With the 2018 Kansas Legislative Session hurtling toward the deadline of Thursday’s Drop Dead Day, this week was expected to be action packed with the need to move through as many bills as possible. It was actually a short week as the Senate left around noon on Thursday and the House a bit later leaving the heavy lifting on K12 School Funding and the overall budget for next week.
School Funding Constitutional Amendment
On Thursday the House Tax Committee introduced the long expected state constitutional amendment resolution that would make the question of adequacy one that the legislature and not the court would answer. As stated in the resolution, “The determination of the total amount of funding that constitutes suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state is exclusively a legislative power and shall be made as provided by law.”
The resolution would need to pass both chambers with a two-thirds majority and would then be placed on the ballot in either the August primary, the general election in November, or possibly a special election to consider the question. It seems like a heavy lift but it should be interesting.
K12 Finance Plan
On Wednesday evening the House K12 Budget Committee sent to the full House a plan that would increase funding to K12 by $520 million over five years. Chairman Johnson argued it could be funded without a tax increase, an important consideration in an election year. And while initial reaction on the committee from Democrats was it is not enough it did garner some moderate Republican support. The question now is can the plan find enough support to pass before first adjournment on April 6th and if it does will the Supreme Court accept it.
Insurance & Health Care
SB 348 (electronic insurance documents) has been placed in conference. SB 351 (PBM) has been signed by the Governor. HB 2674 (Telemedicine) was amended by the Senate and HB 312 (Dental Therapists) was added to the bill. The bill is still on the Senate floor and the word is it will remain there in hopes the two chairs can negotiate an agreement on the various parts. HB 2496 (Nurse Licensure Compact) has passed the Legislature and on its way to the Governor
Transparency in Government
The House on Thursday passed to final action SB 394, the Transparency in Government bill, which would require anyone attempting to lobby members of the executive branch or its agencies to register and report. This was a big issue early in the session but has quieted down and seems likely to pass easily.
On Wednesday morning the Senate passed 34-6 its budget bill which contains the non-education funding for this and the next fiscal year and clears the way for the Omnibus bill which is on the horizon. The House will consider their version of the budget next week, probably Monday.
With First Adjournment looming on Friday the 6th the legislature has work to do next week. The largest issue, and the one that has been hanging over the entire session, is the K12 Finance issue. It will be interesting to see if it can be resolved by Friday. That, coupled with the work to be done on the budget bills will make up the bulk of the work as the 2018 session moves toward its long recess.
Significant Dates and Events
On Floor/2nd Chamber
Veto Session Begins
With the echoes of the K12 School Finance Study lingering the 2018 Kansas Legislature returned to work this week. As the session begins to hurtle toward its conclusion work remains to be done and the pace looks to pick up.
K12 School Funding
On Monday the Legislature received more detail on the study they commissioned from the author, Dr. Lori Taylor. Reaction to the report has varied with Democrat and Moderate Republicans generally agreeing with the need for significantly more funding while not directly endorsing the study’s findings and Senate Leaders President Susan Wagle and Majority Leader Jim Denning both ripping the study. What the end result will be remains to be seen but thus far the study does not appear to be the defining moment many expected it to be. Expect the fight over K12 School Finance to continue and for the rhetoric to heat up as we move forward.
Both House and Senate budget committees wrapped up their versions of the first budget bills this week. Both bills now move on to their respective floor debates before each house. It’s unlikely that either version will get modified much, or at all, during floor debate. After passing their chambers, the action will move to Conference Committee, where differences will be negotiated and adjustments to the budgets will be made for another vote of both chambers.
In other committee action, Senate Ways and Means passed out a bill on coordinating IT policy for state government. This mainly had to do with the proposed membership of a state government group for IT policy and security of state agencies.
House Appropriations discussed the annual Claims Against the State bill, which deals with paying claims by individuals against state agencies. In the past this was highlighted by extravagant claims by inmates in state prisons, but those have greatly diminished and now its things like wind blown bleachers crashing into college students cars.
On Thursday the Senate heard testimony both for and against increasing taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products (OTP), i.e. cigars and pipe tobacco. Proponents spoke of the dangers of cigarettes and the need to reduce the number of smokers as well as the benefit of increased revenue from the tax increase. Opponents argued against the measure citing already high taxes, the failure of increased taxes decreasing the number of smokers, damage to small business, and the loss of business by retailers near the border. This was very similar to a hearing held last week in the House Tax Committee and did not seem particularly appealing to either committee.
House Judiciary on Thursday sent from committee to the House SB 296, the seat belt bill allowing juries to hear if the injured person was wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident. House Judiciary passed the bill out but limited it to products liability only. It will be interesting to see if that meets with the approval of the Senate, which passed the bill without that change 25-15.
Transportation Task Force
House Transportation is moving out of committee HB 2775 a bill which establishes the joint legislative transportation vision task force charged with reviewing and evaluating the state highway fund and the state highway transportation system. The goal of the task force is to work to ensure Kansas has the best highways possible to help support tourism and travel as well as continue the tradition of excellent roads Kansas is known for as the current ten-year transportation program comes to an end.
At the Thursday evening the House Commerce committee elected to suspend action on STAR Bonds and focused instead on SB 448, a bill creating the joint economic development incentive review committee and providing for regular evaluations of Kansas economic incentives and reports to the legislature. This bill was amended to use the Joint House and Senate Commerce committee instead of creating a new committee and was then passed out favorably.
