Legislative update from Sen. Pat Pettey

Sen. Pat Pettey

Newsletter from Sen. Pat Pettey, D-6th Dist.

In this issue:

• Legislature begins second half of session

• School finance decision

• Property tax transparency

• Judicial budget

• Kudos to Wyandotte County Democrats

• Health information

• Important state phone numbers

Legislature begins second half of session

Legislators were back in the Capitol Wednesday, following a short recess. My time will continue to be split between committees and floor debates for the next few weeks. At the end of March, we hit the deadline for non-exempt bills to be out of their second chamber. With little time left in the session, I encourage you to contact me with any concerns or questions you have about bills or committee meetings.

The Senate convenes Monday-Thursday at 2:30 p.m. and Friday at 8 a.m. 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 decision

The Kansas Supreme Court affirmed Friday that Gov.  Brownback and the Kansas Legislature have created an unconstitutional school finance system in its ruling on the school finance lawsuit Gannon vs. State of Kansas.

The court ruled that the legislature must fund capital outlay and the local equalization fund by July 1, 2014, to address funding inequalities. This will require approximately $129 million.

Additionally, the Supreme Court ruled that the District Court must further review and determine if lawmakers also failed to fund schools adequately. This is what will impact the base state aid per pupil amount.

We predict that it will not take long for the District Court to review this and provide its opinion.

The bottom line here is that the court made it clear that it is time to restore the cuts Gov.  Brownback made to our schools. This is not about fixing a broken formula, as Brownback once claimed; it’s about funding the formula.

Property tax transparency

On a vote of 39-0 the Senate passed a bill that would modifies the prohibitions on cities, counties, school districts, community colleges, and other taxing subdivisions from approving annual budgets or other appropriations funded by property taxes that exceed the property tax revenue collected in the preceding year by allowing for adjustments based on changes in the consumer price index and lowering the amount of ad valorem tax to reduce any increase in property valuation above the increase in the consumer price index.

This bill also requires governing bodies to provide publication of such vote in official county newspapers.

During the debate on HB2047, Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley attempted to restore funding to a program that provides property tax relief.

Hensley offered an amendment that would have put $45 million into the Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction Fund, a fund established as a trade-off with local units of government. The fund has not received a single dollar since the 2008 recession set in. The amendment failed on a roll call vote of 14-23. I voted in favor of it.

Additionally, my Democrat colleague Sen. Tom Holland (Baldwin City) offered an amendment to require the state to publish in every county newsletter the votes of state senators and representatives when a bill passes in the legislature that would most likely result in increased residential property taxes. 31. I voted in favor of it.

The legislature has a responsibility to let our constituents know when we take action that will increase property taxes. This legislation is another way for the legislature to undermine Home Rule.

Judicial budget

The Senate also approved an omnibus bill that impacts the Judicial Branch’s budget and policies. Senate Substitute for House Bill 2338 is made up of five different bills, coming from two different committees that appropriates $2 million in additional funding from the State General Fund to the Judicial Branch in FY2015, which begins July 1, 2014.

It also increases filing fees to fund the costs of non-judicial personnel. Additionally, it modifies statutes governing Judicial Branch operations concerning budgeting, the election of chief judges, and allowing for a delay in filling judicial vacancies for up to 120 days.

The modifications include allowing each chief judge in each judicial district in the state to “opt-in” for responsibility of their budget and establishing that the district court judges in each judicial district would elect a district judge to serve as chief judge.

Currently, the chief judges are appointed by the Kansas Supreme Court.

Finally, this bill eliminates the statutory requirement for the payment of longevity to Judicial Branch non-judicial staff. The bill passed on a vote of 23-12. I voted against it. This bill unprecedentedly blends budget and policy decisions. I oppose the policy modifications.

The policy portion of this legislation appears to be an attempt to further erode the authority of the Supreme Court in Kansas. We deserve to have a independent judicial system state wide and this legislation moves in the wrong direction.

HB 2599, Boat ramp in Wyandotte County

This bill authorizes the Secretary of State to grant an easement to the Unified Government of Wyandotte County for a boat ramp to be used solely for fire department water training and rescue use.

This bill will allow the UG to make use of federal funds they received for this purpose. This bill passed unanimously.

Kudos to Wyandotte County Democrats

Congratulations to Bill Reardon on receiving the Anthony Hensley Legislative Achievement Award this weekend at Washington Days. Bill is a former legislator who represented the Kansas City area for 34 years. He is now a lobbyist for the Kansas City, Kansas School District.

Congratulations to David and Joan Spero on receiving the Chair’s Special Support Award at Washington Days. They have been long time Democratic activists in Kansas City, Kan., with the party and the Postal Workers’ Union.

Health information

From the American Heart Association: “In 2011, Americans spent about 40 percent of their food budget on food eaten outside the home. By eating at home you have more control over portion size and you can prepare foods with fresher ingredients and less fat and sodium.”

“1 in 3 children and adolescents, ages 2-19, are overweight or obese and nearly none meet healthy diet and physical activity recommendations.”

