The Longest Ever Session is Finally Over

Jun 15, 2015 by

What is the sign of good policy?

A number of years ago, there was a bill proposed that would require a 2/3 majority vote for the legislature to approve any tax increase. During the debate way back then, Rep. John Edmonds (R-Great Bend) took to the floor with an amendment. He told his fellow legislators that this would be such a good idea, he wanted to apply the rule to all votes – nothing could become law without a 2/3 majority. Edmonds argued that if something was a really good policy, it ought to be easy to get 2/3 of one’s colleagues to agree.

The 2/3 majority bill did not pass. And Rep. Edmonds made some very good points that should speak to us as we watch this legislature, the 2014 legislature and future legislatures.

In 2014, the school finance bill that eliminated due process for teachers and enacted a $10 million corporate give away voucher program was passed by 63 votes in the wee hours of the morning after a long call of the House. Just like the tax bill in the 2015 session.

If one’s policy can only garner the minimum 63 votes after 3:00 am when legislators have been locked in the chamber, bullied, threatened, and sleep deprived, does one really think it’s a good policy?

We do not advocate for a 2/3 majority rule. But we question the benefit of policies that can only get to the minimum vote necessary after bully tactics are implemented. If the Legislature can’t get to a majority on the merits of the argument, then perhaps they shouldn’t.

Tax Policy

Majority rules.

That’s true. And in the House a majority is 63; in the Senate it is 21. Often under the dome people speculate on “what will get 63 and 21.”

That was certainly the way things worked with tax policy this year.

What was known coming into the session last January and became more clear with every revenue report moving forward was that the state was in dire straits when it came to revenue.

The tax plan passed in 2012 at the command of Governor Brownback – his “real live experiment” – three years later has proven to be a failed experiment. And yet the Governor and his cronies hold on to it with a death grip.

Both chambers split into multiple camps when it came to tax policy changes. Democrats and moderate Republicans saw no benefit to helping pass a plan that balanced the budget on the backs of working people and left the worst parts of the Brownback plan in place. Center-right Republicans wanted to spread the pain of a tax increase, bringing businesses back on the tax rolls and increasing consumption taxes. Brownback supporters opposed bringing businesses back on the tax rolls but were happy to enact a large increase in sales and other consumption taxes like cigarettes, gasoline, and liquor. And then there was the hard core right. This group opposes all tax increases all the time and insists that the budget should just be cut.

The governor vowed to veto any bill that imposed taxes on the 330,000 Kansas businesses that his 2012 plan exempted or rolled back his “glide path to zero” plan to end the income tax entirely. He and his budget director Shawn Sullivan threatened to strike out post-secondary education funding, cut nearly $200 million from K-12, reduce social services, and lay off public safety personnel if the legislature did not balance the budget with consumption taxes only.

The legislature repeatedly fought back, bringing plan after plan to the floor and watching them go down in defeat. As the governor and House leadership tried to force legislators to adopt bad tax policies, they even suspended a call of the House for eight hours, keeping a vote in limbo over night.

As the session dragged on, more and more legislators checked out. Whether for vacations or returning to work, attending weddings, or dealing with family emergencies, numbers thinned out over the last couple of weeks.

In the end, as the last tax plan came to the House floor, it appeared to fail having gained only 61 votes. And that’s when the doors were locked, House members forced to sit in their seats, and the brow-beating, fear-mongering, and threats began in earnest. At about 4:00 am a 63rd vote was secured, the call was lifted and the bill passed.

It also received the minimum votes necessary in the Senate.

The bill raises the state sales tax in Kansas to 6.5%. Some parts of the state will see their sales tax as high as 10% when the state rate is combined with the local rate. The bill also raises cigarette taxes by 50 cents/pack. Kansas will now have one of the highest food sales tax rates in the nation. And 330,000 Kansas businesses still pay no income tax at all.

Collective Bargaining

Collective bargaining for public employees in Kansas is contained in two statutes – the Professional Negotiations Act (PNA) for K-12, community college and technical college professional employees and the Public Employer Employee Relations Act (PEERA) applying to all other public employees including education support personnel in public schools.

