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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Committee Votes to Ban Payroll Deduction! TAKE ACTION NOW!

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 their phone numbers and emails!

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

Once you have phoned, send an email.

Click here to use 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.

 

 

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Going after employees, bargaining, elections, and justices

Feb 12, 2015 by

The War on Teachers, Police, Fire Fighters, Highway Workers, Nurses, Correctional Officers…etc., etc.

You might remember earlier this year when Kansas Speaker of the House Ray Merrick (R-Stilwell) proclaimed in the press that public employees are “non-producers” – folks who just take and take and contribute nothing to society.

Well, it seems that a lot of state legislators and Governor Brownback must agree.

Yesterday we reported on the introduction in the Senate of two bills (SB 176 and SB 179) designed to end collective bargaining of anything other than “minimum salaries.” Public employees would lose the right to mediation and fact finding; they would lose the right to file a grievance. The Public Employment Relations Board (management and labor working together) would be abolished and all power for decision making handed to the Secretary of Labor (appointed by the Governor).

At the same time, the Governor announced a sweeping change in hiring practices and rules for state employees. His plan would change jobs to classified status, making most state employees “at will” employees who can be let go at any time for any reason (or no reason). He plans to end seniority considerations in staff reductions. His plan would create civil servants rewarded more for loyalty to the administration than for service to the citizens.

We can’t understand why it is that public employees have become the enemy of the state. Frankly, we appreciate having public employees plow the snow from our street or help us after an accident. We love the men and women who keep criminals behind bars, who fill the potholes, who watch over our state parks, who provide services to foster families. And of course, we love our school employees who take care of children every day.

Does anyone still need to be reminded that public employees are NOT the reason we have no money in the state bank account. Governor Brownback and the Kansas Legislature consciously worked to bankrupt the state treasury through their income tax cuts that benefit only the wealthiest Kansans leave those who depend on quality state services with nothing.


Senate Education again to take up collective bargaining

You will remember that we reported on a hearing the Senate Education Committee on SB 136, the PNA modification bill crafted and supported by KASB, KNEA, USA/KS, and KSSA. The entire education community stood up in favor of a specific bill modifying PNA. No one appeared in the committee to oppose SB 136. Sounds like a pretty easy decision – all educators support it, no one opposes it.

But…next week the Senate Education Committee will hold a hearing on SB 176, the bill we described above and in yesterday’s report. A bill the whole education community opposes; a bill which will send the teaching profession back to the turn of the century (and we’re talking about 1899-1900, not 1999-2000!

The hearing will be on Wednesday of next week. You can contact the members of the Senate Education Committee on this issue by clicking on their names below:

Sen. Steve Abrams

Sen. Tom Arpke

Sen. Anthony Hensley

Sen. Vickie Schmidt

Sen. Dan Kerschen

Sen. Pat Pettey

Sen. Molly Baumgardner

Sen. Dennis Pyle

Sen. Jeff Melcher

Sen. Caryn Tyson

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald


Other Big Issues: Elections and Courts

Most KNEA members will be as surprised as we were to learn that teachers hold total dominion over the election of local school board members. But that’s just why, according to Senator Mitch Holmes (R-St. John), that he had to introduce Senate Bill 171, a measure to move local elections from April of odd numbered years to November of even numbered years. We suppose that’s the same rationale for making those elections partisan – requiring party identification.

We are not surprised to find that city and county commissions and school boards across the state are passing resolutions opposing SB 171. They don’t want the elections closest to the people to become the partisan circus we see on the state and federal level where dark money groups on both sides spend small fortunes to vilify candidates. Our local elections do not need to become more focused on character assassination than on local issues of real concern.

At the same time we’ve been watching hearings on constitutional amendments that would abolish merit selection of justices and replace it with political whim.

Angry mostly about judicial decisions on school finance – from Montoy to Gannon – Brownback and his allies are trying to either secure for themselves the appointment of justices who will rule more in line with their ideology or, not achieving that, turn appointment to the supreme court into popular partisan elections.

Either way, the court would become beholden not to the rule of law but rather to the administration or campaign donors.

Regardless of what anyone thinks of a particular court ruling, everyone wants to know that should they need to seek justice from a court, they can count on a court that puts the rule of law and fairness above their appointment or re-election campaign.


Senate Education Still Working Homeschoolers in Sports Bill

The Senate Education continued working SB 60 today, the bill that would permit homeschool or private school children to participate in extracurricular or co-curricular programs in public schools.

A number of amendments offered by Sen. Vickie Schmidt (R-Topeka) were adopted this afternoon but she still has one more which will have to wait until Monday as the committee needed to adjourn and go to the floor.

Schmidt’s amendments would ensure that:

  • Non-public school students must pay the same participation fees as public school students,
  • Non-public school students are subject to KSHAA rules,
  • District liability insurance must cover non-public school students,
  • Non-public school students must attest to academic requirements,
  • There is no guarantee of a spot on the team; the coach/sponsor decides,
  • Non-public school students must submit proof of immunization.

That’s when the discussion ended, with Schmidt having one more amendment to go. So…More on Monday!

 

 

 

 

 

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Just when you thought it was safe to go back under the dome…

Feb 11, 2015 by

Events under the dome have just got to make one wonder…

A lot of folks are wondering how it can get much crazier up here. We read the same press coverage as everyone else and then we get our daily bill packet from the statehouse and even we have to admit that on occasion the jaw drops!

