Big Gun Debate; Perhaps a Late Education Meeting

Jun 1, 2017 by

The House this morning did not concur in the Senate changes to HB 2186 (a House judiciary bill turned into a Senate school finance bill) and so a conference committee has now been formed. This action allows the work of putting together what will likely be the last school finance bill of the regular session.

With the Senate embroiled in a gun bill debate, the conference committee plans to meet today. It may be just a preliminary meeting as the House will reconvene at 5:00 to take up the newly passed gun bill.


Now, about that gun bill…

The Senate debated Senate Sub for House Bill 2278 which would allow state hospitals to ban firearms. This issue has been a hot topic all session and wrapped up in it additionally have been attempts also to allow colleges to ban firearms. The Governor and hard right conservatives passed a law a few years ago that opened essentially every public area in the state – colleges, municipal buildings, state hospitals, etc.  – along with “constitutional carry” that allows the carrying of concealed firearms without a permit or training (although both still exist).

The law prohibits state hospitals from disallowing weapons on their premises unless all entrances are secured with metal detectors and security personnel. The cost for such security exceeds $24 million annually.  It wasn’t until the Governor learned of these costs that there was a sudden cry to change the law as it relates to hospitals.   Sadly, the Governor and his NRA allies have no concern whatsoever about the cost to colleges and universities, so adding colleges to the bill protecting hospitals would jeopardize the attempt to help the hospitals.

The bill came to the floor with only the change for hospitals and a plea from Senator McGinn (R-Sedgwick), who was carrying the bill on the floor, to please not add amendments for fear of losing the bill entirely. Supporters of banning guns from colleges agreed to support the bill as-is while noting their desire to take the fight for colleges forward.

Of course, the NRA objected strongly to banning weapons from our state mental hospitals but sensing support for the effort, NRA lobbyists wrote an amendment that would allow guns in the hospital parking lots and reception areas. Further, the NRA amendment would require that, if a hospital wished to ban guns beyond reception, it would have to provide secure gun lockers. Senator Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) offered the NRA amendment and remarkably in her closing remarks actually said, “The NRA chose to allow us” to adopt their amendment.

The Senate rallied behind Senator McGinn and the hospitals and defeated the NRA-written amendment on a vote of 16 to 24.

Senator Masterson (R-Andover) then offered an amendment to allow colleges to ban firearms also noting when questioned, that he would not support such an amendment. This was a cynical offer, intended to get supporters of the colleges to vote against the amendment to protect the underlying bill. Alternatively, Masterson was working from the knowledge that if the amendment were approved, the underlying bill would likely be defeated or vetoed and the NRA would carry the day. The Masterson amendment failed on a vote of 5 to 29.

Senator Alley (R-Arkansas City) offered an amendment to get gun safety programs based on the NRA’s “Eddie Eagle” program into Kansas public schools. His amendment was ruled non-germane and so was not considered.

As the debate was winding down, Senator Olson (R-Olathe) made the argument that everyone should be allowed to carry guns anywhere they want whenever they want on the off chance that a bad guy might be there. He made the point that he thought this happened once in his district back in 1985 although he wasn’t entirely sure, but someone had told him. And for the second time, he asserted that these killings only happen in “gun-free” zones because the bad guys wander the streets looking for “no guns” signs.  He also explained that people die in KU Med all the time.

Olson then made a motion to dual refer the bill back to both Ways and Means and Federal and State Affairs, Fed and State Affairs being a more NRA-friendly committee. This tactic is often used to kill a bill. Both committees have to send it back to the floor, and it is sent to one that just won’t act. Olson’s motion failed on a vote of 11 to 27.

Senator Pilcher-Cook offered an amendment to prohibit colleges from adopting any regulations regarding guns or ammunition. They could, she said, put up signs telling students it might not be a good idea to carry ammo into a lab where it could explode. This amendment failed on a voice vote.

The bill was approved on a final action vote and upon final action- done immediately- the bill was passed by a vote of 24 to 16.

KNEA supports a safe learning environment for all students. Part of this is allowing the colleges and universities to make the determination about the carrying of weapons for themselves and in the best interests of their students, staff, and community.