The Telemedicine Bill was passed to the Senate Floor. The House version added an exclusion for abortion-related services and placed a non-severability clause that would repeal the entire telemedicine statue if a court declared that the abortion-related services section unconstitutional. The Senate Committee left the exclusion but took out the non-severability clause. They also added SB 312 which is the industry compromise on dental therapists that had been stuck in the House Health Committee.
The House passed the Pharmacy bill that would allow pharmacist to advise their clients on alternative and/or cheaper drugs. These so called “gag orders” will no longer be allowed in PBM/Insurance contracts. The bill was not amended in the House so it is on its way to the Governor.
Finally, the bill allowing the State to enter into multi-state nurse compacts was passed out of the Senate Health Committee and on to the Senate Floor.
The final two insurance bills were passed out of House Insurance committee this week. SB 410, which would modernize the Captive Insurance Statutes, was tweaked and sent out to the House Floor. SB 348, which allows the use of electronic documents in insurance forms, was also tweaked and passed out.
On Thursday evening the Senate passed HB 2457 enacting the Asbestos Claims Transparency Act. The bill was previously passed by the House and it now moves forward for further consideration.
With most committee work now finished attention will turn to floor action as both chambers work to finish their work ahead of next Thursday when the deadline for second chamber consideration moves the 2018 session into the conference committee stage followed by First Adjournment on the following Friday. With so much left to do and the K12 budget all but untouched it should be an exciting ride.
Significant Dates and Events
Last Day Non-Exempt
On Floor/2nd Chamber
The sedate pace of the 2018 Kansas Legislative session continued this week as the rate of work never overly accelerated. There were a number of contentious issues debated but with little of the drama usually seen by this point in the session. The shadow of K12 School Finance continues to hang over the statehouse and everyone seems to be holding their breath waiting to see what solutions will present themselves.
Earlier today Republican Mark Hutton suspended his campaign for Governor of Kansas. He has yet to endorse another candidate but his exit likely helps Governor Jeff Colyer as conventional thinking has Secretary of State Kris Kobach preferring a fractured field.
On Wednesday Senator Doll of Garden City announced he was leaving the Republican party and becoming an Independent to become the running mate of Independent Candidate for Governor Greg Orman. As a result of this decision Senator Doll was removed from all committee assignments and will now only have a voice on the floor of the Senate.
The House and Senate budget committees spent time this week on various budgets. Both committees hear and discuss agency budgets at different times and base much of their work off of the agency budget requests and what the Governor approved in his budget proposal.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee discussed the budget from the Board of Regents and the Regent’s schools this week. The Regents are prioritizing the restoration of the 4% cut they got in the last budget. Also, technical education is being discussed at length. Legislators have been supportive tech ed across the state, and they continue to hear from businesses about the importance of a well trained workforce, and how important entities like NIAR and NCAT are.
Ways and Means also worked their version of the budget for the Judicial Branch. This continues to be a point of contention between the House and Senate, and both chambers are setting the stage for a vigorous budget debate on this particular issue.
The House Appropriations Committee deliberated their version of the budgets for the State Hospitals. There is concern now with new information that estimates on possible federal money coming in was incorrect. Committee members had counted an more money coming in to work with for the hospitals. Now they are unsure of what they can use.
Appropriations almost became the Utilities committee as an amendment to the Kansas Corporation Commission budget that would have required a comprehensive electric rate study was discussed. The enthusiastic debate focused on the whether this committee was the place for the issue. There was support for the idea of a study, but not in that committee. The amendment was voted down.
Next week will see more agency budgets reviewed. There’s hope that most of these budgets will be put into a big budget bill the following week.
Internet Sales Tax
HB 2756 creating the Kansas Main Street Parity Act was passed out of the House Tax Committee. It requires various out-of-state retailers to begin collecting Kansas sales tax and use tax on sales in Kansas. Businesses with at least $50,000 in Kansas internet sales in the current year or last year must comply.
The Senate Commerce Committee held 3 days of hearing on two STAR Bond bills. Both bills attempt to correct “flaws and/or misuses” in current law. The Committee is planning on working the bills next week.
SB 348 (electronic delivery of insurance material) will have a hearing on 3/15. SB 351 (pharmacy practices) was passed out of committee and now is on the House floor. SB 296 (seat belt) had a hearing in House Judiciary on 3/8/18. HB 2469 (Claims office set up) was passed out by the Senate FI&I Committee and placed on the Consent Calendar.
Teacher Due Process
On Thursday the House passed 73-48 a bill that will restore what has been referred to as due process for teachers who have worked in the same school district for three years and whose contracts are not renewed. The previous provision was ended a few years ago and restoration of the provision has been a driving goal of the education lobby. Under this provision a hearing would be held to determine if the “firing” was justified with the goal of preventing the teacher from suing the school district. It now moves on to the Senate.
The House Tax Committee heard a proposal to raise property taxes from the current 20 mills in incremental steps over the next three years to ultimately land at 38.43 mills. This increase is estimated to raise $659 million for schools, the number arrived at to reach the additional $600 million plaintiffs in the Gannon case claim is needed to adequately fund schools. It should come as no surprise that this proposal was met with a blistering opposition from Kansas business groups including the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the Kansas Farm Bureau, and the Kansas Chamber. At this point the increase is not expected to move forward unless something dramatic happens this session but even putting the proposal out there raised the temperature in the statehouse.
