Some action, but still no funding solution.

Feb 26, 2019 by

Community College bill revisited, amended, and passed again; Religious “freedom of speech” bill dropped from consideration

The House Education Committee on Monday had been scheduled to work two bills – HB 2144 on community college reporting and HB 2288, the so-called “student and educator freedom of religious speech act.”

After a major amendment taking the worst parts of the original HB 2144 out of the bill, it was passed as a bill simply requiring community colleges to let students know which courses were transferrable to Regents institutions and to report some student demographic data. On a motion of Rep. Adam Smith (R-Weskan) the bill was brought back to committee for reconsideration (this was possible because it had not yet been read in on the floor of the House and so was still under the control of the committee).

Smith had a small amendment brought to him by the community colleges that does not change the bill significantly but eases the burden on the colleges. The Smith amendment was adopted and the bill was again voted out of committee favorably for passage.

HB 2288 was sponsored by Rep. Renee Erickson (R-Wichita) and had Representatives Arnberger, Bergquist, Blex, Burris, Capps, Carlson, B. Carpenter, Collins, Delperdang, Dove, Garber, Helmer, Hoheisel, Houser, Howard, Humphries, Jacobs, Mason, Owens, Seiwert, E. Smith, Tarwater, Thimesch, Thomas, Vickrey, Waggoner and Wasinger, all Republicans, as co-sponsors.

The bill granted students rights they generally have under current law but would have implied in Kansas statute that teachers and other employees could violate the constitution in promoting their own religious beliefs with students. Kansas law today says that parents have control of their children’s “religious and moral” upbringing but HB 2288 would have granted educators broad rights to promote their own religious beliefs. Teachers carry their own personal religious beliefs with them at all times but in the public school, school employees aren’t allowed to promote those beliefs with students.

The bill was supported in the committee hearing by Rep. Erickson and a representative of the Family Policy Alliance. Opponents were KASB, KNEA, and the Mainstream Coalition. The bill, if passed, would encourage behavior among school employees that is clearly illegal under the United States Constitution as demonstrated by a long history of case law. As a result, lots of costly litigation would likely follow.

On Monday, the Committee had the bill on their agenda to work and vote on but at the last minute, Rep. Brenda Dietrich (R-Topeka) who was chairing the committee in the absence of Rep. Steve Huebert (R-Valley Center), conferred briefly with Erickson and then adjourned the meeting without taking an action.

It would appear that the bill is now dead.

Bills on interest moving on the floor

Three bills of interest to KNEA were debated in the chambers today – one in the House and two in the Senate. All three bills were advanced and will face final action votes on Wednesday.

In the House, consideration was given to a bill sponsored by Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta), HB 2006, which would require the Legislative Post Audit to review state economic development incentive programs every two years with an eye to determining if the state is getting a good return on investment.

These programs – and there are a lot of them – grant tax breaks or incentives to companies with the understanding that good paying jobs will be created in Kansas but there has never been a review to determine if jobs are actually being created.

The bill was amended to put them on a three year review cycle to ease the burden on the LPA and then passed. It will face a final action vote on Wednesday.

This is a good bill and Williams is to be commended for her efforts on this issue. The bill is long overdue. We urge legislators to pass the bill.

In the Senate there were votes on SB 128, a bill changing the requirements on emergency drills. Currently schools must hold one fire drill every month, this bill changes that to at least four per year. The bill reduces the number of tornado drills to at least two per year with one in September and one in March and requires at least three crisis drills to be held during school hours.

Overall, the number of drills is reduced and more focused. The bill will face a final action vote on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 16 also came up for debate. This bill would allow at-risk dollars to be spent on evidence-based student programs and specifically allows expenditures on Jobs for America’s Graduates and the Boys and Girls Club in addition to Communities in Schools which is listed in current law. The bill really doesn’t do much as schools can use their funds for this currently and at their discretion.

There was an attempt by Senator Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) to amend two years of inflation funding increases into the bill. His rationale was that the Senate so far was not taking action on school finance and the Attorney General had expressed a desire to have school finance done by March 15 if there were no changes to the formula and March 1 if there were.