 

 

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Your advocacy works! Support Evaporates for Senate Tax Plan and Ed Cuts

Feb 9, 2017 by

Post Highlights

  • The Senate convened at 8:00 this morning and almost immediately shut down when it became clear that there was no possibility of getting 21 votes to cut schools or pass an inadequate tax plan.
  • In pulling the bills (SB 27 and SB 147) and ending the discussion for the day, Senate President Susan Wagle announced that they would not consider anything else until budget and tax plans were resolved.
  • As the revenue crisis continues in Kansas, the state has earned yet another credit downgrade from Standard and Poor’s.
  • On Monday, the House K-12 Education Budget Committee will hear HB 2142 which would establish a consolidated health benefit program for schools.
  • On Tuesday, the House Education Committee will hear HB 2179, a bill restoring due process or fair dismissal protections to Kansas teachers.

Senate Tax and Cuts Plans Derailed

You and many other public education advocates answered the call last night, you contacted your Senators and enough of them listened.

The Senate convened at 8:00 this morning and almost immediately shut down when it became clear that there was no possibility of getting 21 votes to cut schools or pass an inadequate tax plan.

Senate Bill 27 would have cut K-12 and higher education by $154 million (a 5% cut to K-12 and 3% to the Regents) while Senate Bill 147 would have increased income tax rates, ended the income tax exemption for the poorest Kansans, and repealed retroactively the LLC loophole.

While the bills were supported by Senate leadership and did have enough committee votes to make it to the full Senate, the blowback from voters forced many to rethink whether or not they represented the best way out of Kansas’ current revenue crisis. Voters in August and November ousted most of Brownback’s most ardent legislative allies replacing them with moderate Republicans and Democrats who campaigned on no more cuts to our schools and reversing the Brownback tax disaster. Overnight Kansans from border to border blasted the bills on social media and in messages directly to Senators.

The bills before the Senate would have done nothing to stop the ongoing fiscal crisis. While the cuts to education and other state services might have helped patch the hole in FY 2017, the tax increase would have raised only about $280 million in FY 2018. Most analysts believe Kansas needs at least $580 million to get through next year. Additionally, while SB 147 did raise income tax rates and repeal the LLC loophole, it continued the Brownback glide path to zero income tax so that even if it did put some money in, it all would be for naught when the glide path kicked back in reducing revenue further.

In pulling the bills and ending the discussion for the day, Senate President Susan Wagle announced that they would not consider anything else until budget and tax plans were resolved.

Democrats have now reached across the aisle to try to work a bipartisan solution that would garner enough votes to override a potential gubernatorial veto. That would take 27 votes instead of the 21 votes needed for simple passage.


Yet Another State Credit Downgrade

As the revenue crisis continues in Kansas, the state has earned yet another credit downgrade from Standard and Poor’s. We believe this is the fourth credit downgrade under Brownback’s leadership.

S&P Global Ratings has now dropped the states AA minus stable rating to AA-minus negative. They specifically cited the move to securitize the tobacco settlement monies, liquidate capital reserves, and pension underfunding as problems.

Lower bond ratings negatively impact investment in Kansas as potential bond investors look to more secure places in which to invest.

S&P said that Kansas has a one in three chance of getting yet another downgrade in the next two years.

There is a solution, however. That is to stop relying on gimmicks and one-time transfers or shifts to balance budgets. Get off of Governor Brownback’s runaway train wreck by reworking the Kansas tax system. End the glide path to zero, repeal the LLC loophole, add another income tax bracket for higher income levels and stop selling off the state’s assets to fill holes.


Two Important Hearings Next Week

On Monday, the House K-12 Education Budget Committee will hear HB 2142 which would establish a consolidated health benefit program for schools.

The bill explicitly requires a high deductible insurance plan, prohibiting any that are not high deductible. This essentially guarantees that the savings will come out of employee’s pockets.

If all savings generated by the move to a consolidated plan were left in the school districts to be passed on to employees in higher salaries, it is conceivable that in some of those districts the higher salary might offset the higher costs to employees. Since the Governor’s budget proposal assumes any savings would be diverted into the state’s general fund, we can only assume that all savings would be clawed back by the state or result in reduced funding to school districts.

