Guns Win; DeVos Moves Ahead Thanks to Pat Roberts

Jan 31, 2017 by

Post Highlights

  • Gun bill SB 53 allowing colleges to prohibit firearms on campus FAILS to move out of Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs despite hearing from hundreds of proponents including parent groups, students, educators, law enforcement, and others.
  • HB 2074 (identical bill) hearing in House Committee on Federal and State Affairs tomorrow morning, KNEA and dozens of proponents expected to testify in favor.
  • If House bill advances, Senate will have opportunity to reconsider and side with citizen majority rather than NRA lobbyists.
  • U.S. Senator Pat Roberts votes in lock-step with party to move anti-public education zealot on to full Senate vote for confirmation as U.S. Secretary of Education.
  • DeVos’s fitness for the post continues to be questioned as new allegations surface that she plagiarized responses on her committee questionnaire.
  • Call Senator Jerry Moran and encourage him to vote against Betsy Devos confirmation:  Moran’s office numbers are: (202) 224-6521 (Washington); (785) 628-6401 (Hays); (785) 539-8973 (Manhattan); (620) 232-2286 (Pittsburg); (316) 631-1410 (Wichita); and (913) 393-0711 (Olathe).

Senate Committee Backs NRA, Turn Backs on Students & Faculty

This morning the Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs voted to reject Senate Bill 53 which would have allowed colleges to decide for themselves whether or not to allow guns on campus.

Testimony before the committee had been overwhelmingly in favor of the bill with students and faculty joined by parent groups and other education groups but still a majority of committee members bowed to the NRA.

A House Bill with the same content, HB 2074, will get a hearing in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee tomorrow. Should that bill go through the House, the Senate will have a chance to reconsider.

In the meantime, you can communicate your frustration with the continued dominance of the NRA despite public support for the bill. If the bill does not pass, then come July 1, 2017, colleges will no longer be able to prohibit the carrying of firearms on campus unless they can provide metal detectors and security staff at every building entrance on campus. As a side note, the legislature will provide no funds at all to pay for the installation of metal detectors or the ongoing cost of security staff.

Members of the Senate Federal and State Committee are: Republicans Jacob LaTurner, Bud Estes, Bruce Givens, Jeff Longbine, Ty Masterson, Rob Olson, and Caryn Tyson and Democrats Oletha Faust-Goudeau and Lynn Rogers. You can find their email addresses and phone numbers by clicking here.

The vote was a voice vote so we cannot tell you exactly how each Senator voted. As best we could tell there were three votes in favor of the bill. Senator Jeff Longbine was not at the committee meeting having been called to a Senate leadership meeting on tax policy.


US Senator Pat Roberts Votes to Approve Anti-Public Education Zealot Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education

Washington Post

In the United States Senate today, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee voted 12 to 11 to advance Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, to the full Senate for Consideration. All 12 Republicans – including Kansas Senator Pat Roberts – voted YES on DeVos while all 11 Democrats voted NO.

The DeVos nomination now goes before the full Senate where Kansas Senator Jerry Moran will have his chance to vote.

It’s time to let Moran know what you think. Call his offices and urge him to vote NO on the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. She is unqualified – in her hearing she was unable to identify IDEA as special education and suggested that schools needed guns to fight off grizzly bear attacks – and she has a long history of working to destroy public education in Michigan.  Just today, new questions about Devos’s fitness for service have arisen as some of her responses given during her confirmation proceedings appear to be plagiarized. 

Moran’s office numbers are: (202) 224-6521 (Washington); (785) 628-6401 (Hays); (785) 539-8973 (Manhattan); (620) 232-2286 (Pittsburg); (316) 631-1410 (Wichita); and (913) 393-0711 (Olathe).

