Legislative update from Sen. Kevin Braun

State Sen. Kevin Braun

Opinion column

by State Sen. Kevin Braun, R-5th Dist.

It has been a busy two weeks back in session. Some of the highlights are below.

I have also posted a video to my Facebook on the “Protect Them Both” Constitutional Amendment and that can be accessed on Facebook at Kevin Braun for Kansas Senate District 5.

There will be many important issues this session including the constitutional amendment for life, the governor’s proposed re-amortization of KPERS, taxation issues, the 2020 Kansas state budget and governor’s proposed Medicaid expansion.

In the first week of Session the following appointments were confirmed by the Senate:
Department of Administration Secretary, DeAngela Burns-Wallace
Department of Corrections Secretary, Jeffrey Zmuda
Kansas Board of Regents, Cheryl Harrison-Lee, Shellaine Kiblinger, and Jonathan Rolph
Kansas Development Finance Authority, Alan Deines
Kansas Highway Patrol Superintendent, Herman Jones
Kansas Lottery Executive Director, Stephen Durrell
Kansas Lottery Commission, Catherine Moyer (reappointment), Kenneth ‘Ed’ Trimmer, and Kala Spigarelli
Kansas Public Employees’ Retirement System Board of Trustees, Emily Hill and Owen ‘Brad’ Stratton
Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission, Kelly Kultala
Kansas State Gaming Agency Executive Director, Kala Loomis
Chair of the Kansas Water Authority, Constance Owen
Director of the Kansas Water Office, Earl Lewis
Public Employee Relations Board, Joni Franklin, Jonathan Gilbert, Michael Ryan, Keely Schneider, and Donald ‘Rick’ Wiley
State Banking Board, Ruth Stevenson and Patrick Walden
State Bank Commissioner, David Herndon
State Board of Indigents’ Defense Services, Erica Andrade, Michael Birzer, Patricia Hudgins, Laurel Michel, and Richard Ney
State Civil Service Board, Sheryl Gilchrist
State Fire Marshal, Doug Jorgensen (reappointment)
University of Kansas Hospital Authority Board, Romano Delcore (reappointment)

Constitutional amendment to protect life

The Value Them Both Amendment to the Constitution was introduced in both the House and Senate on Thursday, Jan. 16. Both SCR 1613 and HCR 5019 have been passed out of their committees as of Jan. 22, Fed and State Affairs in the House and Judiciary in the Senate. Floor debate is set to begin in earnest next week, with both the Senate and House seeking to pass the measure quickly.

Senate testimony in support of the amendment underlined the importance of rolling back a supposed right to abortion and its accompanying strict scrutiny requirement to protect reasonable regulation of the abortion industry, especially laws protecting parental consent, clinical cleanliness and licensing standards as well as informed consent for every patient.

Opponents of the amendment essentially argued this amendment was a prelude to a full ban, seeking to incite public outcry because the amendment does not allow Kansas to over-rule federal law.

Passage of this amendment through the Senate will reinstate the right role of the Legislature to regulate this industry like any other. The Value Them Both Amendment seeks to protect both mother and child and it takes the question of who should represent them back to the people. I strongly believe that we should let the all Kansas registered voters vote on this important issue.

Governor’s KPERS re-amortization proposal

Re-amortization of KPERS would add another $4.4 billion in new debt if the plan is approved. It also tacks on an additional 10 years before KPERS is fully funded.

If the state continues with the current payment plan, KPERS is expected to be fully funded within the next 15 years. In the governor’s budget presentation to the legislature the governor’s representative stated, “this is just like refinancing a mortgage on your house.” This is a drastic misrepresentation. The proposed “mortgage” is being taken out on the current and future retirement of teachers, police, firemen and all public employees within the KPER’s public service retirement program. It puts the retirement of these people at great risk.

Given those facts it is more honest to say that it is like taking out a mortgage on someone else’s retirement. What is most concerning is that it is being proposed not for a state emergency but rather just so the governor can spend more in her term than we are taking in taxes. For these reasons, I strongly oppose re-amortization of KPERS.

Common sense tax policy

With the failure of two tax reduction bills last year it is my hope that the governor will rethink her two 2019 vetoes that created a tax increase on both individuals and businesses.

The past year’s receipts showed that the state took in an increase in over $60 million from Kansas taxpayers that were not allowed to itemize due to the governor’s vetoes. You may ask, who are these Kansans? An example is a young couple in Wichita with a husband who teaches school and a wife that works at Spirit Air. Combined they make $90,000 and have less than $20,000 in itemizations and thus in Kansas cannot itemize for medical expenses, mortgage interest, property tax and donations to their church and other charities. This couple deserves the same rights available in other states and it is my hope, given the benefit of reflection, that the governor rethinks her position on this issue.

