Approaching Turn-around & The Continuing Saga of Due Process

Feb 16, 2018 by

Almost Halfway Home

It’s a pro forma day under the dome which means legislators did a quick check in this morning, then headed for home.

Monday will be the last day for committee hearings with Tuesday marking the lead up to “turn around” – the time by which bills must pass the chamber of origin in order to be debated in the second chamber. The exception is for bills that are in time-line exempt committees. Those committees are House and Senate Federal and State Affairs, Senate Ways and Means, Senate Assessment and Taxation, and the House committees on Calendar and Printing, Appropriations, and Taxation. A bill can also be “saved” by being referred by leadership to an exempt committee.

Both chambers will spend Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday on the floor trying to pass whatever bills they have available before they begin the turn around break on Friday. The second half of the session will begin on Wednesday, February 28.

A few legislators will not get Friday off, however. Dr. Lori Taylor who has been hired to conduct the new school finance cost study will be in Topeka to meet with members of the House K-12 Budget Committee and the Senate Select Committee on School Finance with whom she will discuss the cost study. The study is expected to be delivered on March 15, a full two weeks past the deadline for a school finance the Attorney General requested at the beginning of the session.

As of today, no bills dealing with any part of school finance have advanced.

“Konspiring” with Kobach?

House Higher Education Budget Chairman Kevin Jones (R-Wellsville) surprised everyone (everyone that is except Kris Kobach) by rescheduling a hearing on HB 2643 from next Monday to yesterday. The last-minute change meant that many opponents of the bill had not had the opportunity to sign up as conferees. Kobach seemed to be the one person who knew about the change.

HB 2643 would disallow in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrants and use the savings to provide post-secondary tuition relief for foster children. As a reminder in-state tuition rates for the children of undocumented immigrants are only available to children who have graduated from a Kansas high school, have been in the country for at least three years, and sign an affidavit of their intent to pursue citizenship as soon as they are able.

While KNEA would normally rejoice over a bill to provide tuition assistance to foster children, we cannot support one that also puts post-secondary education out of reach of other young people.

With general outrage of the sudden change of times, Jones decided to continue the hearing on Monday. KNEA will submit testimony at that time.

What Happened with Due Process Yesterday?

Well, nothing. Committee Chair Clay Aurand canceled the scheduled meeting of the House Education Committee and announced that there would be a committee meeting on Monday for the express purpose of dealing with due process.

This gives you the opportunity over the weekend to call and email the members of the House Education Committee and let them know that the real option is to call upon Clay Aurand and Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) to let HB 2578 to come up for action on the House floor. It sits available for action at this time.

This bill makes improvements to the statute on school district bullying plans and restores due process to all Kansas teachers. There is no need to pass any other bullying or due process bills out of committee. Let them take up the one that is already on the floor and put both issues to rest in the House of Representatives. Once that is done we can get on with the business of passing a school funding fix that will satisfy the Supreme Court and keep our schools open.

House Education Committee Members (*denotes those who voted YES to pass an amendment to the bullying bill which restores due process for K-12 teachers).  Click to view contact information for each member.

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Vouchers, New Bills, & Changes in Leadership

Feb 5, 2018 by

Rep. Brenda Landwehr

Vouchers disguised as “scholarships?”

The House has a voucher bill, introduced in the Appropriations Committee by Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita). This bill called the “Kansas Empowerment Scholarship Act, HB 2609, would allow a parent to sign an agreement with the State Treasurer promising to not enroll a child in the local public school. For this, the state would put 80% of the base aid that would have been spent on the child into a special fund and use that money to reimburse the parent for education expenses at a “participating learning entity.” And yes, that entity could be a homeschool providing the homeschool is registered with the State Department of Education. There would be no accountability measures on “participating learning entities.”