Employees then are left with fewer health benefits and no opportunity to offset the loss of benefits with an increase in salary. This plan truly represents a $25 million reduction in compensation for school employees across the state.

The LPA auditors examined the impact this consolidation would have on 101 of the state’s school districts. In 98 of those, employee benefits would be reduced by an average of 6% with some districts see a 14% drop in benefits. Only three districts in the study currently have lower benefits that the consolidation plan would have. But since the bill allows school districts not to join the plan, those district would more than likely stay with their less expensive low-benefit plans.

On Tuesday, the House Education Committee will hear HB 2179, a bill restoring due process or fair dismissal protections to Kansas teachers.

Due process was repealed in 2014 in a backdoor manner with no bill introduction and no public hearing. Many of our readers were with us in the statehouse at 4:00 am when the repeal happened after House members were locked in the chamber for hours until the 63rd vote could be secured.

This time the bill has 45 bipartisan co-sponsors. We look forward to the hearing and expect Chairman Aurand to work the bill and allow a committee vote.

 

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Taxes, Cuts, and Revenue

Feb 8, 2017 by

Post Highlights

  • Senate unveils two-pronged strategy to restore a portion of state revenue.
  • Tax bill SB 147 does not solve shortfall and fails to address long-term problems.
  • SB 27 is a bill to cut funding to K-12 and Regents institutions to grab another chunk of revenue to fill the Governor’s revenue hole.
  • Full senate to convene on Thursday to debate both bills.
  • Rise Up Kansas plan gets committee hearing today.
  • KNEA joined 13 proponents from various organizations to support the bill.
  • 5 groups opposed the bill including Americans for Prosperity, Kansas Policy Institute and Kansas Chamber of Commerce among others.

 

The Senate has crafted a two-pronged plan, approved by Senate President Susan Wagle, that includes a tax bill which seeks to increase revenue (SB 147) and a bill which cuts funding to K-12 education and higher ed Regents institutions (SB 27).

The tax bill (SB 147) would raise approximately $280 million in new revenue. Unfortunately, the Brownback-created revenue hole is so deep, this plan is far short of what is needed to reverse the tax cuts of 2012 and 2013. Additionally, SB 147 is not a comprehensive, long-term solution.

The funding-cut bill would reduce spending in FY 2017 by $154 million. Most of the reduction would come after taking $128 million from K-12 education with another $23 million from Regents institutions. Overall, this plan cuts K-12 education by 5%, higher education by 3%, and the Schools for the Deaf and Blind by 1%.

The leadership of the Senate plans to convene the full Senate at 8:00 am on Thursday and work both bills.

We oppose the tax bill because it does not fully address the disaster brought on by the Brownback cuts. Passing this plan, even coupled with cuts, would require the legislature to address continuing shortfalls going forward with more tax increase votes likely. We support a comprehensive tax plan that restores funding such that vital state services can be adequately funded.

We also oppose the draconian cuts to K-12 education and higher education. When the Governor is challenging higher education institutions to provide a $15,000 undergraduate degree, it is counterproductive to cut state funding for our colleges and universities. As for the K-12 cuts, any cuts run counter to common sense as we await the decision on adequacy by the Kansas Supreme Court.

We are pleased to see that the House Taxation Committee appears to be on a more rational path, examining a proposal to raise enough money to restore fiscal stability to Kansas.

We urge the Senate to amend the tax bill to include a comprehensive solution or send SB147 back to Committee. While the tax bill is a move in the right direction, it falls far short of what is necessary to put Kansas back on sound financial footing. We urge the senate to vote no on SB 27, the “cuts bill.”

We believe that both chambers need to develop comprehensive tax policy bills that provide for the restoration of funding necessary for vital state services. We do not wish to be in a position to consider still more cuts and more tax increases indefinitely into the future.


Rise Up Plan Gets Hearing!

The Rise Up tax reform plan supported by KNEA, Kansas Action for Children (KAC), AFT/KOSE, the Kansas Contractors Association, the Kansas Center for Economic Growth (KCEG) and others got its day in Committee today.