There were legislative attacks on both the PNA and PEERA during this legislative session as conservatives sought to severely restrict or even deny collective bargaining rights for public employees.

For the PNA, there were bills to abolish exclusive representation and allow every employee to bargain a contract individually. There were proposals to restrict negotiations to only minimum salaries. But there was also a bill crafted by consensus of KNEA, KASB, USA/KS, and KSSA at the request of the 2013 legislature.

The consensus bill was introduced but ignored by the House Education Committee in favor of a proposal by a minority of the School Efficiency Commission (Dave Trabert, Mike O’Neal, Sam Williams, and Dennis DePew). The same thing happened in the Senate Education Committee where they worked anti-collective bargaining proposals from Senator Jeff Melcher (R-Leawood).

When those proposals hit the floor of each chamber, there was a move to gut them and replace the contents with the education community’s consensus plan. In the House, on a motion by Rep. Sue Boldra (R-Hays), the consensus bill was adopted in its entirety. Over in the Senate, on a motion by Sen. Tom Arpke (R-Salina) with support from Sen. Caryn Tyson (R-Parker) and Sen. Molly Baumgardner (R-Lousiburg), a bill almost identical to that in the House was approved. Both bills were then supported by KNEA, KASB, USA/KS, and KSSA.

There things sat for some time with neither chamber taking up the other’s bill.

Late in the session, the legislature was considering some necessary amendments to Senate Bill 7, the school finance bill passed earlier. These changes were put into HB 2353 and, during debate on the Senate floor, Senator Steve Abrams (R-Arkansas City) amended in the language that the Senate had passed earlier.

HB 2353 was eventually passed by both chambers and so beginning on July 1, 2015 the following changes to the PNA will take effect:

  • The notice date is changed from Feb. 1 to March 31,
  • The impasse date is changed from June 1 to July 31,
  • Each year the parties shall negotiate “compensation of professional employees and hours and amounts of work,”
  • In addition, “each party may select not more than three additional terms and conditions of professional service from the list” in current law.
  • “All other terms and conditions of professional service” in the current list “shall be deemed permissive topics for negotiation and shall only be negotiated upon the mutual agreement of the parties,” and
  • Both parties to the negotiation shall be required to receive training on conducting negotiations.

Senator Melcher’s proposal on PEERA (SB 179) would have essentially ended collective bargaining for state and municipal employees and school district personnel other than teachers. The Senate Commerce Committee coupled SB 179 with SB 212 and rolled them both together into HB 2096.

SB 212 would prohibit public employee organizations from using any money to participate in partisan or political activities and prohibit public employers from using payroll deduction to collect union dues. It was amended such that payroll deduction could not be used for any contribution that was not required as part of an employee benefits program.

When HB 2096 went to the Senate floor, Sen. Garrett Love (R-Montezuma) offered an amendment that would allow all payroll deductions except union dues. Love’s amendment failed and Senate leadership pulled the bill and sent it back to the Ways and Means Committee. That’s where the bill spent the rest of the session. It will be available to legislators in the 2016 session.

Use of Payroll Deduction

Senate Bill 212 which banned the use of payroll deduction for public employee union dues was rolled into HB 2096 and, after a brief floor debate, was sent back to committee where it sat for the remainder of the session. It will be available to legislators in the 2016 session. (See our write-up on collective bargaining to learn more about what happened to SB 212.)

School Finance

Yes, the legislature repealed the school finance formula that has been in place since 1992.

Why was this done? Well, one can only speculate on the rationale. Here are a few reasons that have been floated under the dome:

  • The 1992 formula is too complicated for legislators to understand (although SB 7, the block grant replacement, is equally complicated).
  • Many legislators believed that if the 1992 formula went away, so would the Gannon lawsuit. The thinking is that the lawsuit is over the 1992 formula and that’s gone so the lawsuit can’t continue.
  • A large percentage of legislators don’t support public education and this was a way out of giving any consideration for additional funding.

But whatever the rationale is, the 1992 formula is gone and has been replaced by a “block grant” proposal under which school districts for three years will get an amount of dollars roughly equal to what they got before it started. But the plain truth is that most school districts are getting less.

