Legislative update by Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-5th Dist.

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald

by Sen. Steve Fitzgerald

Quote of the week:
“The goal for reformers today should be to build on what’s been working, work on fixing what hasn’t, and replace bureaucratic excess with a spirit of decentralized problem-solving. The Left, with its taste for federal control and grand policy solutions, is ill positioned to do that. Conservative reformers therefore have an enormous opportunity.”
– Frederick Hess of National Review on Education Reform

Remember, you can always learn more about what is going on in the legislature.


YouTube Streaming:


Committee Hearings:

Maximizing effect of federal tax cuts

As a result of the federal “Trump tax cuts” passed late last year, the state of Kansas is expected to receive a significant windfall of funds. While some would like to spend that money on programs, it is most appropriate to return this money where it was intended – the taxpayers.

To that end, I am working with other conservative legislators on different ideas, from raising the standard deduction in Kansas to match the federal deduction, and allowing itemization of deductions in Kansas despite not itemizing on their federal return. Other ideas include ensuring utility companies use their tax savings and pass it directly on to customers in the form of rate reductions and a reduction in the sales tax on food. These ideas deserve a discussion and consideration.

We must look for every chance to reduce the tax burden on Kansans.

Quick facts
• The agriculture industry employs nearly 247,000 Kansans, accounting for 13 percent of the state’s workforce (Kansas Department of Agriculture)

• For each dollar earned as a result of vocational rehabilitation placement, there is about $1.66 in total earnings generated through the economy (Kansas Department for Children and Families)

• In 2017, Kansas had 88,000 veterans in the civilian labor force. The Kansas veteran unemployment rate was 2.5 percent (Kansas Department of Labor)

• School district size varies widely in Kansas. One of the more notable challenges facing legislators in developing school finance reform lies in the fact there is such a disparity in school districts size. Among the 286 school districts in Kansas, on the high end is the Wichita School District, with over 50,000 students. On the low end? Several districts with fewer than 100 students. (Source: Kansas Department of Education)

• No state in America has a 95 percent graduation rate. A focus in the recent school finance study was the aspiration to achieve a 95 percent high school graduation rate in Kansas, and the level of funding that would require. The fact is that no state in America is at 95 percent – most are in the 70s and 80s. The highest, according to governing.com, is Iowa at 90 percent. Kansas is currently at a relatively high 86 percent. (Sources: http://www.governing.com/gov-data/high-school-graduation-rates-by-state.html)

• Thousands of children languish in foster care. Of the roughly 400,000 children nationwide in the foster care system today, 18 percent have been in foster care for more than three years, and 9 percent have been in the system for more than five years. (Source: https://www.heritage.org/marriage-and-family/report/adoption-foster-care-and-conscience-protection)

Floor action
Designating the state rock, mineral, gemstone and fish.
(HB 2650): House Bill 2650 designates the state rock as greenhorn limestone; the state mineral as galena; the state gemstone as jelinite amber; and the state fish as the channel catfish. This bill passed the Senate 38-0.

Airport authority dissolution procedures. (HB 2628): House Bill 2628 allows the city of Pratt to dissolve, via adoption of an appropriate ordinance, any airport authority created and established by the city. If such an airport authority is dissolved, the city would acquire the property of the authority subject to any leases or agreements made by the authority. This bill passed the Senate 39-0.

Modifying certain fees in the Kansas postsecondary educational institution act. (HB 2542): House Bill 2542 removes the June 30, 2018, sunset on a statute authorizing the Kansas Board of Regents to fix, charge, and collect fees for state institutions domiciled or having their principal place of business outside the state of Kansas. The bill would also remove fees concerning program modification; om-site branch campus reviews; renewal of registration of a representative; and changes in institution profiles. This bill passed the Senate 39-0.

Self service of beer from automated devices (SB 433): Senate Bill 433 allows licensed public venues, clubs, and drinking establishments to provide self-service beer to customers from automated devices in the same manner as is permitted for wine under current law. The licensee must monitor the dispensing of beer and must be able to control such dispensing. This bill passed the Senate 37-3. I voted for this bill.

Providing compensation for the wrongfully convited (HB 2579): House Bill 2579 creates a civil cause of action allowing claimants to seek damages from the state for wrongful conviction. This bill passed the Senate 40-0.

