Connie’s Corner: Legislative news from Rep. Connie O’Brien
Things are moving fast. The fourth week of the 2013 legislative session is finished and the first round of legislative deadlines will be upon us next week. Anticipating those deadlines committees are busy holding hearings and voting on legislation for deliberation by the full House. You can stay up-to-date with committee schedules and bills and find other helpful information regarding the happenings in the statehouse through the legislature’s website, kslegislature.org.
Native American Legislative Day
On Wednesday this week, the House honored Native American Kansan veterans in the Capitol with a special tribute and recognition for their service to our nation. Tribal leaders and councils from the Prairie Band, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Sac and Fox, and Iowa Nations of Kansas and Nebraska were presented with a proclamation from the House of Representatives honoring their military service to the United States. Kansas also has a living memorial to Native American Veterans with the 931st Air Refueling Group based at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita. The 931st draws its identity from the proud Kanza people of the Kaw Nation. The 931st also uses Kanza as its official call sign during missions.
Tax, Trailer Bill Update
On Friday, the House debated HB 2059, the “trailer bill” to the income tax bill that was signed into law last session. The bill would make several adjustments to income and severance tax provisions that were enacted during the 2012 session. The House Taxation committee began hearing testimony on the governor’s tax proposal this week. This Wednesday, the Kansas Legislative Research Department released the actual total State General Fund (SGF) receipts from the beginning of Fiscal Year (FY) 2013, July 1, 2012, to January 2013 as compared to the estimates made by the Consensus Estimating Group. The report was encouraging. State revenue so far this fiscal year has exceeded projected estimates.
Total receipts though January FY 2013 were $95.8 million, 2.7 percent, above the estimate. The component of SGF receipts from taxes only was $99.2 million or 2.7 percent above the estimate. Total SGF taxes only, at the end of December, were $36.9 million or 1.2 percent above the estimate and total receipts at the end of December were $34.8 million or 1.2 percent above the estimate.
Juvenile Justice Authority Reorganization
Gov. Brownback delivered Executive Reorganization Order (ERO) No. 42 to the Legislature on Jan. 18. This reorganization order moves the Kansas Juvenile Justice Authority (JJA) into the Kansas Department of Corrections (KDOC). Per this ERO, KDOC will have the ability to establish a deputy secretary of juvenile services and the governor has said that Acting JJA Commissioner Terri Williams will serve in that role.
This week the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee voted to recommend favorably the governor’s ERO. According to the state constitution, the legislature has sixty calendar days to consider the ERO. Either chamber, the Senate or the House, can vote to disapprove of the ERO within the sixty days. If neither chamber rejects it within the 60 days, the ERO will go into effect on July 1, 2013.
KDOT/KTA Partnership Proposal
The stated goal of the Administration in merging the two agencies is to allow both agencies to be managed in a consistent way to allow for efficiencies in operations and sharing of resources across the state. The bill being proposed by the Administration would place the Secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) as the CEO and Chairman of the Board of the Kansas Turnpike Authority (KTA). From this position, the Secretary would have control to manage all the transportation assets in the state.
There have been some concerns with regard to the expansion of tolls on roads but federal law prohibits the addition of tolls on roads which are already complete, preventing any expansion on existing roads. Current state law also prohibits toll revenue from being directed for general fund purposes which would remove a possible mechanism of using the toll system as a ‘behind the back’ tax to fund other areas of state government. The Administration has also pointed out that the process of raising tolls doesn't change and still requires a vote of the Board of Directors to make the changes.
Over the next several weeks the transportation committees in the House and Senate will continue to hold hearings and delve into the specifics of how the merger would save money and benefit the state. It is important to me that services are not affected in any merger proposal brought forward.
Kansas/Oklahoma Education Tour
On Feb. 8, several members of the House and Senate Education Committees visited Walton Rural Life Center and Francis Tuttle Technology Center to get a firsthand look at charter and technical schools. Committee members were able to gain a better understanding of charter schools and their unique learning environments.
The technology school featured a unique half day programs specializing in auto and mechanical work to nursing programs to computer science. This allowed students to spend part of the day focused on core education requirements and the other part on post high school education. Students who participated in these programs saw a dropout rate of only 7 percent, significantly smaller than the rest of the state.