His amendment was defeated on a vote of 12 to 28 with all Republicans voting NO. All Democrats and John Doll (I-Garden City) voted YES for school funding.

SB 16 was then advanced without the Hensley amendment and will be considered for final action on Wednesday.

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“Political Theater” or when politics trumps people

Feb 25, 2019 by

Stop a Dangerous New Tax Plan

House Tax Committee moves a bill for political gain

The House Tax Committee did it today. They worked like the dickens to put together and approve a bill that is long on politics and short on policy – at least on policy that will benefit Kansas families.

The Committee took up Senate Bill 22 – the tax give-away to multi-national corporations with just a smidge of benefit for a few individual taxpayers – and amended it for “gotchas” and campaign postcards before sending it out of committee and on to the full House.

Senate Bill 22 came to the House courtesy of Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) who grew frustrated with the actions of Senate Tax Committee chair Caryn Tyson (R-Parker) and so created her own tax committee for the sole purpose of sending this bill out at the request of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and a group of multi-national corporations. The bill passed the full Senate on a vote of 26 to 14.

Now, let’s be clear; some of tax issues are worthy of discussion. Our food sales tax is too high, internet sales should be taxed just like our brick-and-mortar hometown stores are taxed, we need to encourage businesses to re-invest in Kansas jobs and workers. But the sad truth is that after 8 years of the Brownback tax experiment that left Kansas on verge of collapse, we need to be deliberate and careful to get ourselves out of the Brownback hole. It does us no good to fill in the hole but let someone stay down there continuing to dig!

The 2017 Legislature put a lot of fill back in the hole by repealing much of the Brownback experiment but we are still not fully restored. Let’s not start digging again!

So the House Tax Committee, much to our delight, appeared to be acting more carefully, pragmatically, and, dare we say, rationally until today when they met to get the bill out.

But before sending it out of committee, they amended it to do three things:

  • They added in the contents of HB 2261, lowering the food sales tax from 6.5% to 5.5% on a motion by Rep. Les Mason (R-McPherson),
  • They added in the contents of HB 2352, requiring online vendors to collect and remit sales tax once their sales have hit $100,000 in Kansas but taking out of the bill a tax on digital goods (Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, Kindle books, etc.) on a motion by Rep. Les Mason (R-McPherson),
  • They amended it to repeal a statute requiring a line on the Kansas income tax form for self-reporting of internet purchases on which you didn’t pay sales tax on a motion by Rep. Les Mason (R-McPherson).

Mason’s amendments increase the fiscal note meaning there will be even less money for schools, roads, prisons, social services, foster care, and just about everything else that makes life better for ordinary folk.

The original bill had an adjusted fiscal note of -$187 million to the state. The amendments mean the state will lose another $60 million in food sales tax which will be partially offset by the internet sales tax collections. That was expected to be about $41 million but that can now be reduced by about $8 million with the elimination of the sales tax on digital goods. Additionally, the Department of Revenue estimates a cost of about $800,000 to hire the staff to review income tax returns now reviewed by the IRS. So, in total, this bill will reduce the treasury by about $208 million.

So why do we classify this action as “political theater?”

Passage of this bill is fully intended to cripple Governor Kelly and give her opponents things to put on campaign postcards and endless fodder for political half-truths and lies.

If Kelly signs the bill and it becomes law, it will cripple her ability to fund a budget that takes care of any of the horrible damage wrought on Kansas by conservative Republicans and Sam Brownback. Kelly has said her priorities are funding schools, repairing our foster care system, fixing the crisis in our prisons, and expanding Medicaid. If this bill becomes law, those priorities are not possible without a corresponding tax increase. Supporters of this bill will then attack Kelly for either failing to meet her campaign promises or raising taxes.

If Kelly vetoes the bill – and her veto would be very hard to override – then the supporters of this bill will immediately send postcards blasting her for not reducing the sales tax on food and that’s something she has in her long-term sights.