Late next week the Legislature should receive the report they commissioned to evaluate school funding and to find a path forward that meets the requirements of the Supreme Court decision while also being palatable in an election year. With everything going on in the 2018 session this remains the largest obstacle that must be addressed and which has dominated all discussion this year. It should be a very interesting end of the week.
Significant Dates and Events
Last Day Non-Exempt
On Floor/2nd Chamber
The eighth week of the 2018 Kansas Legislative session was a brief one with the Legislature returning Wednesday from the long post-Turnaround Day weekend and Friday being pro forma. With more than half of the session’s ninety-day schedule now complete there remains a great deal to be done before First Adjournment, scheduled for Friday, April 6th.
Beginning Friday Washington Days, the annual Democratic Party State Convention will be held in Topeka. With a number of issues to be addressed and a candidate for Governor forum scheduled for Saturday evening, this year’s event should be exciting.
On Thursday the Kansas Department of Revenue sent out the following press release detailing results so far in fiscal year 2018:
TOPEKA—Total tax receipts continue to display marked stability this fiscal year, coming in $275.36 million above expectations so far, and $612.70 million above last year at this time, according to the latest revenue report released Thursday.
Individual income tax collections for the fiscal year are $268.97 million above expectations, totaling at $1.99 billion. Sales tax continues growth above predictions in to the third quarter, coming in at $6.30 million above estimates and $48.37 million above last year.
“There is a growing sense of optimism reflected in tax receipts, but we have to be patient for April receipts to accurately identify economic growth,” Revenue Secretary Sam Williams said. “Hopefully this is a sign that businesses are making investments and Kansans are buying more goods and services.”
Corporate receipts are $9.66 million below expectations for this fiscal year, but are up $14.92 million over this time last year.
Tax receipts for February totaled $373.1 million, $41.58 million above February 2017 and $26.73 million above the monthly estimate.
The K12 Budget Committee this week announced their intention to work the budget for K12 every day until it is resolved. With scheduled informational hearings as well as work beginning on what has already been presented it should be a busy rest of the session for this committee.
Party of the Center
A group of Kansans are working to introduce a new party to the Kansas political landscape. With the goal of establishing a party that will appeal to those who feel the major parties have moved to far into the extremes, the Party of the Center has begun the work of getting the eighteen thousand signatures needed to be recognized by the Secretary of State and appear on the November ballot.
The shortened work week also ate into the time that legislators spent on budget matters.
House Appropriations met twice as a full committee to discuss budget subcommittee reports. The biggest budget it worked on this week was for the Kansas Dept. of Transportation. The committee heard the subcommittee report which recommended stopping the transfers from the State Highway Fund to the Kansas Dept. of Education to fund its transportation money for local school districts. This SHF transfer to KSDE is around $100 million. The committee took no action in this budget, and will continue its conversation about this on Monday. Efforts to delay this debate in committee to later on in the session were not successful.
House Appropriations will discuss budgets next week about other big agencies.
Senate Ways and Means didn’t meet as a full committee, instead concentrating on its budget subcommittees. The full committee is scheduled to meet twice next week, and will hear the budget for the Judiciary Branch. House Appropriations has already delayed its consideration of the Judiciary budget until later on in the session. Again, the Judiciary budget will be a point of contention between the House and Senate, as it was last year. Will KDOT’s budget also be? Stay tuned.
Next week should see the Legislature ramping up their rate of work. With the largest issue, K12 funding all but untouched and each chamber beginning the work of sifting through bills passed by their sister chamber expect the hard work to truly begin. Bills of interest include PBM regulation, allowing taverns to sell self-serving beer, STAR Bonds, property tax evaluation on large commercial property, seat belt evidence and asbestos trust claims. It should be an exciting dash to April 6th.
Significant Dates and Events
Washington Days (Democrat State Party Convention)
Last Day Non-Exempt
With the specter of Turn-Around looming on Thursday, week seven of the 2018 Kansas Legislative Session saw a flurry of floor activity as both chambers worked to get bills out of their chamber of origin and across to the other. Even with that sense of urgency the pace remained relatively slow as the Senate finished late in the afternoon on Thursday and the House going until early in the evening before adjourning until next Wednesday.
Hartman Drops Out
Wichita businessman Wink Hartman withdrew from the race for the Republican nominee for Governor on Wednesday and endorsed Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Hartman stated he was concerned about playing “spoiler” in the race and decided to avoid doing so by leaving the race. He may also have been motivated by recent poll numbers that saw support for his candidacy in single digits.
Last Friday saw the Bob Bethel Junior KanCare Oversight Committee meet to review Home Care Based Services provided by KanCare.
Levitt Partners presented their report on services. They noted claims processing times stayed constant, a decrease in denial rates, and that CAP surveys saw general satisfaction with a small decrease for mental health. Two-thirds of providers were satisfied with the MCOs providing coverage although when the issue became how claims were resolved there was greater dissatisfaction. This report was met with skepticism by the Democrats on the committee with Senator Kelly stating the numbers did not make sense and calling into question the fact that the MCOs are who paid for the reports. Representative Ward argued that the compliance number alone made him think the report was flawed.
This presentation was followed by a number of KanCare providers, organizations, and individuals receiving services. They raised various concerns including a desire to return to targeted case management, issues with wait time and reimbursement, and a lack of mental health assistance.
