2019 Legislative Session Officially Over Sine Die

May 30, 2019 by

The House and Senate returned to Topeka for their Sine Die day and officially ended the 2019 Legislative Session just after 1:30 pm.

Usually this is a largely ceremonial day and many legislators don’t even show up, but this year there were a number of items of importance to be handled. Attendance was very high with only two Senators absent (Democrat Tom Hawk and Republican John Skubal) and eight Representatives (Democrats Stan Frownfelter, Broderick Henderson, Annie Kuether, Nancy Lusk, KC Ohaebosim, and Valdenia Winn and Republicans JR Claeys and Russ Jennings).

Disaster relief

A non-controversial item to handle was HCR 5015, a resolution extending the state of emergency declaration made by Governor Kelly. Such a declaration by the Governor is limited to a relatively short timeline and given the severity of this year’s tornado season, the Legislature unanimously extended the declaration which allows Kansas to seek federal disaster assistance.

Court of Appeals

The Senate also held a confirmation vote on Governor Kelly’s appointment of Sarah Warner to the Court of Appeals. This action had been mired in political wrangling about just who got to make the appointment after Kelly’s original pick, Jeff Jack, was found to have written posts on social media highly critical of Donald Trump and in a tone that many found quite offensive. Jack withdrew his nomination. Kelly subsequently appointed Warner, the Senate Judiciary Committee met on Tuesday to vote on the nomination and the full Senate confirmed the nomination 37 to 1 with only Independent John Doll voting no.

Those so-called “activist judges”

On a motion from Senator Ty Masterson (R-Andover) and after a vote of 28 to 10, the Senate withdrew SCR 1610 from a committee to the full Senate. SCR 1610 is a constitutional amendment to end the merit selection process for Supreme Court justices and make them political appointees at the sole discretion of the Governor. Removing this from the committee process is designed to avoid transparency and avoid public discourse (more below) and instead ram the amendment through the Senate without pesky public input.

Masterson and his fellow conservatives hate merit selection because it has resulted in a Court that has found against the state in school finance litigation and on some abortion issues. In Masterson’s mind, a justice that disagrees with him is an “activist judge” while one who votes his way is a good judge. Ending the merit system would take Kansas to the system used at the federal level under which each appointment becomes a partisan political war.

Making this action even more controversial is the fact that the resolution was introduced on March 29 and referred to Committee on April 3 making it too late in the session to get a public hearing in Committee. If the resolution were to stay in Committee it would be available for a public hearing and debate in January 2020. Masterson’s action means that the public will not be given the chance to weigh in on the resolution in a hearing – it will simply be taken directly to the full Senate. So much for the democratic process!

Multi-national Corporate Tax Cuts

After Governor Kelly vetoed a bill cutting taxes of multi-national corporations and wealthy individuals by $500 million and the Legislature failed to override that veto, they tried again with HB 2033.

This time the tax cut for multi-national corporations and wealthy individuals was scaled back to $250 million in an effort to make it more palatable to moderate Republicans. Kelly vetoed the bill, calling for fiscal caution and urging the Legislature to allow the state to continue to recover from the Brownback tax disaster.

Since it was a House bill, they got to take the first crack at overriding the veto. It takes a supermajority in both chambers (84 votes in the House and 27 in the Senate) to override a veto. The vote in the House was 78 to 39 to override meaning it failed to get the supermajority necessary and that the Governor’s veto was sustained. As a result the Senate did not need to take the issue up. Six Republicans joined 33 Democrats in voting to sustain the veto – Diana Dierks, Larry Hibbard, Bill Pannbacker, Tom Phillips, Mark Samsel, and Kent Thompson. Two Democrats – Tim Hodge and Jeff Pittman – voted to override the veto.

KNEA strongly supported the veto and applauds those 39 members who voted to sustain it, blocking the override.

Make no mistake despite the talking points you will hear from conservative Republicans, the vast majority of the tax cuts in this bill went to multi-national corporations who enjoy sheltered earnings overseas. Under the Trump tax bill, some of those earnings were “repatriated” with the United States- meaning the corporations would have to pay taxes. This bill was a demand of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-founded and financed “grassroots” operation. The bill also allowed Kansas individuals to itemize on state taxes even if they could not on their federal taxes. The wealthiest individuals did not lose itemization and this benefit would be for those at higher income levels but not quite Koch status. The vast majority of Kansans would get no benefit. HB 2033 would not benefit “working Kansans” despite what conservatives will tell you.

Line-Item budget vetoes

The Governor also made line item vetoes to several items in SB 25, the budget bill. These included some small items in the education department ($800,000 for CTE incentives, $270,000 for Teach for America), a mental health program (although the Governor allowed the same funding to come for other sources), and an additional $51 million payment to KPERS beyond the $115 million payment passed earlier and signed into law.