 

 

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Kansas Day Under the Dome

Jan 30, 2017 by

Post Highlights

  • Kansas Day celebrated in the statehouse.
  • Budget cuts- possibly to education- are being discussed as part of a strategy to deal with a $350 million shortfall.
  • Cuts to KPERS not included in House Appropriations committee report.
  • Consolidation of district purchases and health care plans will be heard in committee later in the week.
  • Hearing in House committee this week on bill allowing colleges to restrict guns on campus (identical to Senate bill from last week).
  • A comprehensive, sensible, long-term plan for dealing with Governor Brownback’s revenue disaster introduced as a bill in House Tax committee.  Plan known as “Rise Up Kansas!” has support from several organizations including KNEA.
  • New concerns have been raised regarding the new rules for Working After Retirement from both employers, employees and retirees.
  • To see a complete explanation of the rules and exceptions please see https://www.kpers.org/pdf/WARschools.pdf

Today is the day for legislators to celebrate Kansas Day. This includes showing a film about the writing of “Home on the Range” and a performance of the song by Michael Martin Murphey on the Senate floor.


Budget Talks Happening; Rumors Still Abound

There were few committee meetings today but that does not mean things are not moving. Committees are moving toward presenting a solution to the $350 million shortfall in the FY 2017 budget. There are still moving parts and some still believe there might be some level of across the board cuts which would include the possibility of cuts to education.

The education report before the House Appropriations committee does not include the Governor’s irresponsible cuts to KPERS funding. The full committee will take up the issue later this week.

Also up this week will be hearings on a bill to consolidate school district purchases on a state level and another to consolidate school district health care plans. Both were part of the Alvarez and Marsal efficiency study and both were included in the Governor’s budget plan. Some people believe the discussion of the health care consolidation will be canceled while the await an upcoming report on the issue by the Legislative Post Audit Division. While both of these bills were introduced as a courtesy to the Governor and to spur discussion, neither seems to have much popular support at this time.

Meanwhile, the tax committees continue to examine various tax solutions with an eye to reversing the damage that is being done to Kansas by the reckless 2012 tax cuts touted by Governor Brownback as just the thing to provide “a shot of adrenaline to the heart of the Kansas economy.” This week the House Taxation Committee will be looking at sales tax exemptions; income tax brackets and the glide path to zero income tax; taxes on cigarettes, liquor, and motor fuel; and how retirement benefits are taxed.

Also up this week will be a hearing on the House version of the bill to allow colleges to determine whether or not firearms may be carried on campus. The hearing in the Senate last week found lots of support for repealing the current law which requires colleges to allow guns after July 1, 2017 unless they provide security at all entrances to every building. The Senate hearing happened on the same day it was revealed that Rep. Willie Dove (R-Bonner Springs) left a loaded handgun in a committee room. Thankfully it was found and turned in to police by a responsible adult and not picked up by one of the hundreds of school children that tour the Capitol every day.


Rise Up Tax Plan Introduced

With an eye to fixing the damage done by the disastrous 2012 tax plans, a new comprehensive proposal was introduced today in the House Tax Committee.

The RISE UP plan as it is called was put together after lots of research and examination of what changes would provide for a restored Kansas. Among the components of the plan are the repeal of the LLC exemption, ending the glide path to zero income tax, adding a new higher income tax bracket, reducing the sales tax on food, and adding an increase in the motor fuels tax. KNEA is among the organizations supporting RISE UP along with Kansas Action for Children, AFT/KOSE, the Kansas Contractors Association, and the Kansas Center for Economic Growth.

Read more about the Rise Up plan at www.riseupkansas.org.

Also introduced today was a bill by the Kansas chapter of the American Cancer Society that would raise the cigarette tax by $1.50/pack and the tobacco products tax by an equivalent amount. This would be a greater tax increase on cigarettes and tobacco than the Govenor’s proposal. Brownback has sought a cigarette tax increase of $1.50 and was given a $0.50/pack increase in an earlier session. He has recommended an additional $1.00/pack this year.


Working After Retirement- WAR

The topic of Working After Retirement is again the subject of study for a subcommittee of the House Financial Institutions and Pension Committee. The subcommittee is Co-Chaired by Representatives Jim Kelly and Representative Dan Hawkins.  New concerns have been raised regarding the new rules for Working After Retirement from both employers, employees and retirees. The subcommittee met on Monday to hear and review the concerns from school districts, local governments, and KNEA.

At the center of the concerns are the number of exemptions to the rules for WAR. Currently, anyone who retirees from an employer with employees covered by the KPERS system has a $25,000 annual earnings cap. For example, if an employee retires and returns to work they have a $25,000 earnings cap in a calendar year. Once that cap is reached then the employee must stop working or basically “Unretire”. There are exceptions to the rule including those retirees who are “grandfathered” in under the previous rules that reached sunset on July 1, 2016.