KDHE was up next with a detailed update on their portion of the issue. They reported improvements and work to continue making additional improvements. They discussed the need to change the culture of the process and not the eligibility, to be more open and inclusive. They spoke excitedly about their partners in NAMI, KAMU, KU Med, and others. KDADS gave an update on the IDD and PD waiting lists and in response to a question explained they would need around $300 million additional funding to clear the
waiting lists. They then gave an update on state hospital staffing, which has improved but still has need, and then a more detailed update on Osawatomie. There the numbers across the board are better although there are still too many agency staff nurses and too much overtime. They are converting to 12-hour shifts they believe will help.
The MCOs then provided their updates where they reported improvement on issues of concern and described their plans to continue improving. They also discussed addressing the mental health issue and working on community relations going forward.
Both the House and the Senate took action of multiple insurance and health bills. SB
296 (Seat Belts) passed the Senate 25-15. SB 348 (Electronic Documents for health insurers) and SB 351 (PBM regulation) passed the Senate 39 – 0. SB 410 (Captive Insurance Companies) passed the Senate 38 – 0.
In the House, HB 2674 (Telemedicine) and HB 2472 (Anatomical Gifts) passed 117 – 0. HB 2496 (Nursing Compact) passed 116 -1. HB 2457 (Asbestos Litigation Trust Fund) passed 77 -40.
The Senate took no action on SB304 (Step Therapy) so it died in committee.
SB 296, a bill to allow juries in motor vehicle injury trials to know if the injured party was wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash, passed out on a vote of 25-15 on Wednesday. The issue had been hotly debated with trial lawyers and insurance companies staking out their positions and Senators working to balance both concerns. The measure moves on to the house for their consideration.
On Wednesday the Senate unanimously passed SB 394, a bill that would, as amended, expand the definition of “lobbying” to include lobbying of the executive and judicial branches. This has been a hot issue this session although, as evidenced by the unanimous support it received, not a particularly contentious one. It moves on now to the House for consideration.
The Legislature returns next Wednesday to continue work on the 2018 session. The biggest issue remains K12 School funding with the report requested by the legislature expected sometime in early March. House leadership “blessed” a number of bills that did not clear the House by moving them into exempt committees so work on those will continue along with the few Senate leadership likewise “blessed.” And the bills actually passed by the bodies will begin the process of being heard by the other chamber. The work of the 2018 Kansas Legislature has only just begun.
Significant Dates and Events
Return from Turn-Around
Washington Days (Democrat
State Party Convention)
Last Day Non-Exempt
Week six of the 2018 Kansas Legislative Session remained relatively slow with the biggest event of the week being the naming of the new Lieutenant Governor on Tuesday evening. Beyond that the legislature continued its work with committees continuing to hold hearings on a variety of issues and a few bills being worked and sent on for further debate and evaluation by the larger chambers. This weekend the Republican State Party Convention is being held in Wichita and the Legislature will be pro forma on Friday in accordance.
New Lieutenant Governor
On Tuesday night at the Kansas Livestock Association dinner Tracey Mann was named the new Lieutenant Governor by Governor Jeff Colyer. Mann is a commercial real estate developer who previously ran for US Congress from the 1st district in 2010 before eventually losing to Tim Huelskamp in the primary.
From Governor Colyer’s press release announcing the choice;
“Tracey has made a name for himself as a strong, servant leader and a go-getter. He is truly in tune with the needs and challenges of Kansas’ rural and agricultural communities.
Tracey has been a leader on economic development and rural issues in Kansas for years, and I am excited to bring those skills to our team.
Tracey Mann is a fifth-generation Kansan from Quinter. Although his family now lives in Salina, he still regularly returns to Quinter to work on the family farm. Tracey truly knows what it means to listen, serve and lead.”
Amusement Park Legislation
SB 307 dealing with regulating amusement parks was heard in Senate Fed and State on Monday with the bill passing out of committee unanimously following a series of amendments. Those amendments were largely about explaining what was meant by amusement park rides with the bill excluding hayrack and barrel train rides and better defining water slides as longer than twenty feet. The bill also outlines in greater detail following amendment the qualifications for inspectors.
Seat Belt Legislation
On Tuesday the Senate Judiciary Committee passed on to the full Senate for consideration SB 296, which allows juries in auto accident trials to hear if the injured person was wearing his or her seatbelt. Current law prohibits that information from being revealed. It seems likely that this will continue to be a contentious issue as it moves forward.
On Wednesday in Senate Ethics, Elections, and Local Government Senate President Susan Wagle and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley spoke in favor of their bill, SB 394, which President Wagle referred to as a “sunshine bill”, The bill would require anyone wishing to lobby executive branch agencies or the judiciary to register as lobbyists. Currently only those lobbying the legislative branch are required to register. The bill was passed out of committee on Thursday and sent on to the full Senate.
The budget process continued in both chambers this week. Budget subcommittees are still meeting to get detailed information from agencies about those agency budgets. The House Appropriations Committee discussed a number of budgets. In the budget for the Attorney General they reviewed his request for more funding to address fraud and abuse. The Board of Indigent Defense Services requested more funding, due to their increased activity as a number of capital punishment cases start the end phase of their process. Appropriations also discussed funds for career and technical education across the state, including south central Kansas. The workforce training at NIAR and NCAT led to a spirited discussion in committee, which led to the committee ultimately approving funds for both.
Senate Ways and Means heard budget reports, but also discussed the move at the Dept. of Revenue to transition to digitally printed license plates. This is suppose to get to lower costs and faster turn around.