The Senate took up the vetoes first and voted 27 to 11 to override the veto. The next action was in the House where they voted 86 to 30 to override the veto. Since the supermajority was reached in each chamber, these vetoes were overridden and the funding remains in the budget.

The majority of the debate was over the mental health funding and the KPERS payment; almost nothing was said about the education department fund vetoes.

Wagle versus the Constitution

The Press has naturally been reporting on the actions of Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) who called for the removal of a number of protesters in the Senate gallery who were calling out the Senate for failing to take a vote on KanCare expansion.

Not only did Wagle demand the protesters be removed, she also closed the gallery so the public could not watch the Senate and threatened to rescind the press passes of any reporters who dared to cover the incident or the arrests of protestors.

Wagle issued a statement in which she said, “Legally protected peaceful protest is consistent with some of the best traditions of American dissent. But sadly, today’s events were far from peaceful. The demonstrations were pure obstructionism that stifled debate, placing a roadblock in front of democracy.”

There is one point which needs to be made and that is that the protest was over the expansion of KanCare/Medicaid on which Wagle herself is fully responsible for “obstructionism that stifled debate.” It was Wagle and her Majority Leader Jim Denning that made sure expansion would not be discussed in committees or debated on the floor. They used their positions to obstruct discussion and to prevent and stifle debate. That is why the protesters were there in the first place. If Wagle and Denning had allowed the legislative process to work – had they not practiced obstructionism and stifled debate – there would have been no protests.

Further, their threats against journalists are a clear violation of both the United States and Kansas Constitutions. Her actions – and those of her staff – have brought a condemnation from the Lathrop and Gage Law Firm representing the Kansas City Star and the Wichita Eagle.

We would recommend you read the notice that was sent to Wagle by the newspapers regarding her actions. Click here for that letter.

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Statement on the Governor’s line-item veto of additional KPERS contributions

May 21, 2019 by

Kansas NEA remains committed to the long term viability and security of the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System. No retiree benefits or future payments will be impacted by Governor Kelly’s recent action to line-item veto an additional payment to KPERS this year.

We have opposed all legislative actions that delayed payments, reduced employer contributions and contributed to the unfunded actuarial liability. These actions have been irresponsible and demonstrate a lack of respect for public employees, including the thousands of teachers who serve our students every day.

We also recognize that Governor Laura Kelly, during her time in the Kansas Senate did not support legislation that harmed KPERS or delayed or reduced the employer payments made by the state.

We were pleased when the legislature passed and the Governor signed into law a $115 million payment to KPERS during this legislative session. We also appreciate that the legislature saw fit to make a promised $51 million payment – a payment which would not have been necessary had the legislature honored their obligations in the first place. Passage of the $115 million increase in KPERS contributions fulfills a promise made when earlier payments were withheld.

Legislators who- in the past- supported the failed Brownback tax experiment are responsible for the actions taken since 2012. These actions have harmed KPERS and now require the state to make up for funding withheld to pay for the devastation caused by irresponsible tax policy. We wonder, where was the concern for KPERS when these conservative leaders created and supported the agenda of Sam Brownback that drove Kansas to the verge of bankruptcy?

Legislators who refused to expand KanCare as too costly and resisted school funding increases also worked diligently to bust the budget through tax cuts for multinational corporations and then, expanded KPERS payments. Such actions were intended to score political points and craft campaign postcards. These legislators – who voted to withhold KPERS payments in the past – now want to paint themselves as the saviors of the system and attack the Governor.

In 2017, the legislature reversed much of the failed Brownback tax experiment to put the state back on the path to prosperity. While much progress has been made, the state is still not in a position to consider new expenditures which do not address the core obligations of the state – public education, public safety, infrastructure, and the needs of the working poor and foster children.

Governor Kelly’s veto of the additional $51 million for KPERS is in line with her commitment to recovery and budget stability. The best long-term solution for both KPERS and the state is to ensure stability in the budget. Without such long-term stability, Kansas cannot manage a quality foster care system, provide safe working conditions in our corrections system, maintain good roads and highways, or control the spiraling costs of higher education.

Still, our long-standing and unwavering commitment to retirement security for current and future retirees makes us wish that such an action was unnecessary. We call upon the legislature to renew its commitment to the people of Kansas and resist the effort to compromise the state’s ability to pay for the core services upon which all Kansans depend.

That is why we applaud Governor Kelly’s veto of two bills cutting taxes for the wealthiest individuals and multinational corporations. We understand the rationale for the veto of this additional KPERS contribution, but we would remind all that an investment in retirement security is an investment in our economy. Unlike multinational corporations that continually threaten to leave our state, public employees, secure in their retirement years, will stay in Kansas and spend their retirement benefits within the Kansas economy.