The Senate has a scholarship bill as well, but it’s not a voucher proposal per se. Senate bill 366, the Student Opportunity Scholarship Act, introduced at the request of Sen. Mike Petersen (R-Wichita), provides that if a student in a public high school graduates by September 20 of what would be his/her senior year, then 95% of base aid that would have been sent to the USD for that student will be used as a post-secondary scholarship provided the student is enrolled in a Kansas public post-secondary institution or a private post-secondary institution that is accredited and has a physical presence in Kansas. The other 5% of base aid would go to the school district from which the student graduated.

New Bills Introduced on Last Day for Committee Bill Introductions

Two new bills were introduced in the House K-12 Education Budget Committee today. Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) introduced a bill changing the multiplier in the transportation formula for students living more than 2.5 miles from home. Aurand told the committee this was intended to be in line with a recommendation from Post Audit.

Rep. Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) introduced a new school finance formula bill. We will be anxious to see what’s in this one. It’s the first new finance bill of the session.

Four new bills were introduced in the House Education Committee. Aurand introduced two bills; one dealing with the transfer of territory between districts and the other is a “building finance transparency act.” This bill, according to his explanation deals with letting people know how money goes from the central office to the school and is spent.

Rep. Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) introduced a bill on access to ABA therapy for students with autism. This is an issue Schwab fought for last year and in withdrawing it from consideration in the school finance bill last year, he was promised a hearing on the idea in Aurand’s education committee this year.

Finally, Rep. Brett Parker (D-Overland Park) introduced a bill dealing with disclosure on gifts and grants to post-secondary institutions.

None of these bills are available for reading at this time. We expect them in the next few days.

Campbell Out, Patton In

Rep. Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) has resigned his seat in the legislature to take the position of Budget Director in the Colyer administration. Campbell has served as chairman of the K-12 Education Budget Committee. House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) appointed Rep. Fred Patton (R-Topeka) to replace Campbell as chair of the committee. We still do not know who will be taking Campbell’s committee seat.

Campbell was a fair and even-handed committee leader (facilitator, he liked to say) and we would expect Patton to lead in a very similar fashion.

Congratulations to both men. It will be up to precinct committee chairs in Campbell’s district to choose his successor.

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Big Gun Debate; Perhaps a Late Education Meeting

Jun 1, 2017 by

The House this morning did not concur in the Senate changes to HB 2186 (a House judiciary bill turned into a Senate school finance bill) and so a conference committee has now been formed. This action allows the work of putting together what will likely be the last school finance bill of the regular session.

With the Senate embroiled in a gun bill debate, the conference committee plans to meet today. It may be just a preliminary meeting as the House will reconvene at 5:00 to take up the newly passed gun bill.


Now, about that gun bill…

The Senate debated Senate Sub for House Bill 2278 which would allow state hospitals to ban firearms. This issue has been a hot topic all session and wrapped up in it additionally have been attempts also to allow colleges to ban firearms. The Governor and hard right conservatives passed a law a few years ago that opened essentially every public area in the state – colleges, municipal buildings, state hospitals, etc.  – along with “constitutional carry” that allows the carrying of concealed firearms without a permit or training (although both still exist).

The law prohibits state hospitals from disallowing weapons on their premises unless all entrances are secured with metal detectors and security personnel. The cost for such security exceeds $24 million annually.  It wasn’t until the Governor learned of these costs that there was a sudden cry to change the law as it relates to hospitals.   Sadly, the Governor and his NRA allies have no concern whatsoever about the cost to colleges and universities, so adding colleges to the bill protecting hospitals would jeopardize the attempt to help the hospitals.

The bill came to the floor with only the change for hospitals and a plea from Senator McGinn (R-Sedgwick), who was carrying the bill on the floor, to please not add amendments for fear of losing the bill entirely. Supporters of banning guns from colleges agreed to support the bill as-is while noting their desire to take the fight for colleges forward.