Ways and Means began their discussion on the Judicial Branch. One of the most discussed items here is the salary levels for judges and non-judicial staff. Getting staff salaries up to market levels has been a topic for a number of years now. The House committee has delayed their discussion Judicial Branch. The Senate committee will continue their discussion into next week.
Both committees are reviewing the budgets for the state hospitals. This budget and the judicial budget will likely be significant points of difference between the two chambers in upcoming budget negotiations.
Multiple insurance bills were discussed/worked. HB 2104 (auto insurance limits) and HB 2575 (Patient Right to Shop) failed to pass out of committee. SB 348 (Electronic documents for A&H Insurance companies), SB 410 (updating Kansas Captive Insurance laws) and SB 351 (PBM) all were passed out of committee to the Senate floor. Finally, HB 2674 (Telemedicine) and SB 304 (Step Therapy) both had hearings and may see committee action on Monday.
The Senate Ways and Means Committee sent on to the full senate a bill that would essentially freeze KanCare as it currently exists without legislative approval for changes. The bill would end administration efforts to include work requirements for recipients as well as providing a vehicle for proponents to attempt to expand KanCare. There will be a KanCare Oversight meeting on Friday the 16th and an update on that meeting will be sent next week. This fight has likely only just begun.
The Senate passed 38-0 SB 312 which broadens what dental therapists are allowed to do and procedures they are allowed to perform provided they are supervised by a licensed dentist. Proponents argue this will greatly expand the number of Kansans receiving dental services. As a part of the bill dentists who agree to supervise up to three dental therapists must be a KanCare provider.
With Turn-Around looming on Thursday the legislature is expected to spend most of the week on the floor with debate hot and heavy as they work to move bills out of their chamber of origin. The slow pace thus far means the chambers have work to do in a short amount of time. It should be an interesting week.
The fifth week of the 2018 Kansas Legislative Session was dominated by an address to the combined House and Senate by the new Governor, Dr. Jeff Colyer, on Wednesday. Around that address the business of the state began ramping up with several interesting bills being heard and previews of upcoming struggles over a number of issues.
Executive Order on Sexual Harassment.
The week began with Governor Colyer signing his first Executive Order aimed directly at combatting sexual harassment in Kansas. The order mandates training in how to avoid sexual harassment in the workplace for all employees and staff of executive branch agencies and anyone doing business with those agencies including vendors, service providers, and interns. The Governor made clear through the order and the subsequent news conference that no forms of sexual harassment will be tolerated and it will be combated wherever it is found.
State of the State 2.0
On Wednesday Governor Jeff Colyer addressed a joint meeting of the House and Senate in what was quickly dubbed the State of the State 2.0. Members anxiously awaited the address as this would be the first opportunity for them to get a sense of the “new tone” the Governor had been promising. The signing of the Executive Order on Monday turned out to be a bit of a preview for what the Governor intended as he followed that up with a call for more transparency in State Government. The Governor stated his intention to sign a series of Executive Orders that would establish an internet site where Cabinet Agencies would present their activities, provide a list of public meetings, and establish a performance matrix so the citizens of Kansas can more easily see what their government is doing. He also stated his intent to order all executive branch employees to use only their official email accounts for doing business and not personal email. And finally he ordered that the first 100 pages of any Open Records Request would be free of charge to the one who requested it.
The Governor briefly touched on the issue of K12 School Finance at the end of his address with a call for the Legislature to send to him a plan that meets the requirements of the State Supreme Court while also requiring accountability for teachers and schools. He did not provide specifics about the solution but also did not walk back former Governor Brownback’s call for $600 million more in school aid spread out over the next five years. It remains to be seen what action the Legislature will take on the issue.
An attempt to add an amendment to an IT purchasing bill failed on a voter of 78-43 in the House this week. The amendment would have stated in no uncertain terms that Kansas rejects the new standards put in place by the FCC and would instead demand Net Neutrality for all vendors and internet contractors doing business with Kansas.
Senate Judiciary saw the beginning of a struggle between insurance agencies and trial lawyers over SB 296. The bill would allow non-use of a seat belt to be revealed to juries in motor vehicle injury lawsuits, something currently prohibited in Kansas. The thought by both sides is revealing this information could impact how much if any compensation juries award and insurance companies favor this while trial lawyers obviously oppose.
Office of the State Auditor
Legislation was introduced this week in the Senate to establish the Office of State Auditor as an elected position as it was in Kansas until the office was eliminated in 1975. An interesting side note on this legislation is if the auditor doesn’t identify enough waste or misspending to finance his/her office, the agency is eliminated.
A hearing was held in Senate Commerce on SB 339 Thursday that prompted interesting discussion. The bill, introduced by Senator Tom Holland, would look at reforming Workers Compensation benefits and make changes to the death benefits which have not been updated since the 1970s. Senator Holland stated he did not intend to work the bill this session as he understands it is a difficult issue and one that requires a great deal of time and effort to look into but that he hopes when the issue is addressed in the future this bill and the accompanying testimony will be considered. Senators Lynn, Bollier, and Baumgardner each agreed that while the bill and the underlying issue may not be tackled this session they are opposed to delaying for long and urged/called for both sides and all stakeholders to come together and find a working dialogue and solution on the Workers Compensation issue and updating what appears to be a very archaic system.