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Tell Gov. Kelly – Stop the Corporate Tax Giveaway!

May 15, 2019 by

Tell Gov. Kelly – Stop the Corporate Tax Giveaway!

We need your help today to protect Kansas’ tomorrow.

After their earlier attempts failed, the Kansas Legislature returned in the final days of the 2019 session to pass a new tax bill. Now known as CCR for HB 2033, this legislation retains harmful corporate tax giveaways and costs a quarter-billion dollars over three years.  

That’s a quarter-billion dollars less to keep Kansas on the road to recovery after years of damaging fiscal policy.

Gov. Laura Kelly has already voiced concerns about the bill, but now she should hear from you. Please let the governor know you want her to veto HB 2033

This revised legislation directs 84 percent of its benefits in the first year to corporations. And while it now includes a variety of other tax provisions, it still mostly benefits those who are doing the very best in our economy. 

Tell Gov. Kelly to stand up for every single Kansan, not just powerful business interests. 

Governing is about priorities and choices. When the chips were down, the Legislature didn’t expand KanCare, which would have helped some 150,000 Kansans with affordable health insurance. They decided to pass this costly tax plan instead.

The governor has an important chance now to say what matters to her. Main Street or Wall Street? Individual Kansans or multinational corporations?

Tell her to veto HB 2033 now.

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Session ends; Sine Die set for May 29

May 7, 2019 by

Session ends; Sine Die set for May 29

Moderate Republicans abandon efforts on Medicaid/KanCare expansion

KanCare expansion – an effort to provide health care to 150,000 uninsured working Kansans – failed late on May 4 as moderate Republican members of the Kansas House of Representatives abandoned a bipartisan effort to force a vote on the issue in the Senate.

A coalition of Democrats, moderate Republicans, and even some conservative rural Kansas representatives vowed to hold the budget hostage until Senate President Susan Wagle and Majority Leader Jim Denning allowed the full Senate to vote on HB 2066, the bill that would expand KanCare.

While more than 70% of Kansans and majorities in both the House and Senate support expansion, four recalcitrant legislators – Wagle, Denning, House Speaker Ron Ryckman, and House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins – oppose it and have used their power to control what bills will be allowed to be debated to stymie the will of the Legislature and the electorate.

When the House dug in on the issue, voting repeatedly to not adopt the budget but send it back to conference, Wagle, Denning, Ryckman and Hawkins tried to punish them by cutting vital parts of the budget. Their tactic didn’t work. But neither would Wagle nor Denning allow a vote.

Eventually Denning promised that the Senate would take the issue up in January of next year. With this “promise,” moderate House Republicans abandoned the effort and voted to approve the budget leaving only the Democrats along with moderate Republican Diana Dierks and conservative Republicans Jesse Burris, Randy Garber, Michael Houser, and Trevor Jacobs voting NO. Garber and Jacobs represent communities (Horton and Fort Scott respectively) in which hospitals have been forced to close in part due to the state’s failure to expand KanCare.

Sadly, the working poor now have their fate in the hands of a man, Jim Denning, who has suggested to the press that insurance isn’t that helpful (he says his wife almost died and she has insurance) and that the poor can just go to the emergency room if they have a problem. And Denning has used his position as Majority Leader to fight against expansion at every turn. Yet, we are supposed to trust that he will make sure it comes up for a vote in January.

While HB 2066 – the expansion bill – has passed the House and so continues to be “alive” for the 2020 session, we can expect Denning and the other anti-expansion leaders in the Senate to seek the addition of “poison pills” to the bill in their attempt to kill it. And of course the addition of just one amendment to the bill would make it subject to a conference committee which would be made up of four anti-expansion Republicans and two pro-expansion Democrats.

Given Denning’s “promise,” this would be our expectation – that the Senate put HB 2066 on the floor for a vote in January and that the bill will be on the Governor’s desk for her signature by February 1. This is only possible if Denning keeps his word and if moderate Republicans stand up firmly and demand that Wagle, Denning, Ryckman, and Hawkins stop their obstructionism.

Multi-National Corporations are the big winners

Picking winners and losers in the actions of this Legislature is easy.

The working poor lost – they will go at least another year without health care.

Multi-national corporations and the highest earning individuals are the winners. At the end of the session, the House and Senate adopted HB 2033, a somewhat watered down version of the massive corporate tax cut vetoed earlier in the session by Governor Laura Kelly. The bill will cost the state about $245 million over three years.

