Session adjourned, but what have we truly accomplished?

Apr 7, 2017 by

The Legislature has adjourned the regular session and your representatives are headed for home. The House, which was last to adjourn, was out by 11:54 am. Legislators will be home the rest of April and return to Topeka for the veto session – more commonly these days called the wrap-up session.


The biggest issues of the 2017 session remain unresolved.

  • They did pass a budget but it does not balance.
  • They failed to pass tax reform that will fund our vital state services going forward.
  • They have not yet passed a new school finance formula although it is assembled and awaits a vote in committee in May to send it to the floor for consideration.
  • They failed to expand Medicaid, denying 150,000 Kansans access to health care.

Their accomplishments? They successfully defended the National Rifle Association by ensuring that come July 1, 2017, Kansas community colleges, tech colleges, and universities will be wide open for firearms. Anyone can carry a firearm on any post-secondary campus at any time unless the campus can provide metal detectors and security staff at entrances. It didn’t matter that parent organizations, student organizations, faculty and college administration – even General Richard B. Myers, the retired military hero and current president of Kansas State University – wanted the law changed to allow campuses to control weapons. It only mattered that the NRA wants our campuses to be open to all guns all the time.  

The last attempt to address the guns on campus issue happened on Tuesday, April 4, when Rep. Jim Ward (R-Wichita) made a motion to bring a related gun bill to the floor for debate. Ward’s motion failed when it only got 44 votes. All 40 Democrats voted to bring the issue to the floor for debate; they were joined by only four Republicans – Rep. Shelee Brim (R-Shawnee), Rep. Stephanie Clayton (R-Overland Park), Rep. Melissa Rooker (R-Fairway), and Rep. Tom Sloan (R-Lawrence).

They also successfully declared pornography to be a public health issue in Kansas and prohibited Kansas from doing business with any company that is boycotting Israel.

Brownback State of the State

So, despite the reality in Kansas today – a reality in which Gov. Brownback remains the most unpopular governor in the United States with overwhelming public opposition to the tax disaster he forced upon Kansas in 2012 – the legislature has been unable to muster enough votes to override his vetoes of reasonable tax reform and the expansion of Medicaid, leaving Brownback to believe his ideology and policies are invincible. He will continue to cling to his failed policies as long as the legislature remains unwilling to stand up for their constituents.

The attitude of the obstructionists in the legislature can best be seen in the comments and votes of Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita). After voting to sustain the Governor’s veto of Medicaid expansion, she told the press that the state just did not have the money to do this. Yet earlier in the session, Landwehr voted NO on HB 2178, the first comprehensive tax reform bill that would have reversed much of the Brownback disaster. And she then voted NO on the motion to override his veto of that bill. The argument that the state does not have the money would sound more honest if she had actually joined with those who were trying to solve the money problem.

While HB 2178 would have been a great step in the right direction, with the subsequent Supreme Court ruling in the Gannon school finance case, we know now that it would not have gone far enough. Since then, the legislature has done nothing serious to return to common sense tax policy. They have sent out bills to raise cigarette and liquor taxes, they have thought about motor fuels tax increases, and yesterday after the Governor expressed support for a “flat tax” bill, the Senate defeated that bill on a vote of 3-37. KNEA opposes the flat tax bill because it radically raised taxes on low and middle-income Kansans while essentially protecting the wealthiest. The flat tax bill would have been a massive tax increase on lower income individuals and a minor tax increase on the wealthiest.

There is a way out of this disaster but it takes some courage. Some legislators are now floating the idea of repealing the 2012 tax cuts and going back to the income tax as it was before Brownback conned the legislature into passing his disastrous experiment. These legislators would end the glide path to zero, and put 330,000 businesses back on the tax rolls while reinstating their business loss deduction. They would reinstate the third tax bracket on higher income individuals while providing middle-class relief by reinstating deductions for child and dependent care, medical expenses, and home mortgage interest.

