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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Statement on the Governor’s line-item veto of additional KPERS contributions

May 21, 2019 by

Kansas NEA remains committed to the long term viability and security of the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System. No retiree benefits or future payments will be impacted by Governor Kelly’s recent action to line-item veto an additional payment to KPERS this year.

We have opposed all legislative actions that delayed payments, reduced employer contributions and contributed to the unfunded actuarial liability. These actions have been irresponsible and demonstrate a lack of respect for public employees, including the thousands of teachers who serve our students every day.

We also recognize that Governor Laura Kelly, during her time in the Kansas Senate did not support legislation that harmed KPERS or delayed or reduced the employer payments made by the state.

We were pleased when the legislature passed and the Governor signed into law a $115 million payment to KPERS during this legislative session. We also appreciate that the legislature saw fit to make a promised $51 million payment – a payment which would not have been necessary had the legislature honored their obligations in the first place. Passage of the $115 million increase in KPERS contributions fulfills a promise made when earlier payments were withheld.

Legislators who- in the past- supported the failed Brownback tax experiment are responsible for the actions taken since 2012. These actions have harmed KPERS and now require the state to make up for funding withheld to pay for the devastation caused by irresponsible tax policy. We wonder, where was the concern for KPERS when these conservative leaders created and supported the agenda of Sam Brownback that drove Kansas to the verge of bankruptcy?

Legislators who refused to expand KanCare as too costly and resisted school funding increases also worked diligently to bust the budget through tax cuts for multinational corporations and then, expanded KPERS payments. Such actions were intended to score political points and craft campaign postcards. These legislators – who voted to withhold KPERS payments in the past – now want to paint themselves as the saviors of the system and attack the Governor.

In 2017, the legislature reversed much of the failed Brownback tax experiment to put the state back on the path to prosperity. While much progress has been made, the state is still not in a position to consider new expenditures which do not address the core obligations of the state – public education, public safety, infrastructure, and the needs of the working poor and foster children.

Governor Kelly’s veto of the additional $51 million for KPERS is in line with her commitment to recovery and budget stability. The best long-term solution for both KPERS and the state is to ensure stability in the budget. Without such long-term stability, Kansas cannot manage a quality foster care system, provide safe working conditions in our corrections system, maintain good roads and highways, or control the spiraling costs of higher education.

Still, our long-standing and unwavering commitment to retirement security for current and future retirees makes us wish that such an action was unnecessary. We call upon the legislature to renew its commitment to the people of Kansas and resist the effort to compromise the state’s ability to pay for the core services upon which all Kansans depend.

That is why we applaud Governor Kelly’s veto of two bills cutting taxes for the wealthiest individuals and multinational corporations. We understand the rationale for the veto of this additional KPERS contribution, but we would remind all that an investment in retirement security is an investment in our economy. Unlike multinational corporations that continually threaten to leave our state, public employees, secure in their retirement years, will stay in Kansas and spend their retirement benefits within the Kansas economy.

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Turnaround! The Halfway Point is here.

Mar 1, 2019 by

ALERT: Stop a Dangerous New Tax Plan
CLICK Here to contact your legislator

At the halfway point, a lot of stuff goes away

Turnaround was Thursday, February 28. That was the day by which bills had to have passed their chamber of origin in order to be considered by the second chamber. Unless…

There’s always an “unless,” isn’t there?

Most committees are subject to strict timelines. For example, the Kansas House and Senate Education Committees (and actually most committees) stopped work on Monday, Feb. 25, because the 26th through the 28th were reserved for time on the floor in order to pass as many bills as possible. But all of this means that if a bill did not come out of one of the four education committees (House Ed, Senate Ed, House K-12 budget, and Senate Select School Finance) on Monday, there was no way it would be considered on the floor and so no way it could pass the chamber of origin. Since those committees are subject to the timelines, any bills not passed technically die.

But House or Senate leadership could “bless” a bill – keep it alive for the second half by referring it to a timeline exempt committee – like Appropriations in the House or Ways and Means in the Senate – before adjourning for the turnaround break. And one should never forget that anything can be resurrected in the form of an amendment either on a bill that is now being considered by a committee of the second chamber or on the floor of either chamber.

What bills have passed and head across the rotunda?

The House has passed and sent to the Senate two bills of interest to KNEA.

