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

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald


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

• April nationwide unemployment was 4.4 percent, down from 4.5 percent in March – the lowest unemployment rate in 10 years. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

• The Kansas tax burden is still high. According to the 10th edition of “Rich States, Poor States,” the Kansas Tax Burden is still high. The current top marginal tax rate of 4.6 percent still only ranks 15th, the sales tax burden is 38th and the property tax burden is 32nd.

• Public sector employment is very high in Kansas. According to the 10th edition of “Rich States, Poor States,” Kansas ranks 48th in the country regarding the number of public sector employees. (The lower the ranking, the more public sector employees a state has), with nearly 670 public employees per every 10,000 in population.

Weekly overview

The work this past week was on conference committees, wrapping up some final pieces of legislation to send to the governor’s desk. The Senate sent some back to committee for another try.

Taxes

On Wednesday, the Senate voted on an income tax increase bill that ultimately failed to garner 21 votes for passage. Leadership is looking for a compromise tax bill that can pass both chambers. Without a budget and with little effort to actually reduce spending, many legislators are unwilling to consider raising taxes on Kansans.

I expect there will be several more attempts to pass a tax bill before there is any serious attempt to cut spending at all. Senate leadership brought the tax committee conference report on HB 2067 to the floor for a vote. The massive tax increase would have increased taxes on hard-working Kansans by over $1 billion over two years or $2.7 billion over five years. Both the Senate president and the chair of the Tax Committee voted nay. So did I.

Driving much of the debate behind the scenes is the budget, and of course, school finance. Both are behind the call for massive new tax increases. Rather than simply fixing the budget deficit through spending reductions or other structural reforms, the controlling majority in the chamber is seeking to increase the deficit through new spending, and then throw a bloated and confusing school finance plan on top of it.

Even though the Kansas Supreme Court did not specifically order new funding, but rather a new formula targeted on the 25 percent of Kansas students that our public schools are failing. Some are ignoring this reality and calling for dramatic new funding which would potentially result in tax increases much bigger than the plan rejected earlier last week.

Nowhere in this debate is there any discussion about the proper role of government nor is there any examination into how state government could be restructured to run more efficiently and effectively. For instance, are there departments we can eliminate? Are there state positions that are duplicative or unnecessary?

Those who claim there are “no more cuts” are simply unwilling to make the tough choices to dig deeper and find an alternative to tax increases.

School finance

The Senate Select Committee on Education Finance is working with the House’s K-12 Education Budget Committee and the legislature’s outside legal counsel (former Sen. Jeff King) to produce a new school finance formula. I expect that there will be a bill next week and that it will have a large fiscal note that will prevent it from passing at least one of the chambers.

Human trafficking

On Thursday, both the House and the Senate unanimously passed House Substitute for Senate Bill 40, a bill strengthening anti-human trafficking laws in Kansas. The Kansas attorney general’s office teamed up with legislators to write this bill after identifying ways to best help combat human trafficking. Phoebe Taylor, a Lansing High School student, did exceptional research on the subject and advocated for this bill. I congratulate her.

This bill strengthens pre-existing laws and creates new laws, such as a mandatory human trafficking awareness course for truck drivers, so that they may easily identify and report signs of possible human trafficking. Further, this bill will “prohibit using communication devices to facilitate human trafficking or knowingly selling travel services connected with human trafficking. It would also create the crime of internet trading child pornography and increase penalties for sexual exploitation of a child,” as explained in a Topeka Capital-Journal news report.

The bill is now waiting for Gov. Brownback’s signature.

Thank you for engaging

Thank you for all of your calls, emails, and letters regarding your thoughts and concerns about happenings in Kansas. Constituent correspondence helps inform my decision-making process and is taken into great consideration when I cast my vote in the Kansas Senate. I hope you’ll continue to engage with me on the issues that matter most to you, your family, and our community.


Floor action
Conference committee reports
Judicial surcharge; collection of court debts (HB 2041)

HB 2041 extends the sunset provision for judicial surcharges on several docket fees until June 30, 2019. Current law allows the judicial branch to impose an additional charge per docket fee to fund the costs of non-judicial personnel until June 30, 2017.

The bill also would require the cost of collection of debts owed to courts or restitution be paid by the responsible party as an additional court cost in all cases where the party fails to pay any debts owed to courts or restitution and the court contracts with an agent to collect the debt or restitution. Currently under law, the cost of collection is paid by the defendant as an additional court cost only in criminal, traffic, and juvenile offender cases.

The Senate adopted the Conference Committee Report Tuesday May 9, by a vote of 23-15. I voted for this bill.

Employment Security Law (HB 2054)

HB 2054 modify provisions in the Employment Security Law regarding access to information, law related to the Kansas Sentencing Commission, law related to law enforcement, and law regarding fee funds.

The Senate adopted the Conference Committee Report Tuesday May 9, by a vote of 36-2. I voted for this bill.

Human trafficking and new crimes (House Sub SB 40)

H Sub SB 40 amends the law concerning human trafficking, including the creation of new crimes and amendments to existing crimes and other related provisions.

The Senate adopted the Conference Committee Report Thursday May 11, by a vote of 40-0.

AG, scrap metal and office of the inspector general (SB 149)

SB 149 creates and alters law related to the attorney general, the Scrap Metal Theft Reduction Act, and the Office of the Inspector General within the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

The Senate adopted the Conference Committee Report Thursday May 11, by a vote of 40-0.

Bill signings

H. Sub. for SB 101 – Adds sexual assault to the list of crimes which allow the issuance of a protective order, amends the notification of sexual assault examination law, and allows for victims of crime to receive compensation for mental health counseling.

SB 205 – Establishes rules for calculating service credit for KPERS employees and provides an increase in death benefits to be paid to the surviving spouses of firefighters who die in the line of duty.

HB 2096 – Amends restrictions on operation of transit buses in Wyandotte County and designates a portion of U.S. 75 as the Eldon K. Miller Memorial Highway.

HB 2098 – Names the Mined Land Wildlife Area bison herd the “Bob Grant Bison Herd.”

HB 2353 – Clarifies definitions related to the State Use Law program.

HB 2356 – Revises various definitions related to the state’s bidding process.

The governor has now signed 68 bills into law this session and vetoed two. By law, the Kansas governor has 10 calendar days to sign the bill into law, veto the bill or allow the bill to become law without his or her signature.

This week

This is the third week of the veto session. We will continue working on our three big ticket items: taxes, budget, and school finance. I hope you’ll reach out with any comments, questions, or concerns regarding these issues or others. If you are on Twitter or Facebook, I encourage you to follow along with the #ksleg hashtag for real-time updates on legislative happenings in Topeka as we work to wrap this legislative session up. You can also follow the sessions of the House and the Senate at the website: www.kslegislature.org.

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald represents the 5th District, which includes parts of western Wyandotte County and Leavenworth County.

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