Session adjourned, but what have we truly accomplished?

Apr 7, 2017 by

The Legislature has adjourned the regular session and your representatives are headed for home. The House, which was last to adjourn, was out by 11:54 am. Legislators will be home the rest of April and return to Topeka for the veto session – more commonly these days called the wrap-up session.


The biggest issues of the 2017 session remain unresolved.

  • They did pass a budget but it does not balance.
  • They failed to pass tax reform that will fund our vital state services going forward.
  • They have not yet passed a new school finance formula although it is assembled and awaits a vote in committee in May to send it to the floor for consideration.
  • They failed to expand Medicaid, denying 150,000 Kansans access to health care.

Their accomplishments? They successfully defended the National Rifle Association by ensuring that come July 1, 2017, Kansas community colleges, tech colleges, and universities will be wide open for firearms. Anyone can carry a firearm on any post-secondary campus at any time unless the campus can provide metal detectors and security staff at entrances. It didn’t matter that parent organizations, student organizations, faculty and college administration – even General Richard B. Myers, the retired military hero and current president of Kansas State University – wanted the law changed to allow campuses to control weapons. It only mattered that the NRA wants our campuses to be open to all guns all the time.  

The last attempt to address the guns on campus issue happened on Tuesday, April 4, when Rep. Jim Ward (R-Wichita) made a motion to bring a related gun bill to the floor for debate. Ward’s motion failed when it only got 44 votes. All 40 Democrats voted to bring the issue to the floor for debate; they were joined by only four Republicans – Rep. Shelee Brim (R-Shawnee), Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park), Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway), and Rep. Tom Sloan (R-Lawrence).

They also successfully declared pornography to be a public health issue in Kansas and prohibited Kansas from doing business with any company that is boycotting Israel.

Brownback State of the State

So, despite the reality in Kansas today – a reality in which Gov. Brownback remains the most unpopular governor in the United States with overwhelming public opposition to the tax disaster he forced upon Kansas in 2012 – the legislature has been unable to muster enough votes to override his vetoes of reasonable tax reform and the expansion of Medicaid, leaving Brownback to believe his ideology and policies are invincible. He will continue to cling to his failed policies as long as the legislature remains unwilling to stand up for their constituents.

The attitude of the obstructionists in the legislature can best be seen in the comments and votes of Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita). After voting to sustain the Governor’s veto of Medicaid expansion, she told the press that the state just did not have the money to do this. Yet earlier in the session, Landwehr voted NO on HB 2178, the first comprehensive tax reform bill that would have reversed much of the Brownback disaster. And she then voted NO on the motion to override his veto of that bill. The argument that the state does not have the money would sound more honest if she had actually joined with those who were trying to solve the money problem.

While HB 2178 would have been a great step in the right direction, with the subsequent Supreme Court ruling in the Gannon school finance case, we know now that it would not have gone far enough. Since then, the legislature has done nothing serious to return to common sense tax policy. They have sent out bills to raise cigarette and liquor taxes, they have thought about motor fuels tax increases, and yesterday after the Governor expressed support for a “flat tax” bill, the Senate defeated that bill on a vote of 3-37. KNEA opposes the flat tax bill because it radically raised taxes on low and middle-income Kansans while essentially protecting the wealthiest. The flat tax bill would have been a massive tax increase on lower income individuals and a minor tax increase on the wealthiest.

There is a way out of this disaster but it takes some courage. Some legislators are now floating the idea of repealing the 2012 tax cuts and going back to the income tax as it was before Brownback conned the legislature into passing his disastrous experiment. These legislators would end the glide path to zero, and put 330,000 businesses back on the tax rolls while reinstating their business loss deduction. They would reinstate the third tax bracket on higher income individuals while providing middle-class relief by reinstating deductions for child and dependent care, medical expenses, and home mortgage interest.

A proposal of this sort would raise enough revenue to bring our state back from the abyss and allow the legislature to stop robbing the highway fund, to respond appropriately to the Gannon decision, and even expand Medicaid.

We are well past the time for gimmicks and protecting a failed Governor. When the legislature returns on May 1 their first order of business needs to be reversing the failed tax policies of 2012 and 2013. And they need to find the resolve to stand up to the bully on the second floor in order to save this great state.