House Bill 2144 is the community college reporting bill. This started out as a terrible bill placing all kinds of restrictions and requirements on community colleges relating to reporting, tax limitations, and limitations on capital spending. The House Education Committee amended out all the worst stuff and then further amended it with some language requests from the community colleges. The bill now requires demographics reporting by the Board of Regents and public notice of what courses transfer to all regents institutions. You can read the amended bill here. It now goes to the Senate.

Senate Bill 9 requires the state to repay $115 million in previously withheld employer contributions to KPERS. The last two years employer contributions to KPERS were withheld in order to balance the budget in the aftermath of the Brownback tax disaster with promises to pay them back over time. This bill has also passed the Senate and is now on the Governor’s desk.

The Senate has passed and sent to the House six bills of interest to KNEA.

Senate Bill 7 allows school boards to change the timing of the election of school board officers to adjust to the change of school board elections from April to November.

Senate Bill 9, repaying $115 million to KPERS (See above).

Senate Bill 16 allows at-risk money to be used for evidence-based programs including Jobs for America’s Graduates, or JAG, and Boys & Girls Clubs. We believe this is already allowed and wonder why it is necessary.

Senate Bill 71 eliminates the expiration of the postsecondary technical education authority and requires a report to the Kansas Legislature.

Senate Bill 128 changes the number of required fire, tornado and crisis drills. Monthly fire drills would drop to at least four per year, tornado drills would drop to at least two per year with one in September and another in March, and at least three crisis drills would be required per year during school hours.

Senate Bill 199 creates the AO-K to Work program allowing certain adults without high school diplomas or GEDs to earn a “high school equivalency credential” by participating in career pathways and earning an industry accepted credential.

What bills did not make it out of committee?

House bills of interest to KNEA that did not go to the floor.

  • House Bill 2071 creating the Proud Educator license plate. This bill was on the House floor for debate but passed over and did not return to debate.
  • House Bill 2166 requiring a financial literacy course for high school graduation (committee actually voted no on a motion to pass it out).
  • House Bill 2183 requiring a computer science course for high school graduation.
  • House Bill 2233 requiring school districts to give every teacher $500 to purchase school supplies.
  • House Bill 2256 establishing the community leadership service act.
  • House Bill 2287 restoring due process for Kansas teachers.
  • House Bill 2288 establishing the student and educator religious freedom of speech act.
  • House Bill 2330, a bullying bill based on one written by Walt Chappell.
  • House Bill 2078, Governor Kelly’s school finance bill responding to Gannon.
  • House Bill 2106, Rep. Jim Ward’s school finance bill responding to Gannon.
  • House Bill 2108 allowing at-risk funds to be used for evidence-based programs (the same bill was passed by the Senate as SB 16).
  • House Bill 2145 re-appropriating unspent special education funds to special education.
  • House Bill 2150 granting a private school voucher to any student who alleges bullying happened.
  • House Bill 2207 putting limits on requirements districts might place on contractors bidding on school construction/repair/remodeling.
  • House Bill 2257, the bullying bill proposed by Equality Kansas.

Senate bills of interest to KNEA that did not go to the floor.

  • Senate Bill 47 creating the Student Opportunity Scholarship Act and creating a post-secondary scholarship for a student who graduates from high school at the end of the junior year.
  • Senate Bill 52 restoring due process for Kansas teachers.
  • Senate Bill 148 putting limits on requirements districts might place on contractors bidding on school construction/repair/remodeling.
  • Senate Bill 44, Governor Kelly’s school finance bill responding to Gannon.
  • Senate Bill 142, a two-year school funding fix in response to Gannon.
  • Senate Bill 156, a school finance bill increasing the at-risk weighting.

The status of Senate Bill 22, the multi-national corporation tax cut bill

As we have reported here before, SB 22 passed the full Senate on a vote of 26 to 14 and was sent to the House. The Senate version of this bill provides nearly $190 million in tax cuts, most of which go to multi-national corporations. About 25% of the cut in this bill goes to a few individual taxpayers who will be allowed to itemize deductions on their Kansas income tax form even if they can’t on their federal form.

Under the Trump tax cuts, many people who used to itemize can no longer do so because of the increase in the standard deduction on the federal tax form. This could result in some Kansas taxpayers paying more in state income taxes.

During floor debate, Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) said the bill benefits “working Kansans” but in reality it does not. Wagle noted in debate that without this bill about 9% of Kansas individuals are wealthy enough that they can still itemize under the new federal law. If SB 22 were to pass, another 9% of Kansas individuals would benefit from itemizing on their Kansas taxes. Those individuals would be a higher income levels. In other words, 82% of Kansans would get no benefit at all while multi-national corporations would.