We are now waiting to see what the court has to say about this move. Some people believe they will stay SB 7 and keep the old formula in place until the dust settles on the lawsuit. Only time will tell.

The block grant has a number of serious flaws. Probably the most important is that it does not adjust for any enrollment changes from increases in enrollment to increased poverty, increases in ELL students, etc. With funding frozen for three years, we are certain to see some seriously negative consequences in the future.

KPERS Working After Retirement

The Legislature agreed on a bill amending the working after retirement rules governing KPERS retirees who return to work in a KPERS-covered position.

Changes adopted include:

  • Raising the earnings cap to $25,000,
  • Enacting restrictions on who can work after retirement in the schools.
  • Hiring retirees to work in KPERS covered professional positions will be allowed in special education and up to five areas identified as shortage areas by the State Board of Education and allow for special “hardship” positions identified by school districts that have tried to find new employees but cannot.
  • Current retirees working after retirement are grandfathered until 2017 when all retirees will be under the new rules.

The changes were in reaction to information that KPERS was taking a loss for every retiree between the ages of 55 and 62 who returns to work and that pre-arranged agreements jeopardized the tax status of KPERS. There was no appetite to simply lift the sunset on current rules and extend them.

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Approaching Drop Dead Day

Mar 27, 2015 by

Payroll Deduction, PEERA Bill Now in Ways & Means

House Bill 2096, the bill crafted by the Senate Commerce Committee that contains SB 179 dismantling collective bargaining for state and municipal employees and SB 212 banning the use of payroll deduction by public employees (including school employees) for any voluntary deductions.

There was an attempt on the Senate floor to limit the ban on voluntary deductions to only voluntary deductions for union or association dues. That attempt failed. The bill was then passed over on the floor and later referred by leadership back to the Ways and Means Committee.

The bill now sits in the Committee where it could be worked and sent back to the floor. It is also possible that it will simply stay there and remain available until the end of the 2016 Legislative Session.

We will continue monitoring the bill.


Senate Commerce Committee to Hear Bill on Reclassifying State Employees

House Bill 2391 passed the House and is now in the Senate Commerce Committee. There will be a hearing on this bill on Tuesday of next week.

HB 2391 contains the Governor’s proposal to move more state employees into unclassified positions. Such a move would enable government agencies to more easily terminate employees who would no longer be under the collective bargaining agreement. Critics believe this bill will open up public employees to political decisions including being let go for a lack of support for the administration’s legislative positions.

We will continue to watch this highly controversial bill.


Out of Sight; Out of Mind

Perhaps that’s what Governor Brownback was thinking when he quietly gathered his staunchest legislative allies and signed SB 7, the repeal of the school finance formula, in a closed ceremony.

The signing was not announced and no reporters were permitted access to the event. The signing was announced in a press release later.

Normally, bill signings are treated like real ceremonies where the Governor greets the press and tries to secure positive press reporting. Columnists have speculated that the Governor either did not want to answer difficult questions from the press or be asked about his support for bill opposed by nearly everyone involved in public education. The only support for the bill in hearings came from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Policy Institute, and the Tea Party-aligned Kansans for Liberty.


Conference Committees and Floor Time

Next week it will be mostly conference committees and floor debates as the Legislature works its way towards April 3 – Drop Dead Day. This is the date by which all legislation – with the exception of the big budget and revenue bills – be passed, killed, or deferred until next year.

The Legislature will be on break from April 4 through April 28, returning for the annual “veto session” on April 29.

We, too, will not be posting daily until the return. Look for occasional postings until then.

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Senate reverses on PNA; sides with KPI, KCC instead of Educators

Mar 24, 2015 by

Melcher leads attack on teachers

Senator Jeff Melcher led the attack on teachers in the Senate today, convincing 19 others to abandon the bill the Senate earlier approved 40 to 0 and reflected the agreement among KNEA, KASB, KSSA, and USA/KS on improvements to the Professional Negotiations Act.