Your legislators will be back home from now until May 1. It is critical that they hear from their constituents; from Kansans who want good roads, excellent schools, and support for those facing difficult challenges. Tell your legislators that you’ve had enough of the Brownback experiment. It is a failed experiment and it is time to reverse it.

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K-12 Committee Finishes Finance Plan Bill

Apr 5, 2017 by

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee met this afternoon to finish their amendments to HB 2410. They began with opening comments by Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe). Campbell said it was his intention to finish the amendment/debate work today but not to pass the bill out of committee. Instead, he hopes that the three-week legislative break in April will allow stakeholder groups, other legislators, legislative counsel, and the revisor’s office to thoroughly digest the bill. The Committee will then meet at the start of the veto session in May and “kick it out” of committee.

The first amendment to be taken up was Rep. Adam Smith’s (R-Weskan) amendment on transportation that was on hold since last week. Working with the Department of Education, Smith adjusted his amendment such that an algebra issue is fixed but he added a hold harmless provision so no districts lose money. About 25 districts will gain. The amendment was adopted. KNEA supports a hold harmless provision.

The next amendment adopted was from Rep. Jim Karleskint (R-Tonganoxie). It changed the corporate tuition tax credit program so that eligible students would have to be from one of the schools in the lowest quartile of student achievement as determined by the KSDE. This would triple the number of schools from which eligible students may be chosen. With other amendments adopted last week, the program would limit eligible students to those direct certified by DCF as in poverty and limit receiving private schools to accredited schools that outperform the state average on either post-secondary success or ACT composite scores. KNEA opposes expansion of eligible schools and supports limiting schools to SBOE accredited schools; KNEA supports repeal of the program in its entirety.

Next were a series of amendments offered by Clay Aurand (R-Belleville). The first would disallow virtual students from out of district to be counted for the calculation of assessed valuation per pupil. This would reduce capital outlay and LOB aid (more on that in a minute) because only resident students would count in the calculation and would save the state about $3.8 million. This amendment was adopted.

Next Aurand moved to distribute the $3.8 million in savings over to career and technical education programs. This amendment failed.

Aurand’s next amendment, which passed, changes the name of the LOB from “Local Option Budget” to “Local Foundation Budget.” He asserted that this more accurately represents the fact that the LOB morphed from extra money to de facto base aid. So the LOB (mentioned above) will now be called the LFB if the bill passes.

A subsequent amendment by Aurand to require an election for any LFB funding above 30% (the last 3%) failed on a vote of 7 to 9.

With all of these amendments now disposed of, they got on to the big issue – the setting of the base state aid per pupil.

Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway) moved to set the base at $4040/pupil in the first year at a cost of $172 million. The base would be increased by $200 per pupil in each of the succeeding 4 years at a cost of $150 million per year. This would be a total increase of $772 million over five years. There was an 8 to 8 tie vote which was broken by the Chairman who voted no. The motion failed.

Rooker then moved to set the base at $4006/pupil in the first year at a cost of $150 million. The base would be increased by $200/pupil in each of the succeeding 4 years at a cost of $150 million per year. This would be a total increase of $750 million over five years. This motion was adopted by a vote of 9 to 6.

With the bill finished, Campbell announced that the final written product would be available sometime over the next couple of days and posted on the KSDE website along with cost runs developed by the Department.


Governor Inserting Himself in Tax Debate

The news out today on the tax reform debate is that the Governor – who created the disastrous tax experiment that has left Kansas on the brink of bankruptcy – has decided to create a new tax plan.

Word was that this plan would include keeping two brackets and mixing in a little cigarette and liquor taxes. No word on his intentions on the LLC loophole or the glide path to zero but we assume he would not dare to reverse his signature tax policies. His plan was to skirt the full Senate and House and send his plan straight to a tax conference committee, letting only six legislators have any real say in the plan.

That did not go over well with any members of the Republican caucus. Senators on the conservative and moderate sides of the caucus both blasted the idea of cutting them out of the discussion.

Now the Governor has announced that he would sign a flat tax bill should the legislature send him one. Of course, a flat tax punishes middle and low-income Kansans for the benefit of the wealthy (MORE HERE) and would do nothing to solve the disaster brought on by the Governor’s last tax plan.

Kansas needs tax reform that will reverse the Governor’s failed experiment. End the glide path to zero, repeal the LLC loophole, re-establish the third tax bracket for upper-income Kansans. Kansas desperately needs revenue to put highway maintenance back on track, to hire correctional officers and highway patrol officers, to fund the social service safety net, and to respond appropriately to the Supreme Court decision on school finance. No plan proposed yet this session would do this.