Another tax impacted by the governor’s veto was against repatriation. This directly impacted Boeing, Spirit Air, Textron and all other Kansas businesses in the international market that would benefit from foreign funds being returned to Kansas at a reduced tax rate. Again, given what those businesses have been through over the last year I hope my governor has a change of heart and sees this as an opportunity to lend support to these businesses in their time of greatest need. If she does, I will be proud to stand behind her at the signing. Both the House and Senate should give her that opportunity.

Governor’s budget proposal

Gov. Kelly’s proposed budget will cost around $7.8 billion for the upcoming fiscal year. The proposed plan includes various new social spending initiatives, Medicaid expansion, delaying payments to our state retirement fund and a pay raise for state employees.

The governor will, once again, ask lawmakers to invest a lot less in KPERS, extending payments 10 years and adding an estimated $4.4 billion dollars to the total costs. It’s a plan Republicans successfully defeated last year. Right now, if we continue to fully fund our KPERS obligation, the delayed payment debt is estimated to be eliminated in 15 years.

The governor also wants to provide $53 million dollars in tax credits to low-income families for sales tax relief while a Republican plan would eliminate the cumbersome tax return credit element and simply lower the amount of tax paid at the store when Kansans buy groceries.

To help Kansans with property tax costs, the governor suggests funding a program called the Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction Fund, which hasn’t been used since 2003. It is a cumbersome fund designed to send money back to local government to decide whether to pass the money on to taxpayers. LAVTRF relief estimates calculated by independent researchers show, after going through all the red tape, taxpayers who own a $150,000 home would only save an average of about $12-25 per year depending on the county and then only if the county decided to distribute it that way.

Other spending plans include $5 million in new aid for low-income students, a $14.8 million block grant for universities, and $8.5 million for tech students, a $7.2 million infusion into the state prison system for new beds and substance abuse programs, a $14.5 million allotment for two new highway patrol helicopters with infrared equipment and a 2.5 percent pay raise for state employees other than the judicial and legislative branches.

To help try to offset at least some of her spending plans, the governor would like to begin taxing streaming services like Amazon Prime, Disney Plus and Netflix which, if approved, would take effect in July. Her budget plan, per the state’s bipartisan Legislative Research Department, overspends and cuts into our reserves by an estimated $571.8 million.

Medicaid expansion

The Public Health and Welfare Committee began hearing testimony on SB 252. Those in favor of expanding Medicaid argued the bill should pass, as is, without work requirements or conscientious objections provisions. Under the Denning-Kelly plan, Kansans in the coverage gap ages 19-64 who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level would be eligible for Medicaid, which is now only available to the elderly, children, and those who are disabled and don’t have the option to work.

Sen. Gene Suellentrop chairs the committee which also heard from the Kansas budget director, Larry Campbell, who testified that the new estimated costs of expansion would be $40.32 million in the first full year of implementation and $37.1 million in the second year. That includes a $35 million cost each year for a newly proposed “reinsurance” program which would subsidize rates in the private health insurance marketplace and add an estimated 120 new employees to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Sen. Molly Baumgardner questioned the Kansas Hospital Association’s CEO, Tom Bell, about the finances of struggling hospitals which, expansion supporters say, need the influx of state and federal dollars to survive. Sen. Baumgardner asked Bell how expansion can help hospitals which only treat one or two patients per day. While Bell admitted he never promised Medicaid expansion alone would save rural hospitals, Sen. Baumgardner reminded the group that claim has been a large part of the pro-expansion conversation and was a well-publicized element of Laura Kelly’s gubernatorial campaign.

Testimony continues next week. Chairman Suellentrop said he didn’t know when the committee will act on the bill but that it will not happen next week.

As I have stated many times in the past 92 percent of Kansans are covered by private insurance, employer based insurance Medicaid or Medicare. I am a compassionate conservative but I cannot support placing the 8 percent of able bodied people who choose not to work in the front of the line before the elderly and truly disabled. I also cannot support hard working manufacturing workers paying the health care for college students. My vote will be to protect the promise that was made to the elderly and truly disabled long before I was elected. I do support creating a system where private employers would have access to more health care options to help alleviate the current shortage of available employees.

Kansas Supreme Court dismisses lawsuit filed by judges

This week the Kansas Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit over funding and pay raises for the state’s court system filed by six trial-court judges. Legislators last year approved a $149 million annual budget for the court system, but the Supreme Court is pushing for an increase of $18 million, or 12 percent.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt issued a statement to the press saying, “The court should no more decide the size of its own budget than the Legislature should decide the constitutionality of the laws it enacts.”