Important state phone numbers

Here is a list of numbers I often receive requests for during the Legislative Session. I hope you will find this information helpful.

Attorney General (888) 428-8436

Child Abuse Hotline (800) 922-5330

Consumer Protection (800) 432-2310

Crime Tip Hotline            (800) 572-7463

Crime Victim Referral (800) 828-9745

Department on Aging (800) 432-3535

Driver’s License Bureau (785) 296-3963

Fraud Hotline (800) 432-3919

KPERS (888) 275-5737

Governor’s Office (877) 579-6757

Highway Conditions (800) 585-7623

Housing Hotline (800) 752-4422

KanCare Consumer Assistance (866) 305-5147

Kansas Jobs (785) 235-5627

Kansas Lottery (785) 296-5700

Kansas State Library (800) 432-3924

Legislative Hotline (800) 432-3924

School Safety Hotline (877) 626-8203

Social Security (800) 772-1213

DCF (785) 296-1491

Suicide Prevention Hotline (800) 273-8255

Tax Refund Status Info (800) 894-0318

Taxpayer Assistance (785) 368-8222

Unclaimed Property (800) 432-0386

Vital Statistics (Birth Certificates) (785) 296-1400

Victims of Human Trafficking (888) 373-7888

Legislative update from Rep. Stan Frownfelter

Rep. Stan Frownfelter

Newsletter from Rep. Stan Frownfelter, D-37th Dist.

Week 8

In this issue:

• From the Statehouse

• Appropriations Committee hears various budget reports

• At-risk discussed in joint Education Committee meeting

• Transparency Act makes its way to Appropriations

• Supreme Court ruling drops in school funding case

• Keep in touch

From the Statehouse

This week was fairly quiet under the dome as we came back into session on Wednesday after a long weekend to refresh after Turnaround. We had no general orders on Wednesday, voted on two bills on Thursday, and had a “pro forma” Friday, meaning that there was no real session.

The event of the week, and perhaps the event of the session, came 9:30 Friday morning when the Kansas Supreme Court published its ruling in the case of Gannon vs. State, otherwise known as the school finance case.

The ruling by the Supreme Court is sure to set the stage for the rest of the session, and I will be sure to keep you updated as I learn more. This issue is a top priority for me, because I believe it is time that our schools were fairly and adequately funded.

Appropriations Committee hears budget reports

The Appropriations Committee met on Thursday, March 6, to hear budget reports on a variety of agencies. These agencies included the Revisor of Statutes, the Legislature, the Division of Post Audit, the Judicial Council, the Kansas Lottery and the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission.

The committee approved of the Revisor of Statutes budget and the Legislature budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. The committee requested a more specific outline that explained the allocations of funding in future years for the Legislature budget.

During the budget hearing for the Division of Post Audit, the committee discussed increasing the budget in the Post Audit Committee to make it possible for them conduct more audits.

The committee is requesting additional funding for a new three-person auditor team that could conduct more audits as requested by representatives. The three person team would cost approximately $250,000 the first year and $240,000 each subsequent year. The committee praised the work the auditors do, and the committee approved the Post Audit budgets for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

The committee discussed the possibility of decreasing the budget for the Judicial Council, specifically by decreasing the amount of money spent on salaries within the department. The proposed cut would come out of the executive director’s salary, but the committee ultimately decided to get a report from the board that explained the reasoning for current salary levels before making any decisions.

The committee passed the Kansas Lottery budget as is for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, and it approved a $22,000 increase in funding for the 2014 Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission budget.

At-risk discussed in joint Education Committee meeting

A joint meeting of the House and Senate Education Committees was held to get answers to a set of questions posed by committee members.

Deputy Commissioner of Education Dale Dennis provided the committee with reams of data regarding school spending, the history of school finance since 1992, legislative changes in that time period in the funding formula and much more.

He was followed by Craig Neuenswander of the Kansas Department of Education who filled the committee in on how at-risk money is generated and then how it is spent on moving kids to higher levels of achievement.

Neuenswander also provided data showing changes in the gap between low income students and others over time. While the gap had been shrinking slowly for years, it has widened a bit in the past year.

Dave Trabert of the Kansas Policy Institute also spoke on school finance. Trabert claims that when it comes to education, money doesn’t matter, most kids are doing poorly, and schools are inefficient and have been hiring too many people. Trabert also called for a new cost study.

Transparency Act makes its way to Appropriations Committee

A Senate bill that aims to increase the transparency and accountability of representatives in the Capitol made its way to the House this week. SB 413, also known as the Transparency Act, was introduced to the Appropriations Committee on Thursday, March 6.

The Transparency Act would require audio and video streaming in the four largest committee rooms here at the Statehouse. Cameras would be set up in rooms that hold the committees on budget, education, judiciary and commerce, and federal and state affairs.

The bill aims to make it easier for constituents to see their representatives in action, and allow Kansans, especially those who can’t make it to Topeka, to get more involved in the democratic process.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley endorsed a two-year trial run, with the hopes of its success leading to a full-blown program.

