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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How NOT to End the “Cycle of Litigation” and New Democrats in the Senate

Dec 12, 2018 by

Republican Leaders Want to Toss Out the Constitutional School Finance System?

If we had a dollar for every time that Republican leadership in the Kansas House and Senate last year said they want to “end the cycle of litigation over school finance,” we would be retired today.

Of course, back then we thought nothing of these statements because we, too, want to see an end to the cycle of litigation because that means our schools would be both adequately and equitably funded. That’s what everyone wants – or so we thought.

This is why it came as such a surprise when we read in the Wichita Eagle that House Speaker Ron Ryckman (R-Olathe) and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning (R-Overland Park) told an audience in Johnson County that they were interested in tossing out last year’s school finance plan and starting completely over. Why? According the the Eagle article, it’s because “Republican leaders are skeptical the state could pay for the change and say the funding plan may need to be changed instead.”

In essence, they don’t want to fund schools adequately.

Here’s what we know about last year’s plan and the status of the current school finance litigation:

In response to an earlier Supreme Court ruling that school funding was constitutionally both inadequate and inequitable, the Legislature passed bills in 2017 and 2018 that repealed the unconstitutional Brownback block grant funding scheme.

The Court subsequently ruled that the new formula met the equity test but was still somewhat short of adequacy. The adequacy ruling was based on the fact that the phased-in increases in school funding did not account for inflation. Evidence showed that inflation would eat up about $90 million of increased funding in the out years of the plan. Essentially, a $100 million funding increase next year would only be a $10 million increase in funding after accounting for inflation.

The Court directed the Legislature to return and deal with the inflation issue.

Given that the Wagle/Denning school funding study conducted by Dr. Lori Taylor found the state to be shortchanging schools by as much as $2 billion, the Court’s call for dealing with inflation only after the additional $525 million provided by the Legislature seems modest. But apparently, Republican leaders are not interested in meeting the Court ruling.

There are two ways currently to end the cycle of litigation.

One is to address the inflation issue in the out years of the 2018 legislation and then provide an ongoing mechanism to maintain the funding level so established.

The other is the Ryckman/Denning way which is to ban litigation. They would rather just pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting school finance lawsuits and then not worry whether schools are adequately funded at all.

We believe that the best approach for the Legislature to take in 2019 is to first leave the constitutional school funding formula alone – why mess with the good work done to get a constitutional formula written and passed?

Then, address the inflation issue in last year’s legislation. Thanks to the hard work the Legislature did in reversing the disastrous Brownback tax experiment, revenues are coming in better than expected and adding the inflation increase is affordable.

Finally, resist the temptation of prohibiting the public from going to court. All citizens must have the option to go to court if they feel aggrieved and the court system must not be politicized. We must honor our system of checks and balances under which the Legislature makes the laws but the citizens can ask the court to review whether or not those laws are constitutional. The proposed constitutional amendment is a slippery slope which could result in dismantling the very system our founders envisioned and established.

Click here to read the Wichita Eagle article.

Three New Democrats Coming to the Senate

The Senate Democratic Caucus will welcome three new members when they convene for the 2019 Legislative Session.

Two are replacements for newly elected Governor Laura Kelly and Lt. Governor Lynn Rogers.

Kelly, who is still technically the Kansas State Senator from SD 18 covering parts of Shawnee, Wabaunsee, and Pottawatomie Counties will be replaced by Vic Miller who is currently representing HD 58 in the Kansas House of Representatives. Rogers, currently the Kansas State Senator from SD 25 in Wichita, will be replaced by Mary Ware, a community activist from Wichita.

The third new Democratic Senator is a familiar face to those who watch the Kansas Legislature. Senator Barbara Bollier from Johnson County has switched party affiliations and will join the Democratic caucus. We can now officially say “Barbara Bollier (D-Mission Hills).”

With Bollier’s switch, the Democratic caucus increases by one member for 2019.

In a press release, Bollier had this to say of her decision, “I’ve been a proud Kansas Republican for 43 years. I always embraced the common-sense policies of Governor Bill Graves, US Senator Nancy Kassebaum, and President Eisenhower. But during the last eight years, I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with Republican leaders’ hardline rhetoric, contempt for compromise, and obsession with putting political power before children and families. With this recent election, it has become clear that the majority of the Republican Party does not accept moderate Republicans any longer.”

In welcoming Bollier to the Democratic caucus, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said, “She has been a longtime friend and respected colleague with the best interests of Kansas at heart. Her expertise, pragmatism, and courage enrich the entire Kansas Legislature — regardless of whether she calls herself a Democrat or Republican.”

