Brownback Signs School Finance Bill

Jun 16, 2017 by

Governor Brownback took his time about it, but yesterday he finally signed SB 19, the new school finance proposal passed by the House and Senate.

Of course, in his signing statement, he had to take the opportunity to complain about the Legislature’s work product saying, “The Legislature missed an opportunity to substantially improve the K-12 funding system.” We suppose he still preferred his unconstitutional block grant system that froze funding thereby helping to pay for his tax cuts for the wealthiest Kansans.

But if Brownback won’t, we will give the Legislature credit for listening, debating, sometimes arguing and eventually coming to a consensus about this new proposed formula. House K-12 Budget Committee Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) spent the entire session with his committee researching, hearing testimony, studying data and coming to the conclusion that the “old” formula was not terribly flawed and simply needed some adjustments. The House bill was then the framework that Senate Select Committee on School Finance Chairman Jim Denning used with his committee members to guide their work.

Whether this plan fully complies with the Supreme Court order or not, we have to give kudos to the legislators of both chambers who spent the time to do this work and do it conscientiously. The Governor is flat out wrong in his assessment of this as a “missed opportunity.”

We believe that when the Supreme Court is done with their review, they will find the finance formula in SB 19 by and large to be constitutional. There are a couple of issues in the bill that might give them concern- particularly around equalization- but the bill does target funding to the students who need the most help and does so in a rational manner.

We also believe that the Supreme Court will likely rule that the funding is not adequate – particularly after the first year.

Remember when we say this that the only people who get to decide are the members of the Court! We can only speculate.


What might the Court do?

The Court could simply rule that SB 19 does not adequately address Gannon and send the Legislature back to the drawing board in a special session.

Another possibility is that the Court approves the formula, perhaps putting a stay on one or two items as “disequalizing,” but call the funding inadequate and send the Legislature back to work in a special session.

A third possibility is that the Court approves the formula, approves the first year of funding, and gives the Legislature another year to address the adequacy of funding in the out years.

What we do know is that there is June 30 deadline. The Court has said they will take this case on an expedited basis. Between now and the deadline, they will need to hear the State’s defense and the Plaintiff’s arguments. Don’t look for this process to be a couple of days and done!


Guns: Coming to a College Near You This July

The Governor also announced that he would allow the newest gun bill to become law without his signature because the Legislature did not cave to the NRA-written “compromise” on guns in state mental hospitals.

State Hospitals, the KU Medical Center, and all public colleges and universities in Kansas have until July 1, 2017, to either provide metal detectors and security personnel at all entrances or allow concealed firearms to by carried by anyone anywhere anytime – no permit or training necessary.

Several times this session legislators tried to get the law changed for colleges and universities but despite overwhelming public support for allowing colleges to restrict firearms, the NRA demanded blind obedience to their position that guns should be everywhere and the legislation never moved.

It wasn’t until Brownback – who enthusiastically signed the bill opening mental hospitals and colleges to guns – asked for $24 million to secure entrances to mental hospitals for one year that people realized the full extent of meeting the requirement. A bill was then drafted to allow hospitals to ban weapons but the NRA stepped in to fight the bill. Seeing it would likely pass, the NRA then drafted an amendment that would not make them have security but instead allow guns in reception and parking lots, but the hospital would have to provide gun lockers for anyone with a gun seeking to go into patient areas.

In fighting for this amendment, one Senator actually said: “this is the amendment the NRA will allow us to adopt.” Despite the NRA “permission,” the Legislature passed the bill giving hospitals the right to regulate guns on hospital property. This was a loss for the NRA, and this is why the Governor only reluctantly will allow the bill to become law without his signature.

And for those of you working in our technical colleges, community colleges, and universities, it looks like guns will be a reality in your classrooms starting July 1.