Walton Rural Life Center was the other stop on the trip. This charter school focused on K-4 with the largest class size at 25. The focus at Walton is project based learning which avoids teaching to the test and instead gives students more ownership in the learning process. One, hands on, project involved raising chickens and selling the eggs. Students develop a business plan and marketing strategy with the proceeds going to the school.
Final Action Votes
This week the House took final votes on four bills, all of which were passed and will now be received by the Senate for consideration. Below is a brief description of each Bill.
HB 2009 - HB 2009 would allow drivers facing license suspension for failing to fully comply with a traffic citation to submit a written request, along with a $25. fee, for temporary restricted driving privileges. This bill allows the driver to retain insurance and drive legally to necessary places, to and from work, school, job interviews, health care and legal appointments, etc. HB 2009 passed by a vote of 63 to 60. I didn't support this bill.
HB 2022 - HB 2022 would provide statutory authority for an employer to withhold or deduct money, subject to written notice and explanation, from an outgoing employee’s final wages for the following reasons: To recover employer's unreturned property used in the normal course of business, including computers, tools, phones, safety equipment, etc. To repay loans, advances or overpayments from the employer. HB 2022 passed by a vote of 91 to 29.
HB 2028 - HB 2028 would amend provisions of the Kansas Standard Asset Seizure and Forfeiture Act, adding a provision allowing a forfeiture proceeding brought by the Attorney General to commence and be maintained in Shawnee County. On February 8, the House passed HB 2028.
HB 2060 - HB 2060 prohibits prisoners from receiving sales tax and homestead property tax refunds. The bill only affects prisoners who claim the prison as their household. HB 2060 passed by a vote of 123 to 0.
Children and Seniors Committee
The Children and Seniors Committee continues to hear information on child care needs and concerns, senior issues concerning power of attorney and abuse, and the services available for seniors and children. This week we heard from a Magistrate judge, the Attorney General office on Adult protective services, human trafficking and the Children Service League. We hope to start hearings the week of February 22. We have a few bills that have great possibilities.
Term Limit Talk
Legislators will likely be looking at Term Limit proposals for Kansas Representatives and Senators. Here's my thoughts on the subject. In 2013 Kansas voters gave us 57 new House members. That's almost half of the House membership. Obviously the last minute re-districting and candidate filings had a lot to do with that. Generally speaking, very few House members remain in office more than twelve years. That is the number of years being suggested for term limits. That's six two year terms for House members and three four year terms for Senators. The vast majority of your elected officials never serve for more than twelve years. The few who do obviously return by the will of the voters in their districts. One advantage to having some 'Old Timers", is that they bring a history of the Kansas legislative process and the experience that is often needed to make good decisions for Kansas. This experience benefits newcomers who are often learning at a pace that can best be described as trying to drink water from a fire hose.
The founders, in their wisdom, gave us two year terms for Representatives allowing for voters to make quick changes if necessary, and longer terms for Senators to provide some stability in the legislative process. All State and U.S. Representatives serve two year terms. Kansas Senators are elected to serve four year terms and U.S. Senators serve six year terms. In the long run, considering that the vast majority of elected representatives and senators never serve more than 12 years, this legislation will only serve to keep voters from re-electing someone they would prefer to have representing them.
This is an important piece of legislation. I've shared my thoughts with you now I would like to hear your thoughts on term limits for Kansas legislators.
Mon. February 11 Last day for non-exempt committees to request bill drafts
Wed. February 13 Last day for bill introductions by members
Fri. February 15 Last day for non-exempt committees to introduce bills
Mon. February 25 Last day for afternoon committees to meet
Tues. February 26 Last day for morning committees to meet
Fri. March 1 Turnaround, last day for non-exempt bills
Fri. March 22 Last day for bills to be considered by non-exempt committee
Wed. March 27 Last day for non-exempt bill in either chamber
Wed. May 8 Veto session begins
I appreciate hearing form you. Please, do not hesitate to contact me with your thoughts, concerns and questions.
— Connie O'Brien, of Tonganoxie, is the state representative for the 42nd District.