The first proponent of the plan was Duane Goosen, the former budget director for Governors Graves, Sebelius, and Parkinson. Other proponents included KCEG Executive Director Heidi Holliday, Wesley McCain of Healthy Communities Wyandotte, KAC President Annie McKay, Christina Ostmeyer of Kansas Appleseed Center for Law & Justice, Scott Englemeyer of the Kansas Association of Community Action Programs, Rob Gilligan of KASB, Bob Totten of the Kansas Contractors Association, Reverend Sarah Oglesby-Dunegan of the Kansas Interfaith Alliance, KNEA’s Mark Desetti, AFT/KOSE Executive Director Rebecca Proctor, Ashley Jones-Wisner of Healthy Kids Kansas, and Scott Anderson of Hamm Companies (highway construction firm).

Opponents kicked off their arguments with Dave Trabert, anti-government zealot with the Kansas Policy Institute, Jeff Glendening with Americans for Prosperity, Tom Palace with Independent Petroleum Marketers, Tom Whitaker of Kansas Motorcarriers Association (opposing only motor fuel tax increase), Eric Stafford of Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

One neutral conferee from Kansas Association of Counties.

13 proponents to 5 opponents (where 1 opponent only opposes the motor fuel tax).

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Palace Intrigue! Ethnic & Financial Studies. Due Process Fight!

Feb 15, 2016 by

Pilcher-Cook Punished!

Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) lashed out at Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee), removing Pilcher-Cook as chair of the Senate Committee on Public Health and Welfare and removing her from the committee altogether.

The disagreement was over a floor maneuver in which Pilcher-Cook tried to add an amendment expanding Medicaid to a bill on step-therapy. Her intent was to demonstrate that the Senate was adamantly opposed to any expansion of coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The amendment was challenged as not germane to the underlying bill. The rules committee determined that indeed it was not germane and thus it was out of order.

Pilcher-Cook then demanded a roll call vote on a challenge to the ruling of the Chair. This was a classic “postcard” move. If one voted to sustain the Chair, it could be used in election postcards as showing support for “Obamacare.” Wagle was furious that any Senator would try such an obvious trick.

As Senate President, Wagle has the power to appoint and remove committee chairs and assignments. After losing her chairmanship and seat on the committee, Pilcher-Cook lashed out at Wagle implying that she might be a moderate like former Senator Steve Morris. She told the press that Wagle was supporting Hillary Clinton’s position on Medicaid expansion.

So now we see a not-so-subtle shift in the extreme right talking points as we approach the 2016 election. They’ve gotten by for a few cycles by tying moderate Republicans and Democrats to President Obama. Their new Satan will be Hillary Clinton.

Wagle has been as anti-Obamacare as anyone in the Kansas Republican party. This blow-up could be indicative of new splinters within the party. How far to the right must one be to please the extreme end of the party?


House Ed Committee in Long Meeting

The House Education Committee met today beginning at noon and kicked out a few bills.

The first bill was dealing with Ethnic Studies in schools. The bill, brought forth by Rep. John Alcala (D-Topeka) last year. HB 2207 as introduced would have directed the State Board of Education to develop curriculum and materials for local school boards to use if they so choose related to ethnic studies. Ethnic studies was defined as instruction that “includes, but is not limited to, the experiences of African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics, Latinos, Native Americans and other racialized peoples.”

When Rep. Becky Hutchins asked if this would allow teaching about Muslims and Sharia Law, the bill was amended to remove “other racialized peoples” and change “but is not limited to” to “and is limited to.” This essentially says that ethnic studies only applies to the five specifically listed groups.

The bill was further amended on a motion of Rep. Jerry Lunn (R-Overland Park) to assure that no materials related to ethnic studies would include “social justice remedies.”

The amended bill was then passed out of committee and will go to the full House for consideration.

The committee also passed out HB 2532, the financial literacy bill without amendment.


Bill Killing Due Process Scheduled for Vote on Thursday

The House Education Committee will work HB 2531, the bill repealing due process protections for instructors at community colleges and technical colleges.

The bill had a hearing last week where instructors from Johnson County Community College and Hutchinson Community College led the opposition. The President of Garden City Community College entered into a heated debate with members of the committee in his support for the bill.

Click here to access the committee roster with links to their email addresses and office phones. Let them know how important due process for teachers and instructors is to academic freedom and student advocacy.

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