Of course, the NRA objected strongly to banning weapons from our state mental hospitals but sensing support for the effort, NRA lobbyists wrote an amendment that would allow guns in the hospital parking lots and reception areas. Further, the NRA amendment would require that, if a hospital wished to ban guns beyond reception, it would have to provide secure gun lockers. Senator Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) offered the NRA amendment and remarkably in her closing remarks actually said, “The NRA chose to allow us” to adopt their amendment.

The Senate rallied behind Senator McGinn and the hospitals and defeated the NRA-written amendment on a vote of 16 to 24.

Senator Masterson (R-Andover) then offered an amendment to allow colleges to ban firearms also noting when questioned, that he would not support such an amendment. This was a cynical offer, intended to get supporters of the colleges to vote against the amendment to protect the underlying bill. Alternatively, Masterson was working from the knowledge that if the amendment were approved, the underlying bill would likely be defeated or vetoed and the NRA would carry the day. The Masterson amendment failed on a vote of 5 to 29.

Senator Alley (R-Arkansas City) offered an amendment to get gun safety programs based on the NRA’s “Eddie Eagle” program into Kansas public schools. His amendment was ruled non-germane and so was not considered.

As the debate was winding down, Senator Olson (R-Olathe) made the argument that everyone should be allowed to carry guns anywhere they want whenever they want on the off chance that a bad guy might be there. He made the point that he thought this happened once in his district back in 1985 although he wasn’t entirely sure, but someone had told him. And for the second time, he asserted that these killings only happen in “gun-free” zones because the bad guys wander the streets looking for “no guns” signs.  He also explained that people die in KU Med all the time.

Olson then made a motion to dual refer the bill back to both Ways and Means and Federal and State Affairs, Fed and State Affairs being a more NRA-friendly committee. This tactic is often used to kill a bill. Both committees have to send it back to the floor, and it is sent to one that just won’t act. Olson’s motion failed on a vote of 11 to 27.

Senator Pilcher-Cook offered an amendment to prohibit colleges from adopting any regulations regarding guns or ammunition. They could, she said, put up signs telling students it might not be a good idea to carry ammo into a lab where it could explode. This amendment failed on a voice vote.

The bill was approved on a final action vote and upon final action- done immediately- the bill was passed by a vote of 24 to 16.

KNEA supports a safe learning environment for all students. Part of this is allowing the colleges and universities to make the determination about the carrying of weapons for themselves and in the best interests of their students, staff, and community.

 

 

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Short Days; No Movement on Taxes or School Funding also NRA’s Hired Legislative-guns Fire Back & Agreement Reached on Working After Retirement

May 17, 2017 by

With the completion of the school finance bill (Sub for HB 2410) done Monday evening and a new proposal on taxes (complete repeal of the Brownback tax failure), things seem to have come to a block under the dome.

The school finance bill is ready but as of yet no debate has been set for the floor. And we have yet to see the tax proposal together.

The Senate Select Committee on Education Funding is already studying the House bill, having scheduled briefings on it and announcing today that there would be a hearing beginning tomorrow. So the Senate Committee is not wasting any time and working as if the bill has already passed. The interesting twist in this is that the bill we will be testifying on in the Senate is the one that came out of the House committee and there is a strong possibility that the bill will be changed dramatically in House floor debate. On the positive side, this speeds up the process a little bit.

We are of course wondering why the hold-up and can only speculate. Leadership may be debating whether to deal with taxes or schools first or perhaps they are trying to persuade enough Republicans to support the anemic bill that came out of committee. Whatever it is, we are in a holding pattern for right now so keep checking back here for updates.


Conservatives Block Effort to Give Colleges Control Over Guns

Brownback and his allies in the legislature who owe their allegiance to the National Rifle Association (NRA), passed legislation that allows guns to be carried just about anywhere by anyone at any time. This means that starting on July 1, 2017, anyone can carry a concealed weapon into a hospital including the state mental hospitals or in any building on any college campus. The only way they can be prohibited is if the hospital or college were to secure every entrance with metal detectors and security guards at an enormous cost to the institution.