Regulating access to law enforcement recordings (HB 2571): House Bill 2571 modifies the statute governing disclosure of video or audio recordings made and retained by law enforcement using a body camera or a vehicle camera. HB 2571 would add a provision requiring the agency to allow the listening or viewing of the recording within 20 days after the request is made by the person who is subject to the recording or any parent or legal guardian if the subject is under 18 years old. This bill passed the Senate 40-0.

Urging the KCC to lower retail electric rates (SCR 1612): Senate Concurrent Resolution 1612 urges the State Corporation Commission (KCC) to have regionally competitive retail electric service rates and urges the KCC to take any and all lawful action to reduce Kansas electric rates to such levels and maintain the rates and such levels. This concurrent resolution passed the Senate 30-9. I voted for this resolution.

The asbestos trust claims transparency act (HB 2457): House Bill 2457 requires the plaintiff to provide certain statements and materials no later than 30 days prior to the date the court establishes for the completion of all fact discovery. Specifically, the plaintiff would be required to investigate, file all asbestos trust claims that can be made by the plaintiff, and provide a sworn statement indicating the investigation has been conducted and all possible claims filed. The plaintiff would be required to provide all parties with all trust claim materials, accompanied by a custodial affidavit from the asbestos trust. The bill also requires the plaintiff to supplement the information and materials within 30 days after the plaintiff, or person on the plaintiff’s behalf, supplements an existing asbestos trust claim, receives additional information, or materials related to such a claim, or files an asbestos trust claim. This bill passed the Senate 23-16. I voted for this bill.

Amending the Kansas standard asset and forfeiture act. (HB 2459): House Bill 2459 amends the Kansas standard asset seizure and forfeiture act and establishes the Kansas asset seizure and forfeiture repository. This bill passed the Senate 39-0.

School finance cost study
Last Friday, the legislature received the highly anticipated 156-page report by Dr. Lori Taylor on K-12 education funding in Kansas. On Monday, Dr. Taylor presented her report to the House K-12 Education Budget Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Education Finance. Dr. Taylor’s study provided three recommendations of either $451 million, $1.7 billion, or $2 billion.

The $451 million scenario would be enough to maintain current student achievement targets in reading and math while improving graduation rates to 95 percent. The $1.7 billion scenario would increase achievement further and the most expensive scenario, $2 billion, calls for even higher achievement standards. The study’s recommendation would raise annual K-12 funding from $4.652 billion to $6.438 billion or $6.719 billion by 2022.

The study explained that the additional money is needed to reach a 95 percent graduation rate. Currently, no state in the country has a graduation rate that high; Iowa ranks at number one with a graduation rate of 91 percent. The national average is 84.1 percent. Kansas has a graduation rate of 86.1 percent placing it 22nd in the nation.

Dr. Taylor was hired after the Supreme Court ruled in October that last year’s increase of $300 million in state aid, paid for with a tax increase, was not enough. The court gave the legislature an April 30th deadline to respond to the ruling.

The report’s outrageous price tags have led to a mainstream media drumbeat that legislators will have to respond with massive new spending on education, potentially requiring another massive new tax increase to pay for it. In most of these stories, the focus is almost exclusively on dollars – perpetuating the argument that by simply throwing billions more at schools, we’ll achieve results like a 95 percent graduation rate.

Setting aside the fact Kansans could not afford the astronomic taxes the “scenarios” in the study would seem to require, there was no attempt to focus on truly innovative ideas such as building-based budgeting, school choice, real accountability measures, or even the basic fact that there are 286 school districts in Kansas, and that the size disparity between 65 on the low end (Triplains) to over 50,000 on the high end (Wichita) might be something worth reforming. Unfortunately, these real reforms are essentially impossible due to the entrenched interests resisting them – including teachers’ unions, the Kansas Association of School Boards, and of course, our very own Kansas Supreme Court.

Next Thursday, Dr. Jesse Levin of the American Institute for Research will present a peer review of the study.

We need real solutions, such as the ideas laid out in a 2016 school-reform article in the National Review by Frederick Hess. School choice. Dollars following students. Real accountability measures. Etc. It all must be part of the school reform and school finance discussion. You can’t talk about money without talking about results and what’s really best for Kansas kids.