Melcher, who has focused his time in the Senate on stripping public employees of any rights they might enjoy in law, offered an amendment on a PNA bill today that does four things:

  • It ends fact-finding in the bargaining process,
  • It sunsets all current contract provisions on their next expiration date,
  • It bans the negotiation of salary provisions beyond “minimum salaries,” and
  • It prohibits districts and unions from negotiating due process provisions in their contracts.

In his summation on the Senate floor, Melcher told the body that teachers would appreciate this bill because it would free school districts to increase their salaries and set Kansas on the path to terminating 7 to 10% of all teachers. Melcher maintains that firing these teachers will put Kansas top in the world in education.

Voting with Melcher to gut collective bargaining for teachers were:

Abrams, Arpke, Baumgardner, Bruce, Denning, Donovan, Fitzgerald, Holmes, King, Knox, Lynn, Masterson, Olson, Pilcher-Cook, Powell, Pyle, Smith and Wilborn.

Voting to respect the education community’s agreement on professional negotiations were:

Bowers, Faust-Goudeau, Francisco, Haley, Hawk, Hensley, Holland, Kelly, Kerschen, LaTurner, Longbine, McGinn, Ostmeyer, Petersen, Pettey, Schmidt, Tyson, and Wolf.

Present but not voting were:

Love and O’Donnell

Coming to the floor this bill had the support of KNEA, KASB, KSSA, and USA/KS. With the Melcher amendment, all four organizations oppose the bill.

The bill will be subject to a final action vote sometime tomorrow.

It is critical that you contact your Senator TONIGHT by phone and email. Tell them that these attacks on teachers must stop. Vote NO on HB 2326.

Click here to access a Senate roster with office phone numbers and emails.

Debate on payroll deduction and PEERA bill halted

HB 2096 was taken up by the Senate today but after a vote on one amendment, the bill was pulled from debate and set aside on the calendar. It could come up later so keep watching.

As the bill was being debated, an amendment was offered by Sen. Garrett Love that would have stripped out the Baumgardner amendment. That amendment banned payroll deduction for any voluntary contributions – union dues, United Way, car payments to credit unions, etc. Baumgardner had argued if the state needed to get out of the business of helping others collect money, then it should be applied fairly and not only to unions.

The Love amendment failed on a vote of 13 to 19 with 7 Senators present and passing and one absent.

When the amendment failed, the bill was passed over. It could come back tomorrow.

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CONTACT YOUR SENATOR! VOTE NO ON HB 2096! Common Core Bill Voted Down

Mar 20, 2015 by

HB 2096 – the anti-public service bill – goes to the full Senate next week

Keep contacting those Senators!

The Senate Commerce Committee gutted House Bill 2096 and inserted into it the contents of SB 179, ending the Public Employee Relations Board and enacting severe limitations on collective bargaining rights for state and municipal employees, and Senate Bill 212, prohibiting all public employees from paying association or union dues via payroll deduction.

By putting these two anti-worker bills into the House bill, they successfully stop the House from any ability to have the bills heard in committee or ended. The House can only vote up or down on the bill on a motion to concur in the Senate changes. This end run around the legislative process is commonly known as railroading or ramrodding. It was used to pass the school finance bill that ends the current formula and cuts funding for most school districts.

This bill is the latest in the war on public employees being waged by conservatives in the Legislature. So far they have prohibited public employees from using payroll deduction for PAC contributions, ended fair dismissal rights for teachers, attempted to repeal the professional negotiations act, reclassified state employees to end fair dismissal rights, and now voted to dismantled protections in PEERA (bargaining for state and municipal employees) and ban payroll deduction for dues.

This bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration. If it passes the Senate, it will go to the House. We are almost out of time for consideration so the votes are likely to happen in the next couple days.

Make yourself heard!

Click here for a roster of Senators with phones and emails!

Phone them and leave a message. THEY MUST HEAR FROM KANSANS EVERYWHERE!

Once you have phoned, send an email.

Click here to access the KNEA Legislative email portal!