Budget Committees Wrap Up
Kansas’ new Governor Colyer gave his State of the State speech to lawmakers on Wednesday, but didn’t give much detail in his budget priorities. Legislators expect more specifics later, but also are holding their fire for the school finance debate to really kick in towards the end of March. Some budget subcommittees are starting to make their recommendations to the full budget committees, so officially the budget process is underway. The Senate Ways and Means Committee was wrapping up their work on a proposed new task force on transportation issues. They also heard from the Sec. of the KDADS on the need for more beds for mental health patients at the State Hospitals. Specifically at Osawatomie State Hospital. They discussed the possibility of renovating existing buildings the possibility of building new facilities. Federal funding is also at stake, as well as the growing need for mental health services. The committee also discussed the issue of having a budget rainy day fund, sometimes called a budget stabilization fund. Many states have these kind of funds, Kansas has one on the statute books, but has not been able to put any money away recently due to budget and revenue issues. The amounts to be put away and if or when they could be used later are part of the discussion.
The House Appropriations Committee also began hearing budget subcommittee reports. The committee delayed action on the budget for the Judicial Branch. The budget requests for judges and non judge employees sparked a contentious debate in committee, which led to requests for more information. A separate bill could be used to move that budget later on. The Judicial budget could be an important difference later in the budget negotiations between the House and Senate. The committee will soon hear from its Higher Ed subcommittee, and one issue will be workforce readiness and training. Funding for that in the Wichita south central Kansas area will be part of that, including funding for NAIR. The manufacturing sector has testified in favor of funding, the full committee should take this up soon. House Appropriations also heard from the Sec. of Agriculture about the Ag economy, and they also discussed the issue of Tyson wanting to open a processing facility in Kansas.
Looking ahead to next week the speed and work will continue to ramp up with a number of Committee Chairpersons warning their committees to expect long meetings and lots of them. Next week also sees the annual Republican Party Convention this year being held in Wichita and running throughout the weekend. It should be a great time for all who choose to attend.
Week four of the 2018 Kansas Legislative Session continued the pace of the first three with committee work being largely informational hearings and smaller bills as the session continues to rev up. Outside of committees there was more action as Kansas welcomed a new Governor, a prominent new candidate for Insurance Commissioner, and controversy over spending on K12 transportation.
In a swearing in ceremony on Wednesday, Dr. Jeff Colyer officially became Governor of Kansas. As had been anticipated for more than six months following former Governor Brownback’s nomination by President Trump as Ambassador for Religious Freedom the former Lieutenant Governor became Governor promising a new tone and vowing to listen and work with one and all to solve the challenges facing Kansas.
On Monday four term Senator Vicki Schmidt of Topeka officially announced she would be entering the race for Insurance Commissioner of Kansas. Senator Schmidt enters the race to succeed one-term Commissioner Ken Selzer who chose not to run again and is rather competing for the Republican nomination for Governor. Senator Schmidt, who chairs the Senate Public Health and Welfare committee, does not have to give up her seat as she is in the middle of her four-year term. The only other Republican candidate currently in the race is Clark Shultz who was defeated four years ago by Selzer and now works for Selzer in the Kansas Insurance Department.
K12 Transportation Controversy
Last Friday saw an emergency meeting held by the State Board of Education to consider whether Deputy Commissioner of Education Dale Dennis, the state’s top school finance formula administrator, should be placed on paid administrative leave. The issue at hand was Dennis’ decades long distribution of student transportation funds to school districts without legislative authority.
The issue came to light following an audit of the K12 Transportation Budget covering the last four years revealed Dennis had appropriated around $10 million more each year than was called for in the formula to determine funds. Senate President Susan Wagle, House Speaker Ron Ryckman, Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, and Senate Education Committee Chairperson Molly Baumgardner, all Republicans, called for the action while the state conducts a full audit of the K12 finances and expenditures.
Dennis’ explanation was that he had been instructed in 1984 by the Senate Vice President Charlie Angell (who passed away in 2014) to use a “curve of best fit” formula to distribute funds and that he has done so ever since despite it not being allowed in state statute.
The State Board of Ed on a 9-1 vote instructed Education Commissioner Randy Watson to continue the employment of Dennis and that no action was to be taken against him. What happens next is not certain. There have been bills introduced to change statute to make the manner in which Dennis has been distributing transportation funds legal and there are continued calls for a full audit of K12 funding and distribution to see what else may be occurring. Interestingly there have also been calls for the school districts to return the money, as it was distributed incorrectly and thus it was an overpayment to which they were not entitled. No action has yet been taken on any of the proposals.
Pat Apple will vacate his seat on the three-member Kansas Corporation Committee at the end of his term on March 15th. Before leaving for his new position Governor Brownback set a February 9th deadline for applicants to make their desire known and to have their application completed. Governor Colyer will then nominate the new member to take over for Apple.
Budget Committee Wrap Up
More informational heading for the Legislatures budget committees this week and both sides held hearings on bills. The Senate Ways and Means Committee held hearings on a bill to require legislative action in the future before changes are made to medical assistance programs. This is part of a ongoing struggle between (some) legislators and the administration on state programs for medical assistance. The KanCare system and expansion of Medicaid in Kansas are part of the political struggle, and since these programs are a sizable part of the budget there is a lot of interest on how this shakes out.
The Ways and Means Committee also held hearings on establishing a cyber security agency in the executive branch. With more data being used and stored by the State, cyber security is a growing concern for legislators. Cyber attacks are becoming more frequent and state governments are looking to strengthen their ability to protect their data.