To see a complete explanation of the rules and exceptions please see https://www.kpers.org/pdf/WARschools.pdf  Pages 2-3 offer an explanation to exceptions for K-12. For Community College and Tech College employees and retirees see https://www.kpers.org/pdf/WARcommtech.pdf which has the explanations of exceptions for Community College and Tech College employees.

KNEA’s position is that the new rules are complicated and need to be simplified for all those involved with Working After Retirement. There are times that intelligent and well-meaning people sometimes over complicate a problem while working to solve that very problem. If there is an unfilled teaching position, no matter what the cause of the opening, it is important to find a qualified and willing person to fill that position. The new rules seem to be a hindrance to the hiring of a willing and qualified applicant based solely on the fact that they had previously worked for a KPERS employer. Working towards simplifying the rules for both employers and employees is a goal that KNEA would recommend.

The subcommittee will most likely meet again on Wednesday after the regular meeting of the House Financial Institutions and Pensions Committee.

 

 

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Gun Scare Under the Dome!

Jan 26, 2017 by

Post Highlights

  • Packed house for hearing on SB 53 allowing colleges to keep guns off campus.
  • Hearing coincided with statehouse buzz over Rep. Willie Dove having left his loaded .380 pistol in 5th-floor conference room for anyone to access (including the dozens of children who visit the statehouse daily).
  • More than 50 proponents testified in favor of SB 53 with a handful of opponents testifying against the bill including former Senator Forrest Knox.
  • House Ed Committee hears bill allowing districts to strip homestead exemption in order to gain revenue for special needs students.
  • Bill characterized by its main proponent Committee Chairman, Clay Aurand as a “bad bill” but allows legislators to avoid having to vote for a tax increase (passing on that responsibility to the local community instead).
  • KNEA advocates for a comprehensive and sensible tax policy instead of trickery to solve Brownback’s legacy of failure.

Read media coverage here.

Keeping Guns Off of College Campuses

Rep. Willie Dove provides tangible evidence of need for responsible gun laws

KNEA testified in favor of SB 53, a bill that would allow college campuses to ban firearms. Our testimony focused on the fact that college campuses are occupied by young people under an enormous amount of stress – the stress of being away from home for the first time, the stress of adjusting to roommates, the stress of grades and adjusting to new kinds of teaching and learning schedules, the stress of new romantic relationships. We’ve had plenty of examples of what can happen when a highly stressed, anxious individual can do when carrying a weapon on campus.

Those who favor allowing anyone and everyone to carry a gun on campus somehow believe that these tragic events will be less tragic if more people pull out weapons and try to quickly “take down” an attacker. The sad fact is that adding more guns to the situation including guns in the hands of untrained individuals simply increases the possibility that more people will be shot. Additionally, it puts law enforcement responders who must react quickly and decisively in the position of trying to sort out the “good guys with guns” from the “bad guy.”

This week also had a special “gun show” under the dome! During a House Education Committee meeting in which the Kansas Teacher of the Year team was making a presentation, Representative Willie Dove (R-Bonner Springs) left the committee room appearing to be in anger. And he left behind his own loaded handgun! We can only assume that Rep. Dove needs to carry heat in the capitol to protect him from angry constituents.

The capitol hosts hundreds of school children every day. Teachers take those children through committee rooms. When the committee rooms are empty, children pose at the tables where Senators and Representatives debate bills. Imagine what happens when a curious 9-year-old finds a loaded pistol just sitting there.

Will SB 53 stop an individual intent on doing harm from acting? No. Will it decrease the likelihood that a tragic situation will escalate into something more deadly? Certainly. And will SB 53 stop law-abiding citizens from making a Willie Dove mistake? Absolutely. If the capitol was a firearms free building, we assume a law-abiding citizen like Rep. Dove would have left his weapon in his car. No weapon would have been inadvertently left loaded and ready where anyone could pick it up.

House Education Committee Considers Letting School Boards Waive Homestead Exemption

Kansas homeowners get a break on property taxes with something called the Homestead Exemption. This allows the first $20,000 of assessed valuation to be exempt from property taxes.