Bollier has long been an advocate for health care, public schools, and pro-family policies. Bollier came into conflict with Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) over her endorsement of Laura Kelly for Governor and Democrat Tom Niermann for Congress. (Niermann lost the Democratic Primary to Sharice Davids who was elected to Congress in November.) Wagle stripped Bollier of important positions in the Senate – most notably her leadership position on the Committee on Public Health and Welfare. As the only physician in the Senate, Bollier was a natural fit for such an important committee.

Bollier has also been a staunch supporter and defender of public schools, students, and the educators who staff those schools. Bollier was a member of the Senate Education Committee.

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Still a Lot to be Concerned About!

Apr 19, 2018 by

The School Finance Mistake

There’s been lots of talk about the school finance bill (SB 423) error and what to do about it. Governor Colyer signed SB 423 into law and at the same time urged the Legislature to waste no time in fixing the error so that the bill matches what everyone thought they were voting on back on April 7.

The $80 million error is the result of an amendment by Rep. Clay Aurand (R-Belleville). Aurand has been pushing amendments to require a certain level of LOB authority in an effort to “get credit” for the state for more funding than the state was actually providing. Essentially, he wants the Court to believe that, since LOB levies are not being used for enrichment as per the original intent, those levies should be credited as state aid. Of course, the reason the LOB is not being used for enrichment is because the state has not even kept pace with inflation in what is provided to schools.

To get this “credit,” Aurand has proposed amendments to mandate a certain level of LOB authority. He has tried various levels from 30% down and when he finally put the level at 15%, he got what he wanted. SB 423 contains a provision mandating that every school district levy a 15% LOB. Aurand has been pressing this issue since Montoy and his fellow legislators finally agreed when he put the mandate at a level that all school districts were now meeting anyway.

But what his amendment did was make that 15% levy part of the “new funding” in SB 423, lowering the actual amount of new money by $80 million. Without that new money, the Court is highly unlikely to approve SB 423 – as it is, they may not approve it.

When the Legislature returns on April 26, the first order of business ought to be fixing SB 423. One way to do that is to strip out the Aurand amendment. We know that some will be trying to do that. We have also heard that with the bill opened up again, some legislators may try to do all kinds of mischief. Remember that the bill passed with the smallest possible majorities. While most legislators speaking on the issue have expressed a desire to simply fix the error and move on, there are others who have openly called this an opportunity to change the funding entirely.

Tell your legislators to fix SB 423 so that it matches what was intended on April 7.

Giving Away the Money

Then there is Sub for HB 2228, a disaster of “Brownbackian” proportions.

One would think after the disastrous Brownback tax experiment of 2012 and the struggle to reverse it in 2017, legislators would have little appetite to once again damage the state’s revenue stream. But one would think that only if one had never met the Kansas Senate.

The 500 or so KNEA members gathered outside the Senate chamber on the evening of April 7 had the pleasure of listening to a long and complicated tax debate as the Senate worked HB 2228. The bill is a mad hodge-podge of tax changes, some worthy and some disastrous but the best words to describe it are “experiment” and “uncertainty.”

The bill is expected to cost the state treasury a half-billion dollars over the next five years and, coincidentally, the new school finance bill will provide a half-billion dollars to schools over the next five years! It was almost as if the Senate was looking for a way to justify voting NO on SB 423!

Less than one year after the Kansas Legislature ended the disastrous Brownback tax experiment, why would they pass a new tax plan riddled with uncertainties?

Fortunately, it is not passed yet! The House will have a chance to end this new disaster when they return on April 26. They will not be able to amend HB 2228, only to vote to concur or non-concur in the Senate changes to this House bill.

The best thing the House could do is to kill Sub for HB 2228. There is no good reason to jeopardize the state’s recovery from the Brownback experiment. Instead of unaffordable tax cuts, Kansas needs to invest in education, healthcare, infrastructure, and communities.

Tell your Representative to reject Sub for HB 2228.

Speaking of Giving Away Revenue…

Secretary of State Kris Kobach, as a candidate in the Republican primary for Governor, held a news conference in Wichita where he announced that, if elected, he will work hard to restore the failed Brownback Tax experiment. But he will do it differently. He will start by slashing budgets and then restoring the tax experiment. He also promised to veto any tax increases and sign a pledge never to raise taxes.

We’d like to hear his ideas for restoring the highway plan, paying back KPERS, funding our public schools, and making higher education affordable.