You see, it looks like lose/lose for the Governor. And the stage was set by Brownback’s people – the very people who willingly brought Kansas to the brink of collapse.

This bill needs to die. It is bad policy driven by partisan politics. It is harming working families by granting huge tax breaks to multi-national corporations and providing almost no benefit to individuals. Even Susan Wagle, on the Senate floor, noted that the itemization benefit for individuals will apply to only 18% of Kansas individual income tax filers and half of them are already rich enough to continue itemizing under the Trump tax catastrophe.

For 82% of Kansans, the only relief you’ll get is $1 off a $100 sack of groceries. And in return, Kansas roads will continue to suffer, needy Kansans will be denied services, and the Department for Children and Families will still not be able to ensure quality care for foster children.

We urge you to contact your Representatives NOW. The folks at “Rise Up Kansas” (KNEA, AFT, Kansas Organization of State Employees, Kansas Action for Children, the Kansas Center for Economic Growth) have created the action alert you see below. Please let your representative know that Kansas must once again be the best place to live, work, and raise a family. The Brownback tax experiment was a failure and Senate Bill 22 is a return to the failing policies of Sam Brownback. VOTE NO ON SENATE BILL 22!h

Stop a Dangerous New Tax Plan

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Religion, Ed Bills, & Taxes

Feb 22, 2019 by

Religion, Ed Bills, & Taxes

House Education Hears Religion Bill

The Kansas House Education Committee met this week to hold a hearing on House Bill 2288, the Student and Educator Freedom of Religious Speech Act. This bill, brought by Rep. Renee Erickson (R-Wichita) and co-sponsored by 27 additional Republicans, would essentially allow religious proselytization by students and teachers in public schools.

The bill puts many restrictions and requirements on public schools so that religious speech and the distribution of religious materials could not be managed. If passed, the bill would open up our schools to lots of lawsuits from both advocates of religious speech and those who ardently defend the separation of church and state.

Currently, students are generally allowed to engage in religious speech at school although some limits can be placed on it. Under the federal Equal Access Act, high school students must be given access to facilities equally – so that if the high school has clubs using facilities, they cannot tell a religious club they can’t – they have equal access. Students can engage in student-initiated, student-led prayer. But students cannot be compelled to participate and teachers cannot be active participants.

One section of this bill grants very broad rights to teachers to engage in and even assist in religious activities at school. This includes everything from wearing religious clothing to decorating their desks with religious items.

Teachers do not shed their religious beliefs “at the school house doors,” however, they do agree to not promote their beliefs in the school. It has been noted in legal cases that children in elementary and middle schools are very impressionable and have a tendency to look at their teachers as role models. If a teacher were to decorate his or her desk with religious items that promote his or her own beliefs, it could lead to a student questioning the religious lessons taught at home. And Kansas law currently, in the Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act (60-5301 through 60-5305), prohibits activities that would “(i)mpair the fundamental right of every parent to control the care and custody of such parent’s minor children, including, but not limited to, control over education, discipline, religious and moral instruction…

The bill was supported by Rep. Erickson, the Family Policy Alliance, a wrestling coach, and a broadcaster. Opponents were KASB, KNEA, the PTA, and the Mainstream Coalition.

The House Ed Committee also worked two bills.

HB 2144 by Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) originally put many restrictions on community colleges. The bill was opposed by the Association of Community College Boards of Trustees.

A large balloon amendment was brought on Thursday that stripped out everything except two sections dealing with reporting transparency. One section would require community colleges to post the courses for which credit is fully transferable to 4-year institutions. The other section requires the collection of data with lots of student demographic information.

The balloon amendment was adopted and the bill was passed out of committee. It now goes to the full House for consideration.

The second bill worked was HB 2166, the bill mandating a course in financial literacy for high school graduation. Again, a balloon amendment was offered that stripped out the mandatory course and instead said that if a school offered a course in financial literacy, they district needed to adopt a policy under which a student could take that course for 1/2 credit of mathematics.

