state needs and responding to the most urgent among them.

Toward that end, she’s told her cabinet members to make a deep-dive assessment of their agencies.

On the surface, it’s clear the budget crisis that crippled the state in the last several years of former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration did real damage.

But beyond the obvious need for more social workers in the state’s troubled foster care system and more snowplow operators at the Kansas Department of Transportation, Kelly needs to know more precisely where the lack of personnel and expertise is the most consequential.

What the data reveal will dictate her priorities for the next three years.

On the legislative front, Kelly is steeling herself for an early confrontation with Republican leaders on the tax-relief bill they’re rushing to her desk.

The measure that Senate President Susan Wagle is personally shepherding through the process would reduce revenues in the budget year that starts July 1 by about $191 million a year.

That is a very rough estimate. Lawmakers really don’t know how much it would cost.

Whatever its price tag, the bill — aimed mostly at reducing the tax burden on large multinational corporations — alarms Kelly. It also concerns many lawmakers, including some who will, for political reasons, probably vote for it.

They’re concerned the bill and the recession many believe is in the offing could plunge the state back into a budget crisis like the one triggered by Brownback’s tax-cutting experiment. He promised those cuts would jolt the Kansas economy into hyperdrive. Instead, they tanked state revenues.

From a political standpoint, Wagle and the Republicans have a strong hand. They’ve got backing from the powerful Kansas Chamber and some its most influential members.

A top executive from Spirit AeroSystems — a big employer in the state’s Wichita-centered aviation industry — recently told lawmakers they need to “clearly define” how the state will account for recent changes in the federal tax code and do it quickly.

Also, because the bill would “return” money collected from state payers only because of those federal changes, GOP leaders could charge Kelly with breaking a campaign promise in the event she refuses to sign the bill. A promise not to raise taxes.

Still, based on her specific request that lawmakers refrain from making any major tax changes, most expect Kelly will veto the bill.

As one moderate Republican lawmaker put it: “This is purely a test. She needs to show some spine.”

That means Kelly shouldn’t expect moderates who will likely join Democrats in supporting her on Medicaid expansion and public school funding to have her back on this issue. Not this early in the session.

They understand that voting against tax relief would likely guarantee an immediate postcard campaign to soften the ground for well-funded conservative challengers in the 2020 Republican legislative primaries.

In her veto message, Kelly will probably say that the state might be able to afford some modest tax relief down the road. But not this much, this soon.

It’s also becoming clear that GOP leaders have no intention of dropping their long-standing opposition to Medicaid expansion. One indication of that occurred very much behind the scenes this week.

Republican leaders wanted the governor’s expansion bill introduced in the House health committee for a couple of reasons. One, they had it stacked with expansion opponents. Two, it’s a non-exempt committee, meaning bills it hasn’t worked by the mid-point of the session are effectively dead.

So to ensure that the expansion bill remains a viable bargaining chip until the end of the session, supporters introduced it in the House Appropriations Committee. Because it’s responsible for hammering out the budget, that committee is exempt from the so-called turnaround deadline.

That’s just one example of how the maneuvering on contentious issues often occurs below the surface and out of public view.

Jim McLean is the senior correspondent for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.
See more at https://www.kcur.org/post/jim-mclean-stories-behind-fights-brewing-kansas-legislature

Legislative update from Rep. Pam Curtis, D-32nd Dist.

Rep. Pam Curtis

by Rep. Pam Curtis

It was a busy week at the Capitol as the Kansas Legislature completed week two of the 2019 session. It is wonderful to see so many visitors from home attending events at the Statehouse and engaged in the legislative process.


We have great help in our office at the Statehouse this session. Brian Truesdell has joined me and Rep. Jerry Stogsdill as our office assistant and Jordyn Lawrence, a student at KU, as my legislative intern. It is indeed a pleasure to have both Brian and Jordyn working with me this session.


On last Tuesday, the Wyandotte County-Leavenworth County Delegation met with representatives from the Board of Public Utilities for an update on the utility and discussion of matters before the Kansas Legislature. KCK BPU President Norm Scott, General Manager Don Gray, and Chief Communications Officer David Mehlhaff attended the Tuesday luncheon.

We appreciate them taking the time to travel to Topeka and meet with members of the delegation.


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 at the Statehouse 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 email me at: pam.curtis@house.ks.gov.


First vote of the 2019 session

The first vote of the 2019 Session was on the House Rules (HR 6004), which passed 104-15. There were a few provisions added to increase transparency. House Democrats have been striving to increase transparency for years, continuing with the passage of HR 6004. It is imperative that the citizens of our state are informed and included in the decisions and issues that impact them. House Democrats are committed to full transparency and will continue work to ensure accountability within the legislature. The addition to the biennial House Rules makes it easier for the public to find the name of an individual or organization requesting a bill, and easier to track bills and amendments.

In addition to covering procedural rules for the chamber, an amendment offered by Rep. Ponka-We Victors, to allow lawmakers to breastfeed on the House floor, was approved on a voice vote. House Democrats championed and supported the provision, encouraging a more pro-family work environment.

Joint rules adoption

On Thursday, Jan. 24, the House voted to adopt joint Senate and House rules by passing SCR 1603. The joint rules apply to both chambers for the biennium. There were no changes made to the joint rules from the last biennium.

Education

On Thursday, Jan. 24, Gov. Laura Kelly signed an executive order creating an advisory group that aims to improve education in Kansas.

The Governor’s Council on Education will look for ways to enhance early childhood education, create relationships between the education and business communities, and develop partnerships to address workforce needs in Kansas.

Gov. Kelly explained that improving education means not only fully funding public schools, but also searching for ways to evaluate and innovate from early childhood all the way through the workforce. There are several members from Kansas City, Kansas, serving on the Council including: Co-chair Dr. Cynthia Lane, Joe Reardon, Irene Caudillo, Cathy Harding, Monica Crowe and Marcella Clay.


Resources

My Legislative Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/PamCurtisKCK.
My Twitter account, https://twitter.com/pcurtiskck
My website, https://www.curtisforkck.com/
Kansas Legislature website, http://kslegislature.org/