How bad is it? Brownback, who happily signed the bill into law, suddenly found out what it did and asked the legislature to give him $24 million to secure the state hospitals so that guns could be prohibited. Can you imagine what it would cost to secure the University of Kansas or Kansas State or any of our other post-secondary institutions including community colleges?

Several attempts have been made this year to change the law to allow colleges and hospitals to have control over guns in their facilities and, despite there being overwhelming public support for keeping guns off campus – support from parents, students, faculty, and administration – the NRA has kept a tight control over the Kansas House and Senate.

Yesterday a bill came up in the Senate that would have blocked guns in the hospitals. An attempt by Senator Barbara Bollier (R-Mission Hills) to change the law for college campuses ran into a buzz-saw of NRA talking points leveled at her by Senator Ty Masterson (R-Andover), Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee), and Senator Rob Olson (R-Olathe). Olson maintained that more people are killed by cell phone usage in cars than all other causes of accidental death and noted that killers seek places with a “no guns” sign because they know they will be safe targets. He asserted that law enforcement can’t get to a scene quickly enough and that every law-abiding citizen ought to be able to pull out a handgun and fire back.

Olson then offered a motion to refer the bill back to the Federal and State Affairs Committee (one with a more NRA-friendly membership) but at that point Senator Vicki Schmidt (R-Topeka) offered a substitute motion to refer it back to the Ways and Means Committee from which it had originally come. Schmidt’s motion prevailed and the bill was sent back to committee.

Without further action, all community colleges, technical colleges, and universities in Kansas will become gun zones on July 1, 2017. Anyone will be permitted to carry a concealed weapon anywhere on campus at any time.  We believe this includes campus daycares and public health clinics operating as part of joint programs with colleges.  No permit will be required; no training will be required.


KPERS & Working After Retirement (W.A.R.)

The Conference Committee on Pensions has come to an agreement to simplify the requirements that address Working after Retirement for KPERS covered positions. The contents of the changes were put into House Substitute for Senate Bill 21.

The bill addresses the many issues that arose after the 2016 set of changes were implemented.

Our position is to simplify the rules governing W.A.R.  Additionally, the rules for W.A.R. must make it possible to put the best possible person in a KPERS covered position.  These changes reflect this position.  Below is a summary published by KPERS and would take effect January 1, 2018 if passed by the Legislature: 

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD KPERS SUMMARY

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School Finance! School Cuts?

Mar 15, 2017 by

Senate Likely to Debate Rescission Bill Tomorrow

Governor Brownback and Senator Susan Wagle

The rescission bill (Senate Sub for HB 2052) we discussed earlier this week will almost certainly be up for debate tomorrow afternoon in the Senate. The bill does not contain any cuts to state agencies but Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) told the press today that she intends to offer an amendment containing across the board cuts to state agencies for fiscal year 2017 (which ends on June 30) during the debate.

Wagle has not said what level those cuts might be except that they will be less than 5%. The Senate earlier was to consider a bill with a 5% cut to K-12 education but it was pulled from debate when it became clear it could never pass. Whatever the cuts turn out to be, if passed they will apply to both K-12 and higher education.

We do not believe there is support in the Senate for any cuts but it’s best to be ready!

TAKE ACTION NOW! CLICK HERE

More Discussion on School Finance Bill

The House K-12 Budget Committee has spent the last three days trying to come to a consensus on what will be in the “Chairman’s Bill” on school finance. Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) has announced that his bill will be ready early next week. He then plans to give a little time for it to be digested by the committee and stakeholders before holding hearings which he suggested may last several days.

So far it appears that the formula will be similar to the old formula – likely a base amount with weightings to get to special needs such as at-risk and bilingual students. There was some discussion about how those weightings should be calculated. Today there seemed to be a general consensus to stick with free lunch for at-risk although there could be an effort to create a “blended” formula combining free lunch with students receiving services through a Department of Children and Families program. There was also an effort today to add additional all-risk funding for students not meeting at least two of the KSDE at-risk indicators. This would be similar to the old “non-proficient” at risk. KNEA has been a strong proponent of this to ensure that students who live in wealthy communities but are not performing satisfactorily get the help they need to be successful.