The House Appropriations Committee held hearings on a bill on collecting debts owed to the state which third party vendors, like casinos, might hold. The committee passed a similar bill last year. There is continued interest by committee members to address this for collecting child support and similar debts.
The House committee also had an informational hearing on the oil and gas industry in Kansas. The severance tax revenues collected are usually discussed in committee, but the industry as a whole is not as familiar to some committee members. The Chair of the committee thought the members would benefit from knowing more about this industry with its national and global reach.
Both Chairs announced that budget subcommittees will start meeting, and the House could hear its first budget subcommittee report next week.
Next week should see an uptick in activity with the budget subcommittees beginning meetings and a number of important issues being addressed including cyber security, transparency, and a hearing discussing possible constitutional amendments that would change the number of House and Senate seats as well as staggering Senate elections. And on Wednesday Governor Colyer will address a joint meeting of the legislature to outline his goals for the session.
The third week of the 2018 Kansas Legislature continued the languid pace of the first two with committees dominated by agency updates and technical bills. It is assumed that in the coming weeks the Legislature will begin the heavy lifting of the session but that has yet to begin. That is not to say nothing happened this week as a change at the top of government became imminent and a new buzzword flooded the statehouse.
On Wednesday the United States Senate confirmed Governor Brownback to the role of Ambassador for Religious Freedom and on Thursday he sent a letter to Secretary of State Kobach announcing his resignation as Governor effective January 31st. His resignation will complete Lieutenant Governor Colyer’s rise to the position of Governor. The swearing in ceremony will be held on Wednesday January 31st at 3 pm.
An issue barely on the radar before the beginning of the session suddenly became the main talking point this week as a number of different actors offered changes to make Kansas government more transparent.
Senate President Susan Wagle announced her intention to introduce a bill requiring anyone meeting with administration agencies or members to register as lobbyists. Currently, only those who lobby the legislature are required to register in Kansas.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman and House Majority Leader Don Hineman announced a change in how Chairpersons in the House would handle the introduction of bills in committee by requiring the bill have an RS number and that the person or persons introducing the bill be easily identifiable and recorded. Without the need for passage of legislation and with this instead being a change in the rules themselves, Majority Leader Hineman believes it will be a quicker and better way of becoming more transparent.
Further, on Tuesday House and Senate Democrats held a press conference to announce their intention to introduce a number of bills to increase transparency including bills to prohibit outside employment of state office holders, a requirement that all votes in committees be recorded, and ending the practice commonly referred to as “gut-and-go” in which the contents of one bill are stripped and another bill is inserted instead, essentially changing everything about the bill except the number provided the new insert is deemed germane. They also proposed ending expenditures on meals and drinks by lobbyists unless they are provided to the entire legislature, i.e. no more dinners with individual members but the box lunches handed out in the statehouse are okay. They also proposed a measure which would prohibit any elected state officer or lawmaker from contract lobbying within a year of resignation or the end of their term in office. These were proposed along with a number of others dealing with the KBI reporting property recovered following arrests, making public the details of injuries or deaths of children while in state custody, limiting campaign contributions by any company that currently has a contract with the State of Kansas to $10,000.00, and harsher penalties for not responding to Kansas Open Records Act requests in a timely fashion.
Both budget committees continued with informational hearings in the third week of the session.
The House Appropriations Committee reviewed the report from a Legislative mental health initiative set up in last year’s budget bill. The report is an effort by the Legislature to gather information and also to set up another channel of communication with legislators, agencies, and mental health service providers.
While the State Hospitals have recently been the focus of much of the Governor and Legislature’s attention, other long standing mental health issues continue to require attention. Look for more mental health action by House Appropriations this session.
Senate Ways and Means held hearings on a bill establishing a new transportation centered group to study the needs for various highway, rail, and air transport issues that Kansas will face in the future. Various groups testified in favor the bill; cities, engineers, trucking interests, rail interests from across the state. There were no opponents.
Some Senators want to start the process of developing a new transportation plan, while also discussing funding issues at the state and federal levels. State highway funds have played an integral part of the budget debates in recent years. This effort is more pro highway plan and less using highway funds for other purposes.
Highway funding will likely be a component of this year’s budget debate, either way.
House Appropriations Chair Waymaster has said that that committee will likely start moving on budget subcommittees next week, but didn’t release a schedule, yet. Senate Ways and Means Chair McGinn hasn’t discussed budget subcommittees in great detail, yet.
On a 6-3 vote Wednesday the plan for CoreCivic to build a new facility was finally approved by the State Finance Council. There was some concern over the financing of the proposal that resulted in a series of delays before ultimately being resolved and approved. The new facility will be built on the grounds of the soon to be demolished Lansing State Penitentiary.
Governor Brownback on Wednesday announced this week that the plan to update KanCare, dubbed KanCare 2.0 and first rolled out late last year, is now dead. The administration will instead work on improving the existing model of KanCare and the current providers of services will continue to do so.
Also on Wednesday Olathe businessman Greg Orman officially announced his intention to run for Governor as an Independent Candidate. This announcement was hardly surprising given he had already raised nearly $500,000.00 for his campaign as reported in the end of the year campaign reports. However, it is now official; he is in and running. Orman last ran for the Senate in 2014 seeking to unseat Republican Senator Pat Roberts who ultimately defeated him. In that election the Democratic nominee, Chad Taylor, bowed out of the contest to clear the way for Orman and helping to make it largely a two person race. The Democratic Party of Kansas has already announced that this time no one would be stepping aside and Party Chairman John Gibson had some harsh words about Orman entering the race. It is widely assumed that a third party candidate will ultimately help the Republican candidate in this year’s Gubernatorial election.