A proposal of this sort would raise enough revenue to bring our state back from the abyss and allow the legislature to stop robbing the highway fund, to respond appropriately to the Gannon decision, and even expand Medicaid.

We are well past the time for gimmicks and protecting a failed Governor. When the legislature returns on May 1 their first order of business needs to be reversing the failed tax policies of 2012 and 2013. And they need to find the resolve to stand up to the bully on the second floor in order to save this great state.

Your legislators will be back home from now until May 1. It is critical that they hear from their constituents; from Kansans who want good roads, excellent schools, and support for those facing difficult challenges. Tell your legislators that you’ve had enough of the Brownback experiment. It is a failed experiment and it is time to reverse it.

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Ed Budget Committee Cancelled; Medicaid Override Fails

Apr 3, 2017 by

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee meeting for today was cancelled and we are not quite certain about why. We had expected the committee to meet – on Friday night Chairman Campbell had said they would likely meet to finish the transportation weighting and consider a few additional amendments. Frankly, we thought they might finish up today and send the bill out.

But the meeting was cancelled early today amid rumors of a desire to have the new legislative counsel on hand before voting the bill out (reports are that the legislature may hire former Senator Jeff King as their adviser on school finance). Another rumor is that a cost run came in unusually high and needed to be further reviewed. It’s also possible that leadership may not be fully supportive the measure being crafted in the committee.

But whatever the reason, the committee will not meet today. We will watch for an announcement about tomorrow.


House Fails to Override Brownback’s Medicaid Veto

On a vote of 81 – 44, the House failed to pass a motion to override the Governor’s veto of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. It takes an 84 vote majority to override.

This action means that there are now and will be into the foreseeable future, 150,000 low-incomed working Kansans who have no real access to health insurance. These are people whose income is too high for ACA credits but too low to pay for private insurance.

The 44 who voted NO on the override are Republican Representatives Arnberger, Aurand, Awerkamp, Barker, Blex, Carpenter, Claeys, Corbet, Davis, DeGraaf, Delperdang, Dove, Ellis, Esau, Finch, Francis, Garber, Hawkins, Highland, Hoffman, House, Huebert, Humphries, Jacob, Jones, Lakin, Landwehr, Mason, Osterman, Powell, Rafie, Rahjes, Resman, Ryckman, Schwab, Seiwert, Eric Smith, Tarwater, Thimesch, Vickrey, Weber, Whitmer, and Williams.

All 40 Democrats and 41 other Republicans voted to override.

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Medicaid Battle Not Over, K-12 Budget Working Late

Mar 30, 2017 by

VETO OVER-RIDE TABLED IN THE HOUSE

Today Governor Brownback ignored the majority of those in the legislature who were elected to represent the good citizens of Kansas and instead made good on a promise to veto medicaid expansion.  Many advocacy groups have urged Kansans to pressure legislators to vote to override the Governor’s veto.  Governor Brownback’s continued insistence to place partisan ideology ahead of what’s best for the neediest citizens of our state is certainly disappointing.  Kansas Action for Children President and CEO, Annie McKay offered a strong rebuke of the Governor’s veto while calling him to account for backtracking on his own words:

“In 2014, Governor Brownback gladly signed legislation relinquishing authority for expanding KanCare over to the Kansas Legislature. He refused to take any further action on the issue because he said it was the legislature’s responsibility. A bipartisan majority of both legislative chambers have now endorsed the expansion of KanCare. It is deeply disappointing to see Governor Brownback obstruct the will of the people on such an important issue for the second time this session.

Kancare expansion – much like comprehensive tax reform – is widely supported across this state. It will improve the health and well-being of thousands of Kansas children and families and will strengthen our economy as a whole. We encourage lawmakers to stand strong for their communities and give thousands of our citizens the health care they deserve by voting to override the Brownback veto of House Bill 2044.”

