Local Control? Working after Retirement. Merit Selection of Justices is Saved!

Feb 4, 2016 by

Chipping away. Is the End of Local Control in Kansas Near?

Kansas legislators love to talk about “local control” but every day they are chipping away at it, considering and often passing legislation giving control of schools, cities, and counties to the Legislature.

Take for example a bill to cap local property taxes, limiting what a municipality can do to provide services to residents. The legislature is saying you can’t raise those taxes even if your residents want to. As the governor and legislature continue their march to zero revenue in the state treasury, they seek to limit a municipality’s ability to make up the difference. No local control

Bills get hearings that would prohibit municipalities from sending someone to lobby the legislature on behalf of the city, county or school district. No local control.

A bill passed that prohibits state tax dollars from being spent on lobbying against expanded access to guns. If a municipal lobbyist comes forward to oppose a bill allowing guns in the city council chambers, they must prove that only local tax dollars paid for those minutes of the lobbyist’s time. No local control.

There was a hearing today on a bill (SB 368) to prohibit cities, counties, and school districts from publishing information on bond issues to be placed before the voters. You can put a bond issue up but you can’t tell the voters about the good you expect to get from it. Of course there are no limits on what Americans for Prosperity of the Kansas Policy Institute can publish about the issue. No local control.

We have mandatory consolidation of school districts (HB 2504) – local boards and voters have nothing to say. There are bills to make school boards limit what instructional materials teachers may use (SB 56). There was even a bill mandating when schools must teach our founding documents (Celebrate Freedom Week). No local control.

The governor and legislative leadership are on a mission to consolidate their control of all levels of government. A constitutional amendment giving the governor control of Supreme Court justices is under consideration today. Dissent is being stifled (see our lead article today). And now they are chipping away at Kansas’ long tradition of local control. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

What’s Really Going On with Working after Retirement Rules?

The House Pensions Subcommittee reviewing the Working after Retirement (WAR) policies met today. The members of the subcommittee are Rep. Stephen Johnson (R-Asaria), Rep. John Edmonds (Great Bend), Rep. Jim Kelly (R-Independence) and Rep. Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield). The subcommittee is reviewing the recent changes in the WAR policies in order to “tweak” them to give school districts and other employers a little more flexibility to hire people to work after retirement which is our understanding of the work assigned to the subcommittee.

The subcommittee is reviewing what each potential tweak to the policies might cost the system, what changes need to happen in order to comply with the IRS concerns about prearranged deals for WAR, the hardship category rules, and then how to help employers hire those who need to be hired. It is our belief that the subcommittee is reviewing those category areas in order to make suggestions to simplify the rules and make it easier for employers to hire those who need to be hired to fill the open positions that their entities experience while at the same time limiting the costs to KPERS.

The subcommittee will meet again on Monday at 10 a.m. in a room to be announced.

Kansas House Defeats Constitutional Amendment Giving Control of the Supreme Court to the Governor

In a final action vote today, the Kansas House rejected an attempt to change the Kansas Constitution and return the selection of Supreme Court Justices to the world of politics and ideology.

The genesis of this amendment is the frustration conservation legislators and Governor Brownback have with a court that has called them out for their failure to provide for public education as mandated in the constitution.

Like amendments have been debated since the decision in the Montoy court case more than a decade ago. Constitutional amendments require a super-majority vote in both chambers. The House would require 84 votes to pass the amendment. The vote today was 68 to 54.

Why does Kansas have the merit system for appointment to the Kansas Supreme Court?

Prior to the adoption of a constitutional amendment creating the Supreme Court Nomination Commission, the Kansas governor made appointment to the court. This is the system that Governor Brownback and his allies wish to restore.

The change was due to the perfectly legal but unethical manipulation of the process that took place in 1956-57.

Here it is explained by Kansas Memory on the Kansas State Historical Society website:

Incumbent Governor [Fred] Hall was defeated in the 1956 Republican primary by Warren