With a number of side issues resolved and the delays on the appointment of Governor Brownback to his new ambassador position next week could see the 2018 session begin to ramp up. The issue of school finance remains the cloud hanging over the entire session and at some point soon it is assumed it will begin to be addressed.
The second week of the 2018 Kansas Legislative Session was very short with the Legislature being out on Monday in observance of the Martin Luther King Holiday and Friday being pro forma. That left only three days for actual work. The majority of that work was a continuation of informational briefings from the various state agencies as well as a few hearings on simple bills dealing primarily with technical matters and clarification of existing policies. Next week is a full week and will likely begin the ramping up from the languid pace of the first two weeks.
The principle issue of the 2018 session thus far remains the issue of meeting the Kansas Supreme Court order to address the adequacy portion of school funding. A number of hearings were held this week in each of the educational committees as well as Senate Ways and Means and House Appropriations. This was largely a rehashing of the reports the interim committees received prior to the start of the session and clarification on both the history of school finance litigation as well as the steps taken to comply with the constitutional requirement. The hearings were exclusively informational with no specific action being recommended. The only concrete policy currently on the table is in Governor Brownback’s budget calling for an increase of $100 million each year for the next five years. Meeting the Kansas Supreme Court’s order is the biggest issue that must
be settled this session.
State of the Judiciary
On Wednesday Chief Justice Lawton Nuss delivered the State of the Judiciary to a joint meeting of the House and Senate. Chief Justice Nuss stated the Kansas Judiciary will submit a budget to the Legislature calling for an increase in salaries for judicial employees. Chief Justice Nuss pointed out that Kansas ranks 49th in the nation in District Court Judge salaries and that entry level employees are barely paid more than the starting wage at Wal-Mart. These low salaries have resulted in a turnover rate of 15%, nearly 5 times the national average and that a third of judicial jobs provide salaries below the federal poverty line.
Federal Appointment of Governor Brownback
On Thursday Governor Brownback’s nomination to the post of Ambassador At-Large for International Religious Freedom was passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a voice vote and sent to the full Senate for confirmation. Governor Brownback was nominated to the same position in 2017 but the Senate failed to vote on the nomination and it was not carried over to 2018 requiring the process to begin anew. There is no timetable for when the full Senate will vote but it is expected to be in the next few weeks and it is assumed he will be confirmed at that time.
The House and Senate Transportation Committees held informational hearings on the future of autonomous vehicles this week. A variety of issues were discussed including reducing accidents; licensing and registering the vehicles; the potential benefit to the elderly and disabled; who is responsible in the event of an accident; the security of the guidance system; and what laws states need to be enacting to prepare for this new technology. Susan DeCourcy, regional administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said NHTSA is encouraging states to take steps such as reviewing all their motor vehicle laws and identifying those that may need to be changed to accommodate driverless vehicles. But she said the agency strongly discourages states from adopting laws or regulations that could be an impediment to deploying ADS vehicles.
Interesting Bills Introduced
While the majority of the work done this week was on informational briefings and hearings a number of interesting bills were introduced a few of which included:
- Senator Skubal introduced a comprehensive bill to serve as a new highway plan going forward to replace the expiring ten-year-old T-Works bill.
- The Office of Legislative Post Audit introduced a bill moving the responsibility for an annual audit on KPERS and the Kansas Lottery from their office to the offices of the agencies being audited. Legislative Post Audit Director Scott Frank, who is leaving soon for a similar position in the State of Washington, explained that his office does not actually do those audits but instead hires outside firms to perform the audit, which they then charge the agencies for. His belief is that moving them into the agencies will streamline the process without making any real changes to the way they are executed.
- In House Appropriations Representative Landwehr introduced a bill tying a portion of the Kansas Lottery earnings to increased mental health services. This is a reintroduction of a bill passed by the Legislature last session before being ultimately vetoed by the Governor.
- Senator Billinger in Senate Ways and Means requested a bill on amusement park rides and tourism. This follows up last year’s amendments requiring licensing and greater oversight. Also of note was a question raised in House Commerce by Representative Ralph. He asked the Kansas Department of Labor representative who was testifying about last years Amusement park legislation for their impression. Answer: Law was quick and turnaround short. We have worked with local units of government. Permit process is underway but there is room improvement. We have a new Amusement Park Coordinator. She oversees permitting, registration and investigation of serious accidents.
- Bills were introduced on both the House and Senate side requiring the approval of the Legislature to enact changes to the state’s Medicaid program, KanCare. KanCare 2.0 was intended to make changes to the existing program and was unveiled by Lieutenant Governor Colyer last fall but now looks unlikely to move forward. It will be an issue to watch going forward.
The Legislature will reconvene next week and continue to work on a host of issues. It seems likely the focus in the early portion of the session will remain on K-12 funding until a consensus on how to meet the Kansas Supreme Court ruling is achieved. The Attorney General has requested that whatever the Legislature decides to do they complete their work by March 1st to give his office time to present their plan to the court. It should be a very interesting next few weeks as the 2018 session moves out of its slow start and into action.