Take, for example, a bill that has just lit up social media the past few days, Senate Bill 158. This bill creates a new tier of foster family to be known as a CARE family. (We aren’t quite sure what CARE means but it is always capitalized.) These CARE families must meet nine criteria:

  1. A husband and wife team married for at least seven years, in a faithful, loving and caring relationship and with no sexual relations outside of the marriage;
  2. submit to a background check on the husband and wife;
  3. no current use of tobacco by anyone in the family’s home;
  4. no history of unlawful drug use by anyone in the family’s home;
  5. no alcoholic liquor or cereal malt beverages in the family’s home;
  6. both the husband and wife have attained at least a high school diploma or equivalent;
  7. either the husband or wife, or both, does not work outside the home;
  8. the family is involved in a social group larger than the family that meets regularly, preferably at least weekly; and
  9. provide the secretary at least three references from people that personally know the family well.

The bill has a significant fiscal note as well. It states that “the secretary shall pay each CARE family at a rate substantially higher than that of other foster care homes.” Beyond that, the bill grants CARE families an amount of money equal to the statewide average state aid per pupil should the CARE family decide to send this child to a private school.

This, of course is proposed at the same time Governor Brownback has announced millions of dollars in cuts to public education funding and the Senate is considering legislation to not fully fund the LOB equity dollars required by last year’s school finance bill.

This week marriage is a big topic or more accurately, divorce is a big topic. There is a bill to put hurdles in front of couples seeking a divorce; hurdles intended to make is much more difficult to end a marriage.

Add to that Governor Brownback’s decision to rescind policies that prohibit state agencies from discriminating against gay and lesbian public employees. These policies were put in place eight years ago. Now they are gone.

If you are anything like us, you’re probably shaking your head and asking why our legislature is so concerned about a beer-drinking foster parent or a couple seeking to end a failed marriage or whether or not some state employee might be gay and not appearing to be particularly concerned about a tax policy that is bankrupting the state and forcing important states service like schools, highways, and the social service safety net to be slashed.

And then it hit us. Maybe this Governor and his allies, in crashing the state budget, are doing exactly what they wanted to do. To paraphrase Grover Norquist, perhaps our Governor and his allies really do want to “shrink government to a size that can be drowned in the bathtub.”

Doing that is more difficult than they anticipated because the cuts hurt real people and real families every day. These cuts are making people mad. The Governor’s education cuts have given him nothing but bad press for some time.

Maybe the goal of all this other stuff is simply to bump the economic failures of this administration off the front page, replacing them with things that will distract their natural opponents and inspire their natural political base.

Like the great magicians they are, they wave LGBT rights to distract us from the major damage they are doing to the services we all depend on and value.

Our advice to you? Don’t let them.

 


Senate proposes wholesale elimination of public employee rights

As if the attack on teacher bargaining rights was not enough, two bills were introduced in the Senate today that will destroy collective bargaining rights for all public employees.

Senate Bill 176 addresses the Professional Negotiations Act which applies to teachers and faculty at community and tech colleges; SB 179 does the same thing to all other public employees – police, firefighters, correctional officers, and all other state and municipal employees.

You will be told by legislators that they still have collective bargaining rights but here are a few details:

  • Negotiations for teachers are limited to “the minimum amount of salaries and wages, including pay for duties under supplemental contracts.” For municipal and state employees negotiations are limited to “the minimum amount of salaries and wages.”
  • Both bills eliminate mediation and fact finding; the bill applying to state and municipal employees also eliminates arbitration and grievances.
  • Under current law employees under the Public Employee Employer Relations Act (PEERA) requires the board or council to vote to allow bargaining but the bill would require that vote to occur and then require a vote of the public.
  • Also eliminated is the Public Employee Relations Board, currently a labor/management group that addresses conflicts. Under SB 179, all power would be given to the Secretary of Labor.

While Dave Trabert’s anti-teacher collective bargaining bill only applies to K-12 teachers, SB 176 would apply to K-12, community colleges, and technical colleges.

 


Senate Education Committee working bills

The Senate Education committee met today to discuss SB 32 requiring districts to complete efficiency compliance audits and SB 60 allowing home school students to participate in KSHSAA activities regardless of attendance in school.

Senator Arpke who added a balloon amendment to SB 32 to stipulate that 6 districts would pilot the audits and that these districts would be chosen by the School Efficiency Task Force. Senator Hensley asked if a requirement that a diverse sampling of districts participate in the pilot would be included, but Chairman Abrams replied that they would not.

Senator Melcher then offered an amendment to SB 32 requiring participating districts to pay for 50% of the cost of the audit stating that it would “require them to have skin in the game,” motivate them to keep costs down and participate responsibly.  After a motion to vote on SB 32 was offered by Melcher and Seconded by Arpke, Senator Pettey asked to back up and allow her to offer her amendments.  Chairman Abrams asked Melcher if he would recall his motion.  Melcher was not willing to recall his motion and Pettey’s amendments died on the spot without any hearing.  SB 32 and both Arpke and Melcher amendments passed 5-4 vote as reported by the chairman.

SB 60 discussion began with a review of the bill and amendments offered by Senator Pettey.  Her amendments included a requirement for home school students to show some commitment in order to participate in KSHSAA activities.  That commitment was defined as “participation in at least one credit course” in the school where the activity takes place, but that the course participation could include online or distance courses.

Additionally, Pettey offered amendments to require a specific age cap on participants at 19 and that homeschool participants would be required to pay all applicable participation fees.  Senator Melcher asked Pettey what problem she was trying to solve with her amendments.  Discussion became bogged down when concerns over FTE and credit weighting came into question.  Dale Dennis expertly navigated the committee through those questions.

A motion was made to table the bill and amendments for further discussion later.  More discussion occurred however, after which Chairman Abrams summarily ended the committee hearing.  Senator Schmidt objected noting that she had nine amendments of her own to be introduced.  Chairman Abrams then responded, “We’re going to meet tomorrow.”

 

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