The bill was amended in the House Tax Committee to include a one-cent reduction in the food sales tax and a new provision that would require all online vendors to collect and remit Kansas sales tax once they hit a threshold of $100,000 in sales in Kansas. This amended version of SB 22 now goes to the House floor and will likely be taken up shortly after legislators return on March 6.

KNEA strongly opposes Senate Bill 22. Kansas is now on the road to recovery after the disastrous impact of the Brownback tax policies. This is not the time to be considering another massive corporate tax giveaway.

We urge all Kansans to contact their representatives and tell them to vote NO on Senate Bill 22. Use the link below to contact your legislator. Let’s balance the budget, fund our schools, fix our foster care system, mend our corrections department, and fund our highway program. These are our shared priorities.

ALERT: Stop a Dangerous New Tax Plan
CLICK Here to contact your legislator
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Religion, Ed Bills, & Taxes

Feb 22, 2019 by

Religion, Ed Bills, & Taxes

House Education Hears Religion Bill

The Kansas House Education Committee met this week to hold a hearing on House Bill 2288, the Student and Educator Freedom of Religious Speech Act. This bill, brought by Rep. Renee Erickson (R-Wichita) and co-sponsored by 27 additional Republicans, would essentially allow religious proselytization by students and teachers in public schools.

The bill puts many restrictions and requirements on public schools so that religious speech and the distribution of religious materials could not be managed. If passed, the bill would open up our schools to lots of lawsuits from both advocates of religious speech and those who ardently defend the separation of church and state.

Currently, students are generally allowed to engage in religious speech at school although some limits can be placed on it. Under the federal Equal Access Act, high school students must be given access to facilities equally – so that if the high school has clubs using facilities, they cannot tell a religious club they can’t – they have equal access. Students can engage in student-initiated, student-led prayer. But students cannot be compelled to participate and teachers cannot be active participants.

One section of this bill grants very broad rights to teachers to engage in and even assist in religious activities at school. This includes everything from wearing religious clothing to decorating their desks with religious items.

Teachers do not shed their religious beliefs “at the school house doors,” however, they do agree to not promote their beliefs in the school. It has been noted in legal cases that children in elementary and middle schools are very impressionable and have a tendency to look at their teachers as role models. If a teacher were to decorate his or her desk with religious items that promote his or her own beliefs, it could lead to a student questioning the religious lessons taught at home. And Kansas law currently, in the Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act (60-5301 through 60-5305), prohibits activities that would “(i)mpair the fundamental right of every parent to control the care and custody of such parent’s minor children, including, but not limited to, control over education, discipline, religious and moral instruction…

The bill was supported by Rep. Erickson, the Family Policy Alliance, a wrestling coach, and a broadcaster. Opponents were KASB, KNEA, the PTA, and the Mainstream Coalition.

The House Ed Committee also worked two bills.

HB 2144 by Rep. Kristey Williams (R-Augusta) originally put many restrictions on community colleges. The bill was opposed by the Association of Community College Boards of Trustees.

A large balloon amendment was brought on Thursday that stripped out everything except two sections dealing with reporting transparency. One section would require community colleges to post the courses for which credit is fully transferable to 4-year institutions. The other section requires the collection of data with lots of student demographic information.

The balloon amendment was adopted and the bill was passed out of committee. It now goes to the full House for consideration.

The second bill worked was HB 2166, the bill mandating a course in financial literacy for high school graduation. Again, a balloon amendment was offered that stripped out the mandatory course and instead said that if a school offered a course in financial literacy, they district needed to adopt a policy under which a student could take that course for 1/2 credit of mathematics.

The amendment would also require the Kansas State Board of Education to allow the course to be counted as 1/2 credit of mathematics and the Kansas Board of Regents to recognize the class for 1/2 credit of mathematics.

The amendment was adopted but a motion to pass the amended bill out of committee failed. The bill is now out of consideration. Of course it can come up as an amendment somewhere else so we will continue to watch for it.

House Tax Committee considers bill to ensure Kansas gets sales tax on internet sales

The House Tax Committee held a hearing on HB 2352 which would adjust tax policies to meet a new court decision that will allow states to better collect sales tax on internet purchases.

Currently, Kansas collects sales taxes on internet vendors who have a physical presence in the state. If one makes a purchase from a vendor that does not, it is quite possible that the vendor will not collect and remit Kansas sales tax. Kansas taxpayers have the opportunity to report such purchases on their income tax returns and pay the sales tax at that time but it is believed that very few people actually do that and there is no way to find out. Rep. Don Hineman (R-Dighton), in talking to a conferee who admitted to paying such taxes on his return, asked if he felt he was taxed for his purchases or for his honesty.