Kobach has lots of competition in the Republican nomination race including Governor Jeff Colyer, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, and former State Senator Jim Barnett. The most prominent candidates in the Democratic Primary are State Senator Laura Kelly, House Minority Leader Jim Ward, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, and former Secretary of Agriculture Josh Svaty. We look forward to hearing what all of the other candidates have to say about tax policy and state revenues.

Read about Kobach’s news conference by clicking here. 

A Constitutional Amendment Still Looms

We must oppose any attempt to change the state constitution. Lawmakers should work together to fully fund all of our state’s priorities, including education. Eliminating judicial oversight of the education weakens us all.

The position the state is in today was not created by the schools or the Courts. It was created by past Legislatures who avoided their responsibility to care for our state and the services we share as common priorities. Education is certainly one of those priorities but so are the social service safety net, public safety, good roads and highways, and health care.

We should never say that Kansas can’t have both good schools and good highways, good schools and safe communities. This is not a zero sum game in which everyone is fighting everyone else for a piece of a limited pie. We can make the pie bigger. We can apply our state sales tax to online retailers (HB 2756). We can increase tobacco taxes (HB 2231, SB 376). We can modernize our tax code. In truth, there is much that can be done if we have the will.

Changing the constitution is a distraction, not a solution.

Urge your legislators to vote NO on constitutional amendments.

 

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Pushing an Anti-KNEA Agenda; and Changing Our Constitution

Apr 4, 2018 by

Aurand Takes His Anti-KNEA Attitude Into Conference

In the conference committee on HB 2602 establishing the dyslexia task force, Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) went to work immediately in an attempt to keep teachers off the task force. Aurand apparently believes teachers have nothing to offer on education issues. Aurand, who has led the effort in the House to keep teachers from being treated as professionals, personally working tirelessly to stifle those legislators who seek to return due process rights to teacher, took his fight against teachers and KNEA in particular to the negotiating table today.

Senator Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisville), the Chair of the Senate Education Committee, had amended the task force bill to add four teachers (one special education, one reading specialist, one elementary classroom, and one middle school classroom) to the task force. Two of those positions would, under the bill passed unanimously but the Senate, have been appointed by the Kansas NEA.

Aurand led things off by asking for the teachers to be removed and replaced by legislative appointees. Baumgardner pushed back asserting that it was critical to have teachers – boots on the ground in working with children. Through the back and forth negotiations, Aurand tried repeatedly to take the teachers out and then, if they had to stay, make them legislative appointees.

Baumgardner, along with Senator Pat Pettey (D-Kansas City) and Representatives Valdenia Winn (D-Kansas City) and Brenda Dietrich (R-Topeka) argued forcefully to keep both the teachers and the KNEA appointments. Eventually, it was agreed to keep the teachers but to give authority to the Chair and Ranking Minority Member of the Senate and House Education Committees to make two joint appointments – one legislator and one classroom teacher.

The agreement will now be put into a conference committee report and submitted first to the Senate, then the House for adoption.

House Judiciary Committee Takes Up Constitutional Amendment to Strip Kansans of the Right to Seek Relief in Court for School Funding Inadequacy

The House Judiciary Committee to record fast action in pressing a constitutional amendment, first dramatically amending and then passing a proposed amendment on Article VI of the Kansas Constitution.

  • Introduced on Thursday, March 29.
  • Informational briefing on Monday, April 2.
  • Public hearing on Tuesday, April 3.
  • Shoved out of committee on Wednesday, April 4.

In four work days, the Legislature decided to change our constitution in a radical way, stripping from the citizens of Kansas the right to seek relief in the judicial system when the Legislature fails to provide for the education of their children.

An amendment by Committee Chairman Blaine Finch would separate adequacy from equity in school finance considerations. The Legislature gets to decide what is adequate funding with no review permitted. The Legislature also gets to decide how to equitably distribute funding but the court would be allowed to review that.

If this is passed, and the funding increases in HB 2445 were to pass, a future Legislature could decide to cut or end the future funding increases in the bill and there would be no ability for any citizen to challenge that decision.

Let’s make it clear – the schools are not breaking the state budget. KASB provided evidence to the committee that the share of the state budget going to K-12 education has not changed over the years. The state budget was broken by the ill-advised and failed 2012 Brownback tax cuts championed by the same people who are pressing this amendment.

Committee Democrats and some Republicans explained their intentions to vote no in eloquent remarks before the vote. Republican Representatives Elliott, Cox, and Becker, and Democrats Bishop, Carmichael, Highberger, Curtis, Miller, Kuether, and Hodge all spoke against the amendment.

HCR 5029 passed on a vote of 12 to 10.

