Supreme Court Takeover – TAKE ACTION!

Feb 2, 2016 by

Big Day on the House Floor Tomorrow! Governor Brownback Wants Control of the Supreme Court!

House Concurrent Resolution 5005 will be debated on the House floor tomorrow. This resolution has been demanded for several years by Governor Brownback and legislators opposed to the school finance decisions handed down by the Kansas Supreme Court

Under the Kansas Constitution, a Supreme Court Nominating Commission first reviews the qualifications of persons who wish to be appointed. That commission, made up of representatives of the legal profession, chooses the three most qualified applicants to the Governor who selects one of the three to sit on the Supreme Court. This is known as the “merit selection system.” It is in the constitution to ensure that selection of justices is not a political decision and that justices are not subject to the prevailing political winds and instead focus on the law itself.

HCR 5005 would give the Governor full power to select justices on his/her own subject only to a confirmation vote by the Kansas Senate. As has become all too common in the federal system which HCR 5005 mimics, the selection of justices would become highly politicized in an attempt to ensure that the courts will uphold the political ideology of the Governor regardless of the rule of law.

KNEA opposes HCR 5005. Since it is a constitutional amendment, it would have to be placed on the ballot for a vote of the people. To get on the ballot the resolution must get a supermajority in the legislature – 84 votes in the House.

Let your Representative know that HCR 5005 is bad policy. Keep our courts objective and focused on the law, not politics. Click here for a House roster with links to emails.


House Ed Committee Hears Tax Credit/Voucher Bill

On day two of Bradford week in the House Education Committee, a hearing was held on HB 2457. This bill takes the current corporate tax credits for private school vouchers law and expands it exponentially.

HB 2457 would:

  • make the tax credits available to corporations and individuals,
  • eliminate the requirement that an eligible student is an at-risk student,
  • eliminate the requirement that an eligible student is in a public school now,
  • eliminate the requirement that an eligible student is currently in a Title 1 Priority or Focus school,
  • set income eligibility as 250% of the federal poverty level which is more than $60,000,
  • change the tax credit from 70% to 100%,
  • increase the tax loss to the state treasury to $12.5 million.

The proponents of the bill were Rep. John Bradford (R-Lansing), the Kansas Policy Institute, Americans for Prosperity, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Success for Kansas Students (represented by former public school superintendent Bart Goering), Bishop Wade Moore of Wichita (founder of Urban Preparatory Academy), and the Kansas Catholic Conference.

Opponents were parent groups Game on for Kansas Schools, Kansas Families for Education, the Kansas PTA, Mainstream Coalition, and the Goddard Education Foundation; public school groups KNEA, KASB, Northwest Kansas Educational Service Center, USD 501 Topeka, and USD 204 Bonner Springs; individual opposing were David Hand of Kanopolis and Marvin Miller of Wichita.

We will continue to watch this bill in the event that the committee chooses to work the bill.

Want to weigh in with the Committee members? Click here for Committee roster with links to their emails.

Tomorrow the Committee will have a hearing on HB 2504, Bradford’s massive school consolidation bill.

What do you think about expansion of tax credit vouchers for private schools?  Take our survey now.

 


House Commerce Committee Considers Bargaining Transparency

A bill requiring public collective bargaining meetings to be held in open meetings, HB 2325, had a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee today. KNEA testified as neutral on the bill since its provisions already apply to the Professional Negotiations Act under which teachers and community college/tech college instructors negotiate.

Appearing in support of the bill were AFT/Kansas and the Kansas Organization of State Employees. The Kansas Chamber of Commerce submitted written testimony in support. Negotiations under the Public Employer Employee Relations Act (PEERA) are not currently open. Our fellow public employee unions felt opening the meetings would be beneficial to the process.

Opposition came from the Fraternal Order of Police and the Kansas State Troopers Association.

No action was taken on the bill today.


House Judiciary Committee Hears Bill Criminalizing Teaching Materials

Senate Bill 56 rose from last year’s dustbin to get a hearing the House Judiciary Committee today. This bill was thought to be bottled up in Committee and is evidence that no bad idea ever really dies under the dome.

This is the bill that removes the “affirmative defense” from teachers.

Let’s say a parent files a complaint that you taught pornography by having your students read The Scarlet Letter in your literature class or you showed a photo of Michelangelo’s David in your art history class. Under current law you can use the affirmative defense of the literary, artistic, or educational value of the materials. This bill essentially says the complainer is right.

While we doubt that there would be many teachers dragged before grand juries, the bill would cause school districts and teachers to self-censor materials. If one has a student in class whose parent is likely to disapprove of a book, one will no longer teach that book.

This is a terrible policy that jeopardizes the quality of education in every building. It would apply to public and private school teachers in Kansas.

KNEA strongly opposes this bill. We urge you to ask the members of the committee to reject this censorship bill and protect the integrity of instructional programs. Click here to access a roster of committee members with links to their legislative email addresses.

Click here to read the bill. Note that it removes the defense from K-12 teachers but retains it for post-secondary instructors.

 

 

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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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Senate Rejects Another Tax Plan

Jun 2, 2015 by

Yet Another Plan Goes Down

After Sunday night’s defeat of the Abrams amendment to HB 2109 (the Senate tax bill), Senate leadership regrouped and on Monday brought forth a new amendment based on the Governor’s tax proposal.