Some in the Legislature are trying to focus on a provision in the bill dealing with sales tax on groceries. Don’t be fooled – while this bill could reduce the sales tax on food, it is not guaranteed because a reduction in the food sales tax is tied to increases in collections of the compensating use tax. It those collections go up, the food sales tax might come down. If all the assumptions made in crafting the bill turn out to be correct, the food sales tax could drop from 6.5% today to 6.0% in 2021 and then to 5.4% in 2022.

So the bill contains guarantees for multi-national corporations and wishes for the rest of us. But it passed 83 to 41 in the House with one Republican (Pannbacker) voting NO and one Democrat (Pittman) voting YES and 27 to 13 in the Senate with two Republicans (Pilcher-Cook and Skubal) joining all the Democrats in voting NO.

We have yet to see if Governor Kelly vetoes this bill or not.

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House digs in on Medicaid expansion demanding a Senate vote!

May 4, 2019 by

With Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) and Majority Leader Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) steadfastly refusing the allow a vote on KanCare (Medicaid) expansion in the Senate even though it is supported by a majority of Senators, House Democrats and Moderate Republicans have decided to take a stand.

Yesterday they united behind a motion by Don Hineman (R-Dighton) to send the budget back to conference clearly with the intent of holding passage of the budget until the Senate takes a vote on expansion. A coalition of Democrats, moderate Republicans, and some more conservative Republicans from rural areas voted 63 to 61 to send the budget back to conference.

Watching from the gallery one soon saw Wagle and Denning cross the House floor and disappear back into the offices of House leadership. Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) and Majority Leader Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) are also opponents of expansion.

The decision from leadership was then to punish the House by slashing spending in the budget by about $30 million, reducing funding for Regents institutions, a program for improving health care access, a task force charged with helping keep children and families together, and Larned State Hospital. We imagine the idea was to show the members of the House that if they stuck to their position, leadership would force them to accept a worse budget bill.

Well, if that was the idea – that you could scare the House into backing down and accepting the obstructionism of Wagle and Denning – they badly misread the chamber. This time the budget was rejected on a vote of 42 to 81.

The challenge for Wagle, Denning, Ryckman, and Hawkins who are working hard to block majorities in both chambers from passing KanCare expansion is that the Legislature must pass a budget. They cannot adjourn without a budget.

After the second defeat, budget negotiators went back late last night and restored the cuts they had made in the second conference committee report. Now there is a budget that the majority will support if the Senate will agree to vote on KanCare expansion. Both chambers adjourned for the night after 10:00 and will return this morning, the House at 10:00 and the Senate at 11:00.

KanCare expansion will provide health care to as many as 150,000 uninsured Kansans at a cost of about $57 million to the state, much of which is offset by a small premium cost that was added when the bill passed the House. The federal government will pay 90% of the cost of expansion. Since the program was created under the Affordable Care Act, Kansas has turned away over $3 billion in federal money that would have provided health care for the working poor. Thirty-six states, including some solidly Republican states, have already adopted expansion. Polls show over 70% of Kansans support expansion and a majority of Kansas legislators in both chambers support expansion. It is the recalcitrance of Wagle, Denning, Ryckman, and Hawkins that is stopping Kansas from adopting expansion.

Why is expansion important:

  • Economic growth – KanCare expansion will help stimulate the economy and create thousands of jobs. A study by George Washington University found that expanding KanCare would create 3,500–4,000 new jobs in the next five years.
  • It is a Kansas-based solution – Each state that expands its program can tailor it to the state’s particular needs. Among the features Kansas could draw on are requirements that beneficiaries share the costs of premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, incentives for healthy behaviors, and referral to job training for those who might need it.
  • It protects access to care, especially in rural areas – When Mercy Hospital in Independence closed in October 2015, thousands of people lost nearby access to emergency care, surgery, and other health care services; 190 people lost jobs. Effects of the closure are felt throughout the community.
  • It helps 150,000 hardworking Kansans who cannot afford coverage– These are our family members, friends, and fellow Kansans who don’t make enough money to afford quality health insurance but have incomes that are too high to qualify for KanCare. Most are employed and many work multiple jobs to provide for their families. These are Kansans stuck in the coverage gap, with no affordable insurance options.
  • It helps thousands of uninsured military veterans and their families– About 7,400 veterans and their spouses would gain access to quality, affordable health care coverage with KanCare expansion. Veterans often do not have automatic and easy access to health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs, despite their service to our country.
  • It controls health insurance costs – Without KanCare expansion, the state’s uninsured will continue to forego necessary health care or seek it in the most expensive place — the emergency room. So long as thousands of working Kansans remain uninsured, the health care they inevitably need but cannot afford ends up raising the costs of health care for others in the state — employers, hospitals, local governments, and privately insured individuals and families.

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