Proponents of the bill find it to be worthy of its $188,000 a year price tag; saying that transparency for citizens costs a lot of money, but it is an important investment.

Opponents of the bill say that political theater is an inherent part of committee meetings and events that take place on the floor, and having cameras will only enhance the showboating by legislators. Opponents also worry that with all the videos available to citizens, some may take bits and pieces of the footage and negatively twist it and then post it on social media.

Kansas is one of only three states that permit audio-only streaming from the House or Senate floor.

Supreme Court ruling drops in school funding case

On Friday morning, the Kansas Supreme Court released its long awaited ruling in the Gannon vs. State case, which challenged the constitutionality of the level of public school funding by the state.

The ruling stated in part what we expected: the Kansas Legislature has failed to equitably finance K-12 public schools.

A deadline was established for July 1 for executive and legislative branches to agree on measures to fully fund capital outlay and supplemental aid provisions, also known as the local equalization fund, to the tune of $129.1 million.

This money is aimed in great part at offsetting the difference between property-rich and property-poor school districts. If we fail to meet this deadline, the district court will take action as “it deems appropriate” in order to correct the inequities.

The issue of adequacy, however, was sent back to the Shawnee County District Court. Whether we are “adequately” funding our schools or not will be determined by several criteria, including what is known as the Rose Standards.

This means that we will most likely be waiting several months more before  any ruling is dropped on the adequacy component.

The ruling is a whopping 110 pages, which I am currently studying closely so that I may better understand what is at stake. What the Kansas Supreme Court made clear is that we have not met our obligation to fund our schools in an equitable way. The task at hand is a daunting one, as we’ll have to find a way to equitably fund our schools after Gov. Brownback proposed and passed the largest cuts to education in state history. The complete ruling can be found online – http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/Opinions/SupCt/2014/20140307/109335.pdf

Keep in touch

It is a special honor to serve as your representative. I value and need your input on the various issues facing state government in order to better serve my district and this state. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions. My office address is Room 561W, 300 SW 10th St Topeka KS, 66612. You can reach me at 785-296-7648 or call the legislative hotline at 1-800-432-3924 to leave a message for me. Additionally, you can email me at stan.frownfelter@ks.house.gov. You can also follow the legislative session online and find many useful resources at www.kslegisture.org.

When will those annoying sales phone calls stop?

Window on the West

Opinion column

by Mary Rupert

The phone rings. “Hello, this is your captain speaking …” plays for the umpteenth time.

Our phone recorder fills up with these sales calls. As so many other people, we often don’t even answer the land-based telephone line any more, unless we see a number we recognize from caller ID.

It never fails that I am in the middle of something that I think is important when the phone will ring and I will stop to see who it is. But it’s usually just another security sales call, “Did you know your home could be the target of a break-in?” or a sales pitch for medical insurance when we don’t need any. “The Obama administration has determined ….”

Automated phone dialers call us during political campaigns with prerecorded messages that go straight to my recorder, too. At one point, I thought we had signed up for the no-call list, but apparently we did not, I am told by someone else at home.

The phone rings again. I look at the caller ID, and it’s one of my universities’ foundations calling. They’re allowed to call for donations. I know right away that they want a donation, because that’s all they have ever called for in the past. I want to tell them, sorry, I can’t give you any money this year because I don’t have enough right now, but instead, I decide to just let the phone ring and not answer it. When I don’t have the money, you don’t get the money. They will just have to wait until some other time for that tiny donation. Sorry, alma mater.

It’s not that I am totally against sales phone calls. I myself make some non-sales calls by telephone for information, sometimes to people I have not met before. Those are different, I reason. I am seeking information, not money. Research and polls are exempt from no-call rules. But I can see how a small business would be hard-pressed to do without sales calls by phone, as start-up businesses sometimes do not have the money to send letters or postcards to potential clients. Businesses are allowed to make sales calls to their own existing clients. Of course, I have always thought a print ad in a newspaper would be more effective, less likely to disturb the potential customer.

The first time my cell phone received one of those prerecorded sales calls, I was very upset. One reason for being upset was the cell phone was always a good way to miss out on sales calls. The other reason, though, was the billing of the cell phone was set up per phone call minutes (not currently my plan), and could result in me paying for a call I did not want. Roto-dialers, I have heard, are not allowed to call cell phones.

I was not surprised that the Kansas attorney general last week said the top complaint of 2013 was violations of the No-Call Act. He reported filing 17 enforcement actions in 2013, and there is a bill in the Legislature to prohibit sales calls to cell phones.

One Kansas City, Kan., resident recently told me she, like almost everyone else, doesn’t like the sales calls. She is on the no-call list and still gets them. Now she even gets them on her office phone. She’s punched in a number to be put on the caller’s no-call list, but they just call her again anyway.

This time, the phone is ringing again. Wait a minute, the recorder is saying someone is going to give me $2,000 of free groceries? All I have to do is sign up for the plan?  But I don’t answer the call. Too bad, I’m past the point of believing it.

Mary Rupert, editor, screens her calls in Kansas City, Kan.  To reach Mary, email maryr@wyandottepublishing.com, and leave a message.