The plan, carried by Tax Committee Chairman Les Donovan (R-Wichita), contained the following:

  • The itemized deduction proposal – repealing all but charitable contributions, home mortgage interest, and property taxes paid with the latter two at 50%.
  • Taxing the “guaranteed payments” in income tax exempt businesses (governor’s proposal).
  • Freezing the income tax rates through tax year 2017, dropping them to 2.0/4.1% in 2018 and 2019; and 1.9/3.8% in tax year 2020.
  • Raising the threshold under which one would owe no income taxes (governor’s proposal)
  • Repeal the remaining food sales tax exemption.
  • Raise sales tax on everything to 6.5% on July 1; drop the sales tax on food to 6.0% on Jan. 1.
  • The tax amnesty program.
  • Increase cigarette tax by $0.50/pack.
  • Tax e-cigarettes at $0.20/ml.
  • Assume the MCO fee increase.

Senator Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) asked that the amendment be divided into three parts. Part A would be raising the threshold under which one would owe no income taxes (governor’s proposal); part B would be the sales tax provisions; part C would contain the remainder of the amendments.

Part A, exempting some of the lowest income Kansans from paying income taxes, passed on a vote of 33 to 4 with only Abrams, Donovan, Ostmeyer, and Smith voting NO. Francisco did not vote; Arpke and Wilborn were absent.

The next vote was on the sales tax increases. The tax increases failed on a vote of 8 to 30 with only Donovan, Holmes, Kerschen, King, Longbine, Olson, Powell, and Wagle voting YES.

The third part, which was everything else in the above list was voted down on a voice vote.

The Senate then adjourned for the day to return today at 10:00 am.

Senate again adopts HB 2353

Earlier both the House and Senate had adopted HB 2353, the bill containing clean-up fixes to the block grant bill, SB 7, and the education community’s PNA consensus bill.

It was discovered later that there was an error in the drafting of the bill that had to be fixed so both chambers brought the bill back up and formed a conference committee to fix the error. This was accomplished during a meeting at the rail. No changes were made to the PNA provisions.

Yesterday the Senate adopted the conference committee report. Now it only needs to be adopted by the House.

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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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Bad PNA Bill Voted Down in Senate!

Mar 25, 2015 by

Senate votes down Melcher PNA bill

Video Update:

Yesterday we reported that the Senate had approved an amendment by Sen. Jeff Melcher that changed the PNA bill agreed to by KNEA, KASB, USA/KS, and KSSA into a bill that all opposed. The Melcher amendment would have allowed the negotiation of only minimum salaries and prohibited the negotiation of any fair dismissal or due process procedures in non-renewals. Additionally the amendment ended the continuing contract law and fact-finding as part of the negotiation process.

The Senate had earlier pass a PNA bill agreed to by educators on a unanimous vote but yesterday, 20 of those senators reversed course in voting for the Melcher amendment.

The bill – now in HB 2326 – was up for a final action vote on the floor of the Senate this morning. A preliminary count on the vote showed the bill with only 18 votes – three short of the required 21 for passage. A call of the House was put on to force some who had passed to vote.

As those votes were cast, the vote turned to 19 ayes and 21 nos. With the bill losing, other Senators then changed their vote and the bill was defeated on a vote of 13 to 27.

At this point, the bill is considered killed although there is the possibility that someone might try a motion to reconsider the bill. We will be watching for this the rest of today and on Monday.

Voting NO on the bill were:

Bowers, Denning, Donovan, Faust-Goudeau, Fitzgerald, Francisco, Haley, Hawk, Hensley, Holland, Holmes, Kelly, Kerschen, King, LaTurner, Longbine, Love, McGinn, O’Donnell, Ostmeyer, Petersen, Pettey, Schmidt, Smith, Wagle, Wilborn, and Wolf

Voting YES were:

Abrams, Arpke, Baumgardner, Bruce, Knox, Lynn, Masterson, Melcher, Olson, Pilcher-Cook, Powell, Pyle, and Tyson


Senate Ed Committee Finishes Hearing on Abrams Finance Bill

The Senate Education Committee met over lunch again today to finish the hearing on SB 294, Senator Abrams’ pilot school finance proposal.

Testifying today were Chris Brown of the Tea Party’s Kansans for Liberty, Mark Tallman of KASB, Mark Desetti of KNEA, and Cheryl Semmel of USA/KS. All testified as neutral suggesting that the bill had some interesting ideas but also raised concerns.

KNEA specifically mentioned concerns about the proposed Success Incentive funds. While the plan is to reward school districts whose graduates move into higher education or the workplace in the 24 months following graduation, there is no way currently to gather the data required for making all of these decisions. Additionally, they don’t account for those who choose to take low-wage jobs after graduation to save money for college. The plan will also likely raise very serious concerns for those who already have problems with the sharing of individual student data.

Since the bill is double-referred to both Education and Ways and Means it must be approved by both committees in order to be sent to the floor. It is awfully late in the session for such major legislation to be considered.

We’ll be tracking this bill over the next week.


Legislature to be out until next week

Today is second turn around, the day by which bills must have been voted on by the second chamber in order to go on. Bills that don’t get through the second chamber and are not in an exempt committee will die tonight.

Of course, as all of us learned last April, no bad idea ever dies. Please remain connected and vigilant through the last Legislative day sometime in May!

 

 

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