House Education Committee Chairman Clay Aurand (R-Belleville) introduced HB 2078 which would allow school boards to waive part or all of the Homestead exemption by passing a resolution. Such a resolution would be subject to a protest petition. The impact would be to allow school districts raise additional money through property taxes.

Aurand held a hearing for HB 2078 yesterday during which he emphatically called this a “bad bill” before reversing course saying, “maybe that’s a stretch.”

Most of the questions on the bill dealt with how it would impact equity issues in school finance. The state has already lost the issue of equity at the Supreme Court level. The legislature responded with legislation to restore equity. The Supreme Court ruled then that the equity issue was appropriately addressed.

Aurand believes that the exemption is constitutionally questionable and further noted that passage of this bill would allow districts to get more money while legislators would not have to vote for any tax increase. This has become a common trend in the Kansas legislature – they love to pass the hard decisions on taxation and revenue collection on to local units of government. Legislators can then boast that they did not raise taxes even as their constituents complain about their taxes going up.

Legislative policy under the leadership of Governor Sam Brownback has been to cut revenue to the point where services suffer and then count on cities, counties, and school districts to use whatever authority they have to make up the difference.

It’s time for legislators to abandon trickery and face up to the task at hand. The legislature needs to reverse course on the disastrous and irresponsible tax policies they have put in place since 2012 and pass a new tax plan that provides for the needs of our citizens.

 

 

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Guns and good beef

Jan 25, 2017 by

First Gun Bill in Senate Scheduled for Hearing

Senate Bill 53 which would create a permanent exemption for public buildings to the current gun carry law. Under current law college campuses will have until July 1, 2017 to provide security solutions that will stop guns from coming into buildings. If a college cannot provide such security – a metal detector and security at every building entrance – then they cannot prohibit the carrying of firearms in their buildings. Senate Bill 53 strikes the date. While the bill does not outright ban weapons from campuses, it allows each college to put a policy in place based on their situation.

Student, faculty, and administrative groups have all opposed the current law, wishing to keep their campuses safe. College campuses are stressful places for students. Many of these students are away from home for the first time, adjusting to new kinds of schedules, and trying to get along with roommates. They are worried about grades. They might be in new romantic relationships that can go wrong.

While colleges might prohibit firearms on campus, there is of course no guarantee that someone won’t violate the policy. That will always be a problem. But to have multiple persons pull out firearms in defense simply increases the likelihood that there will be victims. Beyond that, it creates a serious problem for law enforcement when responding to an incident. A police officer has no way, in the split seconds it takes to respond, to determine who are the “good guys” and who is the perpetrator.

The bill just came out today and a hearing has been scheduled for Thursday.


Who Among Us Prefers a Select Grade Steak Over Prime?

That is the question that came to us last night during the continued hearing on HB 2023, the repeal of the LLC income tax exemption.

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and Americans for Prosperity all claimed in their testimony against the repeal that the state of Kansas has plenty of money and before business owners should have to pay income tax like the rest of us, the legislature should cut and cut and cut spending. It’s apparently not enough that we have essentially depleted our highway fund, robbed over $100 million from employee pensions, and cut services for Kansans with disabilities in order to give the income tax exemption to business owners, we must continue on the path of service destruction.

One of their lobbyists, in response to a question about where to cut, told the committee that it was easy to “cut the fat cap off a piece of beef, but much harder to cut the marbling.” We could not think of a better analogy!

The legislature has indeed “cut the fat cap off.” And they’ve begun digging out the marbling. What they fail to remember is that the marbling is what moves a steak from “select” to “choice” to “prime.” Any lover of a good steak knows that marbling – more of it – is what makes steak taste so good. One can look at a steak and know what grade it is by the marbling.

Kansas for years provided prime grade services from education to public safety, from highways to a social service safety net. The fat cap was cut off years ago – Kansans by their nature are fiscally conservative – but there was always enough marbling to let schools go from okay to excellent, enough marbling to make our neighboring states envious of our roads and highways, enough marbling to make life better for our seniors and those with disabilities.

The last few years, legislators have been digging out the marbling. Kansans are experiencing for the first time what no marbling tastes like. It tastes sour. Kansans want better and they started demanding better last August and again in November.