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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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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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Senate Kills Gov’s Tax Bill; Then There’s Guns, Vouchers, and Efficiencies

Mar 8, 2017 by

Brownback’s Tax Bill Goes Down in Flames

The Senate yesterday debated Governor Brownback’s tax proposal (SB 175) which would simply raise alcohol and tobacco taxes and increase registration fees on businesses in a hopeless attempt to get out of the massive budget hole created by his reckless tax cuts.

The Senate clearly recognized this and killed the bill by passing an amendment to strike the enacting clause on a vote of 37 -1. The enacting clause indicates when the bill would become law and by removing the clause, the underlying bill can never become law. The motion is the equivalent of killing the bill.

One would think that this action would send a clear message to the Governor that the Senate, like the House, wants tax reform that brings Kansas back from the edge. Of course, the Governor is sticking to his failed policies like a pit bull on a rib bone.

This vote moves the Senate to consideration of a better tax reform bill and that’s the good news.


House Committee to Talk Guns on Campus Tomorrow

The House Federal and State Affairs Committee will be hearing HB 2220, a bill that would prohibit post-secondary institutions from adopting any policies governing concealed weapons on campus. This is the opposite of earlier attempts to allow those institutions to prohibit firearms on campus.

HB 2220 essentially makes college campuses wild west institutions where anyone can do whatever they want with firearms. Under this bill, no campus could restrict where guns were permitted or who could carry them. Campuses would be completely unregulated when it came to firearms.

KNEA opposes this bill and has called for the passage of legislation to allow colleges to make these decisions.


K-12 Budget Committee to Take Up Radical Expansion of Tuition Tax Credits (i.e. Vouchers)

On Friday, the K-12 Education Budget Committee will hold a hearing on HB 2374, a bill expanding the corporate tuition tax credit program. Under current law the state allows corporations to pay the tuition of at-risk children in Title 1 schools to attend a private school. The corporation gets a 90% tax credit for this. That means the state is giving away $10 million in taxpayer money to send a few kids to unaccountable private school.

We are always fascinated by legislators and lobbyists like Dave Trabert who continually demand more and more accountability and testing in public schools but are perfectly okay sending millions of dollars to unaccredited private schools that report no results to the state at all. But then, we’ve been here a long time and hypocrisy should not surprise us.

At a time when the Court has determined that our public schools are not adequately funded and that many in the legislature are still calling for cuts to public education; at a time when the state faces a two-year budget hole of over $800 million, it is irresponsible to continue to give away tax money for which there is no accountability whatsoever. The best thing for the legislature to do at this time is to simply repeal the program entirely and put that $10 million back in the budget where it belongs to serve all Kansans.


School District Purchasing, Health Care Consolidation Discussion

Last week Secretary of Administration Sarah Shipman called together education stakeholder groups to discuss two of the “efficiency” recommendations that were included as part of the Governor’s budget this year.

Brownback included a requirement that all school districts centralize purchasing through the Department of Administration. State agencies currently use this system and the Alvarez and Marsal efficiency study had suggested that there would be significant savings to the state if school districts joined.

He also included an A&M recommendation that school districts consolidate into one health insurance plan like the State Employees Health Plan.

Bills were filed that would accomplish both of these requirements.

The K-12 Education Budget Committee was skeptical about the potential savings and asked Secretary Shipman to bring people together to discuss both issues and come up with recommendations.

KNEA joined KASB, USA/Kansas, the Wichita schools, and Greenbush at the meeting. Also present was the anti-government Kansas Policy Institute.

Today Secretary Shipman reported on the results of the meeting to the committee. In short, the recommendation was that the negatives far outweighed the positives and that there was no way to deliver any savings in 2018 even if the bills were passed.

Committee Chairman Larry Campbell (R-Olathe) announced that he would not work the bills but instead let them lie until next year. He will also report to the Appropriations Committee that the bills would not have saved any revenue in 2018.

Representative Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) also pointed out that neither bill would provide a penny of savings to the state unless the legislature reduced school funding by an amount equivalent to the savings instead of letting any savings be redirected to classroom programs.

 

 

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