The amendment would also require the Kansas State Board of Education to allow the course to be counted as 1/2 credit of mathematics and the Kansas Board of Regents to recognize the class for 1/2 credit of mathematics.

The amendment was adopted but a motion to pass the amended bill out of committee failed. The bill is now out of consideration. Of course it can come up as an amendment somewhere else so we will continue to watch for it.

House Tax Committee considers bill to ensure Kansas gets sales tax on internet sales

The House Tax Committee held a hearing on HB 2352 which would adjust tax policies to meet a new court decision that will allow states to better collect sales tax on internet purchases.

Currently, Kansas collects sales taxes on internet vendors who have a physical presence in the state. If one makes a purchase from a vendor that does not, it is quite possible that the vendor will not collect and remit Kansas sales tax. Kansas taxpayers have the opportunity to report such purchases on their income tax returns and pay the sales tax at that time but it is believed that very few people actually do that and there is no way to find out. Rep. Don Hineman (R-Dighton), in talking to a conferee who admitted to paying such taxes on his return, asked if he felt he was taxed for his purchases or for his honesty.

This bill sets a threshold for sales in Kansas by an internet vendor such that the vendor would be required to collect and remit Kansas sales tax after meeting the threshold ($100,000) in sales. Some states have also set a threshold of a number of transactions in the state – for example, the vendor had 200 purchases from the state – but this bill does not include such a provision.


The House considered two bills of interest this week.

Senate Bill 9 which would direct the state to pay $115 million to KPERS this year to pay back contributions that had been withheld was advanced to final action and will be voted on Friday. If it passes, it goes to the governor.

HB 2071, which would establish a “proud educator” license plate, was up for debate but was passed over apparently so that a legislator can get an amendment prepared to add a “Don’t Tread on Me” (Tea Party) license plate to it. We will see if it comes back on Friday.

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Bullying and Budgeting

Feb 20, 2019 by

A solid week of bullying bills!

This is turning out to be the week of the bully under the dome. It started with a Valentine’s Day hearing on HB 2150, a bill that allowed any child who reported bullying – just reported it; it didn’t have to happen to him/her and it didn’t actually have to happen at all – to be offered a voucher to attend a private school where, we guess, bullying must not happen.

Okay, it wasn’t a bill to address bullying, it was a bill to create vouchers. Now this week, we have hearings on two more bullying bills.

One, HB 2257, was drafted by Equality Kansas, an advocacy organization for LGBTQ Kansans. Equality Kansas took the time to confer on their draft with education organizations including KNEA and was receptive to suggestions resulting in a bill that is generally considered the best one out there at this time.

The second bill is HB 2330. This bill was based on the infamous Walt Chappell drafted bill that was so much overkill that even advocates for stronger bullying laws opposed it. The bill was given to freshman Representative Mark Samsel (R-Wellsville) who worked to purge it of some of the more onerous provisions. Samsel has also reached out to KNEA, KASB, and USA for input in the hope of creating something that everyone can agree to – perhaps a melding of HB 2257 and HB 2330. Complicating the problem is that the bills are having hearings in two different committees!

Bullying legislation is a perennial issue in the statehouse with education organizations looking for local control on the issue and other organizations seeking statutes with “more teeth.”

KNEA opposed HB 2150 for what it is – a voucher bill. We are appearing neutral on the other two and encouraging legislators to deal with this issue as they did with the other perennial issue, dyslexia. Last year, with the leadership of Rep. Brenda Dietrich (R-Topeka), a controversial dyslexia bill was transformed into the establishment of a task force made up of teachers, administrators, State Board members, parents, legislators, and advocacy organizations.

The Dyslexia Task Force met over the summer and fall and managed to collaboratively develop a set of recommendations – unanimously adopted by the members of the task force – that will hopefully satisfy all of the interested parties. We believe the same process should be used to come up with a solution to bullying that helps schools, protects students, and deals with the underlying issues.

HB 2257 had a hearing today; HB 2330 will get a hearing tomorrow. And that voucher bill, HB 2150? It is scheduled for a vote in committee tomorrow.