 

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New Bills: medicaid, bathrooms, guns on campus and of course… budget gimmickry

Jan 18, 2017 by

Post Highlights

  • Three bills introduced today: expansion of Medicaid under KanCare, prohibiting transgendered students from using bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity, and repeal of guns on campus law.
  • KNEA President sends letter to Governor and Legislature encouraging fairness and equality for vulnerable students including gay, lesbian, transgender, all faiths, and minority students.
  • Brownback’s budget gimmickry and schemes have failed.
  • A sensible and comprehensive plan exists to put Kansas on the road to recovery, it is called “Rise Up Kansas.”

New Bills of Note

Three bills were introduced this week that should get plenty of press time.

One bill would expand Medicaid under the KanCare program as allowed by the Affordable Care Act. Kansas is one of the states that has refused to expand Medicaid and so given up millions of dollars in federal funding. The purpose of the expansion is to provide health care access to low-income individuals who do not currently have health insurance yet whose income is too high to qualify for subsidies under the ACA. Governor Brownback has steadfastly refused to take advantage of Medicaid expansion effectively denying health care these Kansans. While his allies had strong majorities in both chambers they did not even allow a discussion of the issue. We’ll see how things have changed with the last election. KNEA believes that all Kansans should have access to affordable comprehensive health insurance and supports Medicaid expansion.

Rep. John Whitmer (R-Wichita) has announced plans to introduce yet again a ban to prohibit transgendered individuals from using the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. Whitmer would force transgendered individuals to use bathrooms according to their birth certificate. This bill would have an impact in school districts. USDs currently determine the policy on bathroom and locker room use under local control. The 2016 KNEA Representative Assembly took a strong position in opposition to this bill when it was introduced last year.

Read KNEA President’s Letter to Legislature by CLICKING HERE

Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park) has introduced a bill that would repeal the law forcing college campuses to allow the concealed carry of firearms on campus. Kansas colleges, students, and faculty have all come out strongly opposed to allowing guns on campus. KNEA and KNEA’s Higher Education Local Affiliates support the Clayton bill.

The Fate of Brownback’s Budget

Things are not looking too good for Governor Brownback’s budget recommendations. This new legislature appears to have little appetite for the one-time gimmicks and sleight of hand tricks that the Governor and his allies have become dependent upon to save their tax cuts for the wealthiest Kansans.

There has been tremendous pushback against Brownback’s ideas from the moment they were launched. And even earlier!

Once again he calls for the securitization of the tobacco settlement funds. These funds come to Kansas annually as part of the national master settlement agreement with cigarette manufacturers. As long as people smoke, Kansas will get an annual payment. Brownback would essentially sell the rights to our future payments to investors. This gives him a quick influx of cash but turns this long-term asset into long-term debt – Kansas would have to turn over future payments to investors. This money supports the Children’s Initiative Fund which provides quality care for preschoolers in every county in the state. Last year’s legislature – which was packed with Brownback allies – repeatedly rejected securitization.

Brownback’s proposal to renege on promises to KPERS and ignore the required employer investments into KPERS for two years has also drawn sharp criticism. After all, legislators have worked diligently to shore up the system and are rightfully proud of that work. Brownback, you might remember, used the work on shoring up KPERS as a major part of his reelection campaign in 2014. Yet here he is suggesting that work be undone in order to save tax cuts for the wealthiest Kansans.

Finally, the proposal to put all school employees in a single health care plan has also been met with skepticism. There is little confidence that such a plan will save money without major harm being done to employee benefits and most legislators have little interest in harming the state’s teachers. The Legislative Post Audit division has also urged legislators to hold off. They have a report coming out in February that will analyze the many challenges to be faced in making such a move. There are many implications that must be considered before making such a decision.

With so many new legislators who were elected specifically because they opposed the Governor’s agenda and promised voters a reversal of the disastrous Brownback tax plan, we believe that the 2017 Legislature will forge their own plans – plans designed to return Kansas to common sense – as the session moves on.

There is a sensible and comprehensive solution…

CLICK HERE to listen to last night’s episode of Kansas EdTalk which focused on a sensible and comprehensive solution to recover from Brownback’s failed tax experiment.

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