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Lots happening! Read to the end! Wagle & Denning to hold school funding hostage!

Apr 3, 2018 by

House Has a Do-over; Passes School Funding Bill

The House had one bill on general orders today and just like yesterday it was HB 2445, the school finance bill.

Once again Rep. Fred Patton (R-Topeka) came to the well to carry the bill and once again Representatives came forward to argue its merits and offer amendments.

The first amendment came from Rep. John Whitmer (R-Wichita). Announcing that he was offended that school districts could use tax dollars to sue the state, he offered an amendment to ban school districts from using state tax money to sue the state. He asserted that our schools were failing to provide an education and that all money should be spent “in the classroom.” On a roll call vote, the amendment failed 49 to 74.

Next came an amendment from Rep. Jarrod Ousley (D-Merriam) to remove the designated school districts in the community mental health pilot program and direct the State Board of Education to choose districts. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) the author of the program argued that the districts had been carefully chosen. Ousley said he liked the program but wanted his constituents to have a chance to be part of it. The amendment failed on a division vote of 37 to 84.

Rep. John Eplee (R-Atchison) had an amendment to return language on out of state students to the way it was drawn in SB 19 last year. That bill ratcheted down funding over a period of years eventually having those students funded at .5. It was amended in committee to have some students drop to 0 based on certain geographical considerations. The Eplee amendment was strongly supported by southeast Kansas legislators and was adopted on a voice vote.

Rep. Francis Awerkamp (R-St Mary’s) offered today’s voucher amendment. This one would direct that if a school district sued the state, parents could demand an account in the State Treasurer’s office funded with 75% of a child’s school aid to be used as a voucher to attend a private school. The amendment failed on an overwhelming voice vote.

Rep. Chuck Weber (R-Wichita) came to the well to say that he had intended to offer an amendment under which this funding bill would only become law if the constitutional amendment now being considered in the House Judiciary Committee was passed. But, he said, he had changed his mind and while he still supported the constitutional amendment, he would not offer an amendment linking it to this bill.

No further amendments being offered, a motion to advance the bill to final action was adopted on a roll call vote of 71 to 53.

Now for some drama.

Majority Leader Don Hineman (R-Dighton) offered a motion to move the bill to emergency final action (usually final action votes happen the next day). That motion failed on a division vote of 82 to 42 (it takes a supermajority or 84 votes to pass).

After a pause and some scrambling on the floor, Rep. Keith Esau (R-Olathe) offered a motion to reconsider that action. It would take a supermajority (84 votes) to reconsider; then another supermajority (84 votes) to advance the bill to Emergency Final Action; then a simple majority (63 votes) to pass the bill.

The motion to reconsider passed on a voice vote. The motion to move the bill to final action passed on a roll call vote of 88-36. the bill then got a preliminary vote of 67-57. Rep. Whitmer then explained his NO vote decrying a bill that “throws money at an inefficient system.” That explanation moved the final vote to 71 in favor, 53 opposed.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Senate Committee Continues to Work, Then Passes a School Finance Bill, SB 423

We don’t really know what to think of the Senate Select Committee on School Finance bill to address the Gannon decision. Okay, well, we DO think this: the Court will reject it.

The bill increases the BASE over five years from the current year’s $4,006 to $4,258 in 2018-19, $4,334 in 2019-20, $4,412 in 2020-21, $4,492 in 2021-22, and finishing at $4,574 in 2022-23.

In addition to this, there are some add-ons in fiscal year 2019 specifically:

  • Additional Special Education Aid; $12 million ($44 million in HB 2445),
  • 400 new slots for pre-school at-risk; $1 million,
  • Additional Parents as Teachers; $3 million,
  • The mental health/USD pilot partnership; $10 million (also in HB 2445),
  • ABC early childhood intervention program; $1.8 million,
  • ACT and WorkKeys funding; $2.8 million,
  • Concurrent enrollment pilot program; $1.5 million,
  • Mentor teacher program; $500,000 (also in HB 2445),
  • Professional Development; $1.5 million (also in HB 2445).

We don’t have a complete and official analysis of how much this plan puts into education but word is that is in the neighborhood of $250 million over five years.

House Committee Holding Hearing On Constitutional Amendment

The Hearing on HCR 5029 is ongoing at this time. We will report on this fully tomorrow.

BUT! Senators Susan Wagle and Jim Denning – Republican leaders in the Senate – have announced their intention to hold all legislative action hostage to passage of a constitutional amendment banning the Supreme Court from ruling in school finance litigation.  

Read about it by clicking here.

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