Money mess

Since budgeting, spending, and taxes are all intertwined, we thought it best to let you know where things are as of today.

The mostly corporate tax giveaway, SB 22, has passed the Senate with 26 votes and is getting a hearing in the House Tax Committee today and tomorrow. It reduces revenue by nearly $190 million.

Both the Senate and House Tax Committees are hearing bills this week to lower the food sales tax rate. Lowering the rate by one cent, from 6.5% to 5.5% would cost the state about $60 million.

The Senate has also passed SB 9 which would require the state to immediately pay back $115 million in funds delayed to KPERS. This bill has had a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee and was voted out of committee favorably. It awaits action in the full House probably this week. It represents a reduction of $115 million from the treasury which would make the budget harder to balance.

Governor Kelly had recommended the re-amortization of KPERS in order to lower the immediate costs and help balance the budget. Her re-amortization bill was soundly defeated on the House floor.

So lots of things are happening that will make it more difficult to balance the budget and meet the priorities for Kansas that Governor Kelly highlighted in her state of the state address – funding schools, repairing the foster care system, hiring correctional officers to end the crisis in Kansas prisons, and expand Medicaid to provide health insurance to 150,000 uninsured working Kansans.

We are approaching the half-way point of the session. There is much still to be done!

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Sad news; Then hearings on buying classroom supplies & taxing food

Feb 19, 2019 by

Representative Greg Lewis resigns for health reasons

In very sad news today, Rep. Greg Lewis (R-St. John) announced his resignation from the House of Representatives. Lewis won re-election in November after a bruising primary. In December he found himself with vision problems, feeling lightheaded and unstable. During the holidays, he found himself facing a diagnosis of a serious cancerous brain tumor that grows rapidly.

Facing surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation, Lewis realized he needed to focus all his energy on his health and family.

Rep. Greg Lewis has been a steadfast supporter of public schools, school employees, and public policy that supports a good quality of life in Kansas. We will miss Greg tremendously and pray that both Greg and his family might have the strength to face this challenge.

A stipend for every teacher?

The House Education Committee held a hearing on HB 2233, a bill that would require all school districts to provide a stipend of $500 to every teacher for the purpose of buying classroom supplies.

Sounds good? Well, not necessarily. The bill does not include any funding so school districts would be forced to take this money out of other funding sources. So they might have to reduce money for pay raises, or covering health insurance premium increases, or providing more classroom instructional support.

Further, the bill is written in such a restrictive fashion that the $500 can be used for essentially only those things that are on supply list sent to parents every year. The stipend cannot be used to purchase anything that is not entirely consumed in the school year it was bought. So if you want to buy books for your classroom library or a class set of novels, you can’t. And even though food products are entirely consumed, food is specifically prohibited by the bill. So no use trying to use the stipend for cooking projects in your classroom; forget the Kindergarten Thanksgiving feast!

Three things need to happen before this bill is a good idea: 1) schools need to be fully funded as per the Gannon decision; 2) an additional appropriation must be made to pay for this bill ($17.350 million); and 3) the bill needs to be rewritten such that the teacher can decide for him/herself what is necessary to move children to higher levels of achievement.

Should Kansas lower the food sales tax?

Kansas is one of only seven states that imposes the full sales tax on groceries and our rate is the second highest in the nation.

House Bill 2261 would lower the state food sales tax from 6.5% to 5.5%. The bill had a hearing in the House Tax Committee. KNEA has a position supporting the reduction or repeal of the food sales tax. Our testimony in support of the bill focused on the impact of the food sales tax on low-income families and their ability to purchase nutritious fresh foods for children.

Others supporting the bill included rural communities, pediatricians, healthy food advocates, dietitians, and local health departments. Opponents were the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the Kansas Farm Bureau.

Kansas Action for Children testified as neutral, telling the Committee that there were other options to do the same thing such as expansion of the food sales tax credit or making that credit fully refundable.

No action was taken on the bill at this time.


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