Six senators on Senate Education Committee kill Education Inspector General bill

The Senate Education Committee, on a 6-5 vote, narrowly defeated the Education Inspector General bill.

In favor were Senators Baumgardner, Alley, Estes, Fitzgerald and Pyle for voting to advance the bill. Unfortunately, Senators Bollier, Givens, Hensley, Sykes, Pettey, and Taylor voted to kill the bill.

“Over half the state budget goes to K-12 education. Taxpayers have a right to expect those funds are being allocated according to law. We learned earlier this year they were being allocated in a manner inconsistent with that law, and this measure would ensure they are allocated properly in the future. The Legislature has already proven to be careless with the citizens’ tax dollars. Now, by voting against the measure, six senators have expressed willful disregard about their constitutional duty to Kansas citizens.”
– Sen. Pilcher Cook

Testimony in favor of the legislation can be read here, http://myemail.constantcontact.com/The-Truth-Report–Week-Ten.html?soid=1127219026203&aid=P3-Z-qZWiq8

Kansas master teachers

On Thursday, the Senate recognized the 2018 Kansas Master Teachers. Senators Jeff Longbine (R-Emporia), Rick Billinger (R-Goodland), Bruce Givens (R-El Dorado), Tom Hawk (D-Manhattan), Ty Masterson (R-Andover), Mike Petersen (R-Wichita), and John Skubal (R-Overland Park) introduced Senate Resolution 1781, congratulating and commending this year’s Master Teachers.
Emporia State University established the Master Teacher awards in 1954. The awards are presented annually to teachers who have served the profession for at least five years and exemplify outstanding qualities. Candidates are usually nominated by their school district and the selection committee decides on seven recipients. Only one person from a USD can be selected.

Adoption protection act

This week the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee held hearings on SB 401, the Adoption Protection Act. The bill works to protect faith-based adoption agencies from being forced to place children in homes that violate their religious beliefs. The bill would ensure that faith-based organizations cannot be denied permits, licenses, or authorizations due to their refusal of placing children in certain homes.
There are currently no laws that restrict organizations that do not receive state funding from their placement criteria, but SB 401 is meant to act as a proactive measure. Proponents of the bill want to ensure that faith-based organizations are free to serve and protected from any future policies that might target them.

Opponents of the bill say it is discriminatory against same-sex couples since faith-based adoption agencies would be allowed to deny child placement to those couples.

The Kansas Department of Children and Families supports SB 401, saying that it allows for more adoption agencies to help place the 7,000 children that are currently in DCF custody.

Key excerpt:
Ironically, their offensive rhetoric demonstrates the pressing need for even more states to pass these measures to protect their faith-based social service organizations. “If the ACLU gets their way,” warned Eric Teetsel, President of the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, “any agency that declines to embrace their sexual politics would be prohibited from partnering with the government to provide social services to those in need, like caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, counseling prisoners, and finding homes for kids in need. To see such disdain for the viewpoints of others is disappointing; that it results in fewer services for those in need is unacceptable.”

Why this matters so much: The Adoption Protection Act is a critical step towards ensuring that a full 1/3 of Kansas adoption agencies can continue operating and placing children, while still holding true to their sincerely-held religious beliefs.

Over 20 organizations and individuals provided compelling proponent testimony on Tuesday.

Armed Forces Appreciation Day

March 22 was Armed Forces Appreciation Day at the Capitol. Outside the statehouse, members of the Kansas National Guard showcased military equipment including specific equipment used to help fight wildfires.

I sponsored a resolution that was passed by the Kansas Senate expressing appreciation for the Armed Forces. Kansas is home for many active and retired service members and their families.

This week
Monday –
On floor all day.
On floor all day.
• On floor all day.
• On floor all day
• Presentation on: Dr. Jesse Levin Overview of Peer Review of Dr. Taylor’s Study – [Senate Select Committee on Education Finance, March 29 at 1 p.m.]
• No session

2018 session dates and deadlines

March 26-28
On floor all day

Thursday, March 29
On floor all day; Last day to consider non-exempt bills not in originating chamber
Friday, March 30 No session
Friday, April 6 Drop dead day; first adjournment
Thursday, April 26 Veto session begins
Thursday, May 4 Day 90

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-5th Dist., represents parts of Leavenworth County and western Wyandotte County.

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