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War on Teachers is Not Over Yet

Mar 28, 2017 by

More Disrespect for Kansas Teachers

Senators Susan Wagle and Jim Denning

Once again the anti-teacher conservative extremists have abused their power to punish Kansas teachers.

Today leadership in the Senate – Jim Denning, specifically and with the support of Susan Wagle – abruptly withdrew a bill from the debate calendar when they realized an amendment that would restore due process was going to be offered and would almost certainly pass.  We’ve seen this before, this session (click here).  Remember it was Denning and Wagle who sided with Governor Brownback choosing to vote against a veto override on badly needed tax reform, and only after assuring others that they wouldn’t.  Today it was crystal clear that Denning and Wagle are perfectly happy to continue their war on teachers.

Wagle led the effort to repeal due process at 4:00 am back in 2014 through a series of floor amendments on a school funding bill. Wagle and Denning, who have worked for years to diminish the teaching profession took it upon themselves today to once again demonstrate their disrespect for the men and women who teach our children.

Wagle and Denning are the primary advocates of the anti-teacher agenda in Topeka and have personally been leading a war on teachers for years. It is thanks to actions like pulling a bill that was almost certain to pass, just to spite teachers, that the teacher shortage in Kansas has become worse with each passing year.  We know that teachers are retiring in droves while enrollment in teacher preparation programs is in sharp decline.  Education Commissioner Randy Watson has told the education committees that teachers in Kansas feel under attack and disrespected by legislators and that teacher morale is at an all-time low. Wagle, Denning, and their allies are the reason why.

Subverting the democratic process, is subverting due process.  There is no darker irony than purposely muting due process by withholding a bill meant to restore due process for teachers.

You can weigh in on this abuse of the democratic process. Jim Denning serves as the majority leader in the Kansas Senate. He knows that the amendment was coming; he also knows the amendment was likely to pass. Rather than letting there be a vote, he chose to shut down the process. You can let Senator Denning know that you are watching this behavior and that you expect better. Email or call Senator Denning. Tell him to bring HB 2126 back up for debate and amendment.

Email is  Jim.denning@senate.ks.gov. His office phone number is 785-296-2497. As always, be respectful but remember that Denning, like all elected officials, works for you.

Read more about Jim Denning’s attacks on public education here:  http://www.standupbluevalley.org/kansas-senate-district-8


K-12 Budget Committee Cancelled for Today

We had expected the K-12 Education Budget Committee to begin working HB 2410, a school finance bill, this afternoon but the committee meeting was cancelled. Why? We can only speculate.

Support for the bill seems rather weak and it may be that leadership is trying to come up with a strategy to pursue in getting it – or something very like it – passed. It might also be that the Chairman is simply allowing his committee members and the revisor, Jason Long, more time to write amendments. We expect there will be a lot of amendments.

This is when you should all keep people like Jason in your thoughts! He will be at work writing amendments almost 24/7! Lobbyists and legislators alike are very appreciative of the efforts of the hardworking legislative research staff and the office of the Revisor of Statutes.


Senate Approves Medicaid Expansion; Now It’s Up to the Governor

The Senate today gave final action approval to HB 2044, the bill which expands Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. It was approved on a vote of 25-14. Yesterday, five amendments offered by Mary Pilcher-Cook and Dennis Pyle that would have done everything from prohibiting Medicaid expenditures for family planning to denying Medicaid to anyone living in a town that has adopted a “sanctuary city” were all defeated.

The bill then was approved by the Senate in the same form in which it passed the House. That means the bill will not be subject to a conference committee and instead go directly to the Governor.

A statement issued by the Governor’s office indicates his opposition to Medicaid expansion but stopped short of saying he would veto the bill. We’ll see.

 

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Schools, Medicaid, and Grinding Toward the End

Mar 27, 2017 by

School Finance Hearing Finishes; No Work Yet

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee met today and concluded three days of hearings on HB 2410, the Chairman’s bill on school finance. We have been there all three days and don’t believe we heard any proponents for the bill with the exception of a virtual school organization that rose to express support for only that portion of the bill and had no position on anything else.