The district judges named on the lawsuit included Robert Frederick of Finney County in southwest Kansas; Steven Hornbaker of Geary County in northeast Kansas; Michael Powers in Marion County in central Kansas; and Merlin Wheeler of Lyon County in eastern Kansas. Frederick, Powers and Wheeler are the chief administrative judges in their judicial districts. Two other judges involved in the lawsuit were identified only as John Doe #1 and John Doe #2.

2019 report on rural prosperity

Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers gave a report to the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources on the findings of his Rural Prosperity Listening Tour this week. The tour took the lieutenant governor to 44 towns in 23 counties, where he spoke with Kansans at 16 manufacturers, 12 farms and agricultural facilities, 9 hospitals or healthcare facilities and more than 130 other meetings and events.

Lt. Gov. Rogers reported that the newly created Office of Rural Prosperity will begin focusing on three primary areas of improvement based on the findings during the listening tour: housing, child care, and workforce recruitment, retention and education.

Other priorities identified by Kansans include removing roadblocks to prosperity such as lack of quality roads and bridges, state rules and regulations, lack of quality, affordable broadband and taxes in general (particularly property taxes).

Floor action

SB45 passed the Senate (Vote 36-1) Jan. 23, 2020: Increased penalties for serious offenses to public safety employees:

Senate Bill 45 would raise the criminal severity level for involuntary manslaughter to level 2 penalty when the victim is a public safety sector employee. It would also raise the criminal severity level for aggravated battery to a level 3 penalty when the victim is a public safety sector employee. The severity levels were also increased for knowingly and purposefully causing great bodily harm or disfigurement via the following: by driving under the influence, by use of a deadly weapon, or by committing a DUI offense where the bodily harm can result in disfigurement or death.

The bill defines “Public Safety Sector Employee” as any individual employed by or volunteering for any law enforcement office, sheriff’s department, municipal fire department, volunteer and non-volunteer fire protection association, emergency management, EMS, or public works department while engaged in official duties.

2020 passenger rail meeting

Sen. McGinn held a packed meeting Wednesday regarding Kansas’s need to invest in passenger rail. The meeting included Kansas legislators, out-of-state officials with interest in rail, an Amtrak official and a Kansas Department of Transportation official.

This is the third meeting Sen. McGinn has hosted, and the meetings seem to grow every year. Sen. McGinn explained, “People nowadays want to be working on their computers. They want to be doing their business while they’re traveling, so this gives them an opportunity to do that.”

One proposal suggested bringing a passenger rail station to Wichita. Currently, the closest passenger rail station is in Newton. Officials hope to connect two of the Midwest’s largest cities, Wichita and Oklahoma City, by building a new station in Wichita.

When KDOT releases its next ten-year transportation plan, supporters are hoping passenger rail gets a greater focus than in years past.

At risk funding report

This week the Senate Education committee heard from Legislative Post Audit regarding the use of at-risk student funding. This hearing drew attention to the fact that the vast majority of “at-risk” funding was used to pay teacher salaries, not on targeted programs that address needs of at-risk populations above and beyond regular classroom learning. It also became apparent that school districts had a somewhat uncritical approach to evaluating the legal requirement that this special funding be funneled into “evidence-based” approaches.

As the Legislature, has now met court-mandated levels of funding, the assurances set in place for the effective use of these at-risk funds seems to have failed in their intended purpose. The Education committee plans to continue digging deeper into these new findings.

Legislative calendar important dates

Feb. 3
Last day for members to request bill drafts
Feb. 10
Last day for non-exempt committees to request bill drafts
Feb. 12
Last day for bill introductions by members
Feb. 14
Last day for non-exempt committee bill introduction
Feb. 24
Last day for committees to meet
Feb. 25
On floor all day
Feb. 26
On floor all day
Feb. 27
Turnaround Day, last day for non-exempt bills in house of origin
Feb. 28 – March 3
No session
March 20
Last day for non-exempt committee consideration
March 23 – March 25
On floor all day
March 25
On floor all day; Last day to consider non-exempt bills not in originating chamber
March 26 – March 29
No Session
April 3
Drop dead day; first adjournment
April 27
Veto Session begins
May 13
Day 90

As always please feel free to reach out to me at any time. My office number is 785-296-7357 or by email at kevin.braun.senate.ks@gmail.com. I will continue to hold monthly Town Hall meetings at different locations throughout my Senate District with my next Town Hall to be held at the Edwardsville Community Center at 10 a.m. Feb. 8. Anytime you are in Topeka please feel free to stop by and visit my office in room 124 East.

One thought on “Legislative update from Sen. Kevin Braun”

  1. Thanks for standing up to our spendthrift governor. She’s trying to spend the KPERS money, and it just costs more interest in the long run.

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