Talking points you might use:

  • I do not need big government to protect me from my own decisions. I work hard for my pay and I should get to decide for myself how to manage it.
  • HB 2096, as passed out of the Commerce Committee, prohibits me from making voluntary payroll deductions. How can government restrictions on my choices possibly be good policy?
  • Local communities and local governments should be free to make their own decisions about how to manage employee relations and payroll systems. HB 2096 undermines local control.
  • This bill is mean-spirited and unjustifiable. I ask you to stand up for the people who police our streets, fight fires, teach our children, and serve our state and community. VOTE NO on HB 2096.

House Committee Kills Common Core Repeal Bill

The House Education Committee met today to work HB 2292, the bill that would have immediately repealed all curriculum standards, end participation in the AP and IB programs and jeopardize Kansas participation in many other programs including the SAT’s National Merit Scholarships.

Rep. Amanda Grosserode (R-Lenexa) offered an amendment that would let the current standards stand until the State Board developed new ones in 2017 as part of the regular standards review process. The Grosserode amendment would also require that before any new standards were implemented they would need to be approved by both chambers of the Kansas Legislature.

Grosserode’s amendment was rejected by both those who support the Kansas College and Career Ready Standards and those demanding an immediate repeal of the standards.

Subsequent amendments by Rep. John Bradford (R-Lansing) were similar to the Grosserode amendment but without legislative approval. Those amendments failed as well.

Proponents of standards repeal repeatedly acknowledged that they did not have enough votes in the House for outright repeal tried repeatedly to soften the bill in an attempt to gain support.

After dispatching with the last Bradford amendment, the question was called on the underlying bill. The bill was defeated in committee.


Second turnaround approaches

For the most part, today marks the end of regular committee meetings. Next week, both chambers will be working to clear the backlog of bills that have come out of committee in anticipation of Wednesday, the day by which bills must have be acted upon by the second chamber.

They will likely adjourn on Wednesday leaving a couple of days for conference committees to hammer out differences until the full Legislature returns on March 30. They will be in session from then through potentially April 3, the “drop dead day” for bill consideration.

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Take Action on Payroll Deduction; PNA Movement; Lots of Action in House

Mar 19, 2015 by

Senate Committee strips public employees of rights

The Senate Commerce Committee went out of their way today to strip Kansas public employees of the right to control their own paychecks and prevent state and municipal employees from having a real voice in their wages, hours, and working condition.

On a motion of Senator Denning (R-Overland Park), the Committee gutted House Bill 2096 and inserted into it the contents of SB 179, ending the Public Employee Relations Board and enacting severe limitations on collective bargaining rights for state and municipal employees, and Senate Bill 212, prohibiting all public employees from paying association or union dues via payroll deduction.

By putting these two anti-worker bills into the House bill, they successfully stop the House from any ability to have the bills heard in committee or ended. The House can only vote up or down on the bill on a motion to concur in the Senate changes. This end run around the legislative process is commonly known as railroading or ramrodding. It was used to pass the school finance bill that ends the current formula and cuts funding for most school districts.

This bill is the latest in the war on public employees being waged by conservatives in the Legislature. So far they have prohibited public employees from using payroll deduction for PAC contributions, ended fair dismissal rights for teachers, attempted to repeal the professional negotiations act, reclassified state employees to end fair dismissal rights, and now voted to dismantled protections in PEERA (bargaining for state and municipal employees) and ban payroll deduction for dues.

This bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration. If it passes the Senate, it will go to the House. We are almost out of time for consideration so the votes are likely to happen in the next couple days.

Make yourself heard!

Click here for a roster of Senators with phones and emails!

Phone them and leave a message. THEY MUST HEAR FROM KANSANS EVERYWHERE!

Once you have phoned, send an email.

Click here to access the KNEA legislative email portal.

Talking points you might use:

  • I do not need big government to protect me from my own decisions. I work hard for my pay and I should get to decide for myself how to manage it.
  • HB 2096, as passed out of the Commerce Committee, prohibits me from making voluntary payroll deductions. How can government restrictions on my choices possibly be good policy?
  • Local communities and local governments should be free to make their own decisions about how to manage employee relations and payroll systems. HB 2096 undermines local control.
  • This bill is mean-spirited and unjustifiable. I ask you to stand up for the people who police our streets, fight fires, teach our children, and serve our state and community. VOTE NO on HB 2096.