Not much has been said about other parts of the old formula including capital outlay, new facilities weighting, and ancillary weighting. Also brought up in passing were declining enrollment weighting and cost of living weighting but there was little discussion. It is hard to tell if these will be included in the Chairman’s bill or not.

There was support today for all day Kindergarten and pre-school school readiness programs as well as mentoring for teachers and professional development.

Two contentious issues surfaced yesterday when Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) suggested an expansion of the tuition tax credit or voucher program and Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) suggested merit pay for teachers. Neither were discussed in depth.

Also unknown is how the bill might address accountability. Some believe accountability belongs with the State Board of Education and KSDE while others seem to want it addressed in the finance bill.

It is possible that this will be a bare-bones proposal. The Chairman told his committee members to feel free to prepare to offer any amendments they may have in mind.

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Guns on Campus & The Misunderstood Legend of Bernard P. Fife, Tuition Tax Credits, Pensions and more…

Mar 9, 2017 by

Guns on Campus Gets Another Hearing

The issue of allowing firearms on college and university campuses is a hot topic this year as post-secondary institutions approach a July 1, 2017, deadline by which they must install security measures (metal detectors and staff) at every entrance if they plan to prohibit concealed weapons on campus. As you can imagine, the cost of such security would be prohibitive making it almost a certainty that campuses will be open to guns beginning in July.

Bills have been introduced to repeal the deadline essentially allowing each institution to decide how to handle weapons on campus for themselves. Those bills had hearings earlier in the session and went nowhere.

But today the House Federal and State Affairs Committee held a hearing on HB 2220 which would prohibit post- secondary institutions from adopting any policies about firearms at all. Under this bill, anyone could carry a weapon anywhere on campus at any time – a kind of wild west approach to college campuses. And despite the fact that the institutions oppose the bill, student and faculty groups oppose the bill, and parent groups oppose the bill, the fact that the NRA was there to support it appears to carry more weight.

Rep. Ken Corbet (R-Topeka) tried to crack jokes about the situation saying that if Barney Fife had been allowed to keep his bullet in the chamber instead of his pocket, he could have stopped more crime.  Of course, most know that the bumbling but lovable character played by the late Don Knotts was prohibited from keeping a loaded weapon due to his penchant for misfiring his pistol.

No action was taken on the bill today.


Tuition Tax Credit (Voucher) Bill Hearing Postponed

The hearing on HB 2374, the expansion of the tuition tax credit or voucher bill, was canceled for tomorrow. It will be moved to Wednesday of next week. KNEA will be there to oppose the bill.


Senate Committee Working on Pensions

The Senate begins work on pensions in the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee chaired by Senator Jeff Longbine. The committee has begun pension work by hearing testimony from the Executive Director of KPERS Alan Conroy who reviewed the KPERS System with the committee (KPERS 101) and a review of Working After Retirement issues. The Senate committee will hear testimony next Wednesday regarding HB 2268 which is the House version of updates to Working After Retirement. The Senate committee will hear testimony on Tuesday of next week regarding their version of an update of Working After Retirement covered in SB 138. Look for summaries and current information next week in Under the Dome.


Long-time Education Research Staffer, Sharon Wenger, Retires

We are sad to say that Sharon Wenger, the Legislative Research Department’s staff member assigned to the education committees will be retiring after tomorrow. Anyone of you who has ever attended an education committee meeting in the statehouse would have seen Sharon answering questions and providing resource materials for committee members. It’s not only the legislators who love and admire Sharon, we lobbyists do as well. Her expertise, her demeanor, and her smile will be missed. And as jealous as we are, we can still manage to wish her well and thank her for her years of service to education in Kansas.

Sharon was honored today by the House Education and K-12 Education Budget Committee members.

 

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