Based on Chairman Larry Campbell’s (R-Olathe) previous comments, we had assumed that the committee might begin working the bill after the hearing ended but instead Campbell adjourned the committee after announcing that tomorrow’s meeting would be “on the call of the chair.” So tomorrow we will be waiting for an announcement from the floor of the House as to whether or not the committee will meet.


KanCare and Medicaid Expansion

Rep. Cindy Holscher (D-Overland Park) offered an amendment to HB 2047 to add an independent ombudsman for KanCare. Currently, if denied services, one can appeal only to the very board that denied the service. This was one of the issues raised in the highly critical federal review of KanCare that found serious problems with the Kansas system. The amendment failed 49-73. In other words, the Kansas House voted once again to deny a due process appeal, this time by persons with serious medical issues being denied services by the Colyer/Brownback health care system.

Also this afternoon, Medicaid expansion is being debated on the Senate floor. It has already passed the House with 81 votes and chances are good that it will pass the Senate after what is expected to be a lengthy debate. One of arguments most used by the opponents of expansion – the move by congressional Republicans and Donald Trump to repeal the Affordable Care Act – has been neutered by the failure of “Trumpcare” in Congress last week and the statement by House Speaker Paul Ryan that “Obamacare is the law of the land for the foreseeable future.”

UPDATE: Medicaid expansion passes the Senate 25-13 but still two votes shy of a veto-proof margin.  Here’s how your Senator voted courtesy of Topeka Capital-Journal Reporter, Celia Llopis-Jepsen (interactive map):  CLICK HERE

 


Mostly Floor Action This Week; Conference Committees Next Week

This week has very few committee meetings scheduled. Instead, both chambers will convene earlier in the day to debate bills that have come out of committee with the intention of finishing such work by Thursday, Friday at the latest. This will reserve next week for conference committees to work out the differences between House and Senate versions of the same bill and then adopting or rejecting those conference committee reports.

The last day for the regular session is April 7. Legislators will then go home for three weeks, reconvening for the veto session on May 1.

 

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New Finance Bill? Not Yet.

Mar 20, 2017 by

No New School Finance Bill Today

We suppose the “Chairman’s Bill” on school finance, which we expected to be unveiled in committee today is not yet ready. Today’s meeting of the K-12 Education Budget Committee was canceled.

There are meetings scheduled for Tuesday through Friday, so hopefully, we’ll get our first look tomorrow.


Senate Committee Hears Proponents of Medicaid Expansion

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee today held the first part of a two-part hearing on HB 2044, the bill expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Earlier this session, Medicaid expansion was blocked by the House Committee chairman but Rep. Susan Concannon (R-Beloit) brought an amendment on the House floor that put it in another related bill. Concannon’s amendment was adopted on a voice vote and the amended bill was passed with a strong majority (81-44).

Opponents of expansion will have their day before the Senate committee tomorrow.

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A Wonderful Opportunity for Educators

Mar 18, 2017 by

Spend Spring Break Under the Dome!

While some of our readers have already had their spring break, many schools are off for spring break next week. And coincidentally, next week is a big week for school finance under the dome.

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee is expected to receive the “Chairman’s Bill” on Monday and the rest of the week will be a review of the bill and the public hearings will begin. This committee meets every day next week and while the agenda says “to be announced,” we know they will be reviewing the bill and holding public hearings. This could be a great opportunity for you to meet with the legislators writing the new formula!

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee meets from 1:30 until about 3:30 in room 346-S, the old Supreme Court Room.

But wait! There’s more!

The Senate Select Committee on School Finance met for the first time yesterday and they plan to meet on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of next week. This is the committee tasked by Senate leadership to come up with the Senate school finance plan.

On Tuesday, Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis will review the current and previous formulas with them. On Wednesday they will learn about bond and interest state aid, supplemental general state aid, and transportation weighting from Scott Frank of the Legislative Post Audit Division. On Thursday some school districts will educate them on the local district budget building process.

Again, these are wonderful opportunities for you to see the discussion up close and personal! This committee meets from 1:00 until 2:30 in room 144-S.

Your lobbyists will be there and would love to see you! Are you willing to take one day of your spring break to let legislators know that you are following their actions? While you are here, you can tour the capital and make the climb to the top of the dome! Bring the kids! See the legislature in action!

Look for KNEA lobbyist Mark Desetti in the House Committee and KNEA lobbyist Terry Forsyth in the Senate Committee.

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