This bill sets a threshold for sales in Kansas by an internet vendor such that the vendor would be required to collect and remit Kansas sales tax after meeting the threshold ($100,000) in sales. Some states have also set a threshold of a number of transactions in the state – for example, the vendor had 200 purchases from the state – but this bill does not include such a provision.


The House considered two bills of interest this week.

Senate Bill 9 which would direct the state to pay $115 million to KPERS this year to pay back contributions that had been withheld was advanced to final action and will be voted on Friday. If it passes, it goes to the governor.

HB 2071, which would establish a “proud educator” license plate, was up for debate but was passed over apparently so that a legislator can get an amendment prepared to add a “Don’t Tread on Me” (Tea Party) license plate to it. We will see if it comes back on Friday.

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Bullying and Budgeting

Feb 20, 2019 by

A solid week of bullying bills!

This is turning out to be the week of the bully under the dome. It started with a Valentine’s Day hearing on HB 2150, a bill that allowed any child who reported bullying – just reported it; it didn’t have to happen to him/her and it didn’t actually have to happen at all – to be offered a voucher to attend a private school where, we guess, bullying must not happen.

Okay, it wasn’t a bill to address bullying, it was a bill to create vouchers. Now this week, we have hearings on two more bullying bills.

One, HB 2257, was drafted by Equality Kansas, an advocacy organization for LGBTQ Kansans. Equality Kansas took the time to confer on their draft with education organizations including KNEA and was receptive to suggestions resulting in a bill that is generally considered the best one out there at this time.

The second bill is HB 2330. This bill was based on the infamous Walt Chappell drafted bill that was so much overkill that even advocates for stronger bullying laws opposed it. The bill was given to freshman Representative Mark Samsel (R-Wellsville) who worked to purge it of some of the more onerous provisions. Samsel has also reached out to KNEA, KASB, and USA for input in the hope of creating something that everyone can agree to – perhaps a melding of HB 2257 and HB 2330. Complicating the problem is that the bills are having hearings in two different committees!

Bullying legislation is a perennial issue in the statehouse with education organizations looking for local control on the issue and other organizations seeking statutes with “more teeth.”

KNEA opposed HB 2150 for what it is – a voucher bill. We are appearing neutral on the other two and encouraging legislators to deal with this issue as they did with the other perennial issue, dyslexia. Last year, with the leadership of Rep. Brenda Dietrich (R-Topeka), a controversial dyslexia bill was transformed into the establishment of a task force made up of teachers, administrators, State Board members, parents, legislators, and advocacy organizations.

The Dyslexia Task Force met over the summer and fall and managed to collaboratively develop a set of recommendations – unanimously adopted by the members of the task force – that will hopefully satisfy all of the interested parties. We believe the same process should be used to come up with a solution to bullying that helps schools, protects students, and deals with the underlying issues.

HB 2257 had a hearing today; HB 2330 will get a hearing tomorrow. And that voucher bill, HB 2150? It is scheduled for a vote in committee tomorrow.

Money mess

Since budgeting, spending, and taxes are all intertwined, we thought it best to let you know where things are as of today.

The mostly corporate tax giveaway, SB 22, has passed the Senate with 26 votes and is getting a hearing in the House Tax Committee today and tomorrow. It reduces revenue by nearly $190 million.

Both the Senate and House Tax Committees are hearing bills this week to lower the food sales tax rate. Lowering the rate by one cent, from 6.5% to 5.5% would cost the state about $60 million.

The Senate has also passed SB 9 which would require the state to immediately pay back $115 million in funds delayed to KPERS. This bill has had a hearing in the House Appropriations Committee and was voted out of committee favorably. It awaits action in the full House probably this week. It represents a reduction of $115 million from the treasury which would make the budget harder to balance.

Governor Kelly had recommended the re-amortization of KPERS in order to lower the immediate costs and help balance the budget. Her re-amortization bill was soundly defeated on the House floor.

So lots of things are happening that will make it more difficult to balance the budget and meet the priorities for Kansas that Governor Kelly highlighted in her state of the state address – funding schools, repairing the foster care system, hiring correctional officers to end the crisis in Kansas prisons, and expand Medicaid to provide health insurance to 150,000 uninsured working Kansans.

We are approaching the half-way point of the session. There is much still to be done!

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