Senate Ed Committee again takes up PNA

Earlier this session both the House and Senate passed bills that would amend the Professional Negotiations Act.

The plan passed by the House, HB 2326, is the one that was crafted collaboratively by KASB, KNEA, USA/KS, and KSSA. It changes some dates in the law, requires salaries to be negotiated annually, and allows both the board and the bargaining unit to choose five additional topics to negotiate from the current list of mandatorily negotiable items.

The plan passed by the Senate, SB 136, changes the dates in the law, requires salaries and hours to be negotiated annually, and allows both sides to bring three additional topics from the list of mandatorily negotiable items.

No action has been taken by either chamber on the other chamber’s bill. So today, the Senate Education Committee took the Senate’s version and put it into the House bill, HB 2326.

The now amended House version will go to the Senate floor. If it passes the Senate (and it did as SB 136 on a unanimous vote), it will go over to the House for a vote to concur or non-concur in the changes. If the House concurs, the bill goes to the Governor; if they non-concur, they’ll go to a conference committee on the topic.


House Ed Committee dispatches five bills

The House Education Committee did some heavy lifting today, taking up five in the backlog of bills they have to handle.

Senate Bill 8 simply repeals an outdated requirement for school district audit teams in the Division of Legislative Post Audit. The bill is non-controversial and was passed and placed on the House consent calendar.

Senate Bill 93 cleans up a higher ed provision for performance based funding in CTE programs at the community colleges. A bill last year applied to all the community colleges except Johnson County which had been expected to be dealt with separately. Since the separate bill did not pass, this bill simply adds Johnson County Community College to the list of colleges eligible for the funding.

Senate Bill 70 requires that all school employees be subject to fingerprinting and background checks every five years (upon license renewal for teachers). Teachers have already been fingerprinted and have undergone background checks but not all other school employees. The bill generated a lot of discussion regarding the cost and of such frequent checks and whether or not they should also require them of volunteers and college students who have contact with children.

The most discussed issue was the cost and who should pay the bill. In the end, the bill was amended so that the roughly $50 fee could be paid by either the employee or the school district (it will be a local decision) and that the innovative districts were treated the same as all other districts. Originally teachers in innovative districts had the fee paid for them.

This bill now goes to the full House for consideration.

House Bill 2139 was the bill ending in-state tuition for the children of undocumented aliens. This bill generated lots of passionate discussion with Representative Valdenia Winn (D-Kansas City) calling it “racist, sexist, fear-mongering.” Representative Chuck Smith (R-Pittsburg) stood up strongly for the children telling the committee, “These are OUR children and I strongly oppose this bill.”

Representative Hedke offered an amendment that would grandfather in all such students down to current year high school sophomores and then disallow the in-state rate in the future. This amendment passed on a 10-9 vote with Chairman Highland breaking the tie.

Representative Trimmer (D-Winfield) offered an amendment that would require businesses to use the E-verify system to ensure they were not hiring illegal aliens. The rationale is that if there are no jobs being offered to them in Kansas, they won’t come and the whole issue of in-state tuition is moot. This was a really interesting amendment in light of today’s action by the US Attorney on several businesses in Kansas allegedly paying illegals aliens.

Before the Trimmer amendment was voted on, Representative Dierks (R-Salina) made a motion to table the bill. “I think,” Dierks said, “that we will regret voting for this bill.” The motion to table passed, putting the bill on the shelf.

The last bill taken up was Senate Bill 60 which would allow homeschoolers and private school students to participate in KSHSAA activities in the public schools. One of the big issues in the bill is how to assess the academic performance of home schooled students as required of public school students participating in such programs.

Rep. Tony Barton (R-Leavenworth) offered an amendment that would exempt Sedgwick, Shawnee, Johnson, Douglas, and Wyandotte Counties from the bill. The amendment failed.

Trimmer then made a motion to table the bill until next session when a subcommittee could be formed to study and make recommendations on assessing the academic performance of students who wish to participate in these activities in the public schools. The motion to table passed and the bill is on the shelf until next year.

 

 

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