After contentious debate in the Kansas House of Representatives, a motion to over-ride the Governor’s veto has been tabled to give citizens an opportunity to weigh in on the issue.  We strongly encourage you to take this opportunity to contact your representatives in both the House and Senate and urge them to vote to OVER-RIDE the Governor’s veto on medicaid expansion.  You can find your representatives and contact them by CLICKING HERE.


K-12 Budget Working Late

Rep. Brenda Landwehr

After Chairman Campbell’s promise to work today until a new school finance formula has been created, the K-12 Budget Committee has been doing just that.  At this hour, there has been much debate around a slew of amendments.  Notably, Rep. Brenda Landwehr suggested in a stern tone that the Supreme Court of Kansas hasn’t suggested that more money is needed to solve adequacy.  Instead, she suggested that a more efficient distribution of funding was in order and would satisfy the court order.  Landwehr went on to state that Catholic schools do better than public schools with less money spent and that “how you teach and approach students is more important than money.”  Few would argue that teaching and learning successes come from dedicated professional educators and engaged students, but as the Supreme Court has noted time and again, the state (most recently with Brownback’s CLASS Act) has not been supporting public education equitably or adequately.

Among the important amendments already adopted are:

  • Replacing the three local tax levies with the prior formula’s LOB formula,
  • Full funding of all-day Kindergarten beginning next year,
  • Additional funding for preschool at-risk,
  • Re-establishing the career and tech ed weighting,
  • Removing the 5 year limit on bilingual funding, and
  • Returning to the prior formula on high density at-risk.

As we write this, amendments are still being offered and the debate continues.  We expect this committee to be working late into the night.  We will post a full report in tomorrow’s edition of Under the Dome.

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War on Teachers is Not Over Yet

Mar 28, 2017 by

More Disrespect for Kansas Teachers

Senators Susan Wagle and Jim Denning

Once again the anti-teacher conservative extremists have abused their power to punish Kansas teachers.

Today leadership in the Senate – Jim Denning, specifically and with the support of Susan Wagle – abruptly withdrew a bill from the debate calendar when they realized an amendment that would restore due process was going to be offered and would almost certainly pass.  We’ve seen this before, this session (click here).  Remember it was Denning and Wagle who sided with Governor Brownback choosing to vote against a veto override on badly needed tax reform, and only after assuring others that they wouldn’t.  Today it was crystal clear that Denning and Wagle are perfectly happy to continue their war on teachers.

Wagle led the effort to repeal due process at 4:00 am back in 2014 through a series of floor amendments on a school funding bill. Wagle and Denning, who have worked for years to diminish the teaching profession took it upon themselves today to once again demonstrate their disrespect for the men and women who teach our children.

Wagle and Denning are the primary advocates of the anti-teacher agenda in Topeka and have personally been leading a war on teachers for years. It is thanks to actions like pulling a bill that was almost certain to pass, just to spite teachers, that the teacher shortage in Kansas has become worse with each passing year.  We know that teachers are retiring in droves while enrollment in teacher preparation programs is in sharp decline.  Education Commissioner Randy Watson has told the education committees that teachers in Kansas feel under attack and disrespected by legislators and that teacher morale is at an all-time low. Wagle, Denning, and their allies are the reason why.

Subverting the democratic process, is subverting due process.  There is no darker irony than purposely muting due process by withholding a bill meant to restore due process for teachers.

You can weigh in on this abuse of the democratic process. Jim Denning serves as the majority leader in the Kansas Senate. He knows that the amendment was coming; he also knows the amendment was likely to pass. Rather than letting there be a vote, he chose to shut down the process. You can let Senator Denning know that you are watching this behavior and that you expect better. Email or call Senator Denning. Tell him to bring HB 2126 back up for debate and amendment.

Email is  Jim.denning@senate.ks.gov. His office phone number is 785-296-2497. As always, be respectful but remember that Denning, like all elected officials, works for you.

Read more about Jim Denning’s attacks on public education here:  http://www.standupbluevalley.org/kansas-senate-district-8


K-12 Budget Committee Cancelled for Today

We had expected the K-12 Education Budget Committee to begin working HB 2410, a school finance bill, this afternoon but the committee meeting was cancelled. Why? We can only speculate.

Support for the bill seems rather weak and it may be that leadership is trying to come up with a strategy to pursue in getting it – or something very like it – passed. It might also be that the Chairman is simply allowing his committee members and the revisor, Jason Long, more time to write amendments. We expect there will be a lot of amendments.

This is when you should all keep people like Jason in your thoughts! He will be at work writing amendments almost 24/7! Lobbyists and legislators alike are very appreciative of the efforts of the hardworking legislative research staff and the office of the Revisor of Statutes.


Senate Approves Medicaid Expansion; Now It’s Up to the Governor

The Senate today gave final action approval to HB 2044, the bill which expands Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. It was approved on a vote of 25-14. Yesterday, five amendments offered by Mary Pilcher-Cook and Dennis Pyle that would have done everything from prohibiting Medicaid expenditures for family planning to denying Medicaid to anyone living in a town that has adopted a “sanctuary city” were all defeated.

The bill then was approved by the Senate in the same form in which it passed the House. That means the bill will not be subject to a conference committee and instead go directly to the Governor.

A statement issued by the Governor’s office indicates his opposition to Medicaid expansion but stopped short of saying he would veto the bill. We’ll see.

 

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Schools, Medicaid, and Grinding Toward the End

Mar 27, 2017 by

School Finance Hearing Finishes; No Work Yet

The House K-12 Education Budget Committee met today and concluded three days of hearings on HB 2410, the Chairman’s bill on school finance. We have been there all three days and don’t believe we heard any proponents for the bill with the exception of a virtual school organization that rose to express support for only that portion of the bill and had no position on anything else.

Based on Chairman Larry Campbell’s (R-Olathe) previous comments, we had assumed that the committee might begin working the bill after the hearing ended but instead Campbell adjourned the committee after announcing that tomorrow’s meeting would be “on the call of the chair.” So tomorrow we will be waiting for an announcement from the floor of the House as to whether or not the committee will meet.


KanCare and Medicaid Expansion

Rep. Cindy Holscher (D-Overland Park) offered an amendment to HB 2047 to add an independent ombudsman for KanCare. Currently, if denied services, one can appeal only to the very board that denied the service. This was one of the issues raised in the highly critical federal review of KanCare that found serious problems with the Kansas system. The amendment failed 49-73. In other words, the Kansas House voted once again to deny a due process appeal, this time by persons with serious medical issues being denied services by the Colyer/Brownback health care system.

Also this afternoon, Medicaid expansion is being debated on the Senate floor. It has already passed the House with 81 votes and chances are good that it will pass the Senate after what is expected to be a lengthy debate. One of arguments most used by the opponents of expansion – the move by congressional Republicans and Donald Trump to repeal the Affordable Care Act – has been neutered by the failure of “Trumpcare” in Congress last week and the statement by House Speaker Paul Ryan that “Obamacare is the law of the land for the foreseeable future.”

UPDATE: Medicaid expansion passes the Senate 25-13 but still two votes shy of a veto-proof margin.  Here’s how your Senator voted courtesy of Topeka Capital-Journal Reporter, Celia Llopis-Jepsen (interactive map):  CLICK HERE

 


Mostly Floor Action This Week; Conference Committees Next Week

This week has very few committee meetings scheduled. Instead, both chambers will convene earlier in the day to debate bills that have come out of committee with the intention of finishing such work by Thursday, Friday at the latest. This will reserve next week for conference committees to work out the differences between House and Senate versions of the same bill and then adopting or rejecting those conference committee reports.

The last day for the regular session is April 7. Legislators will then go home for three weeks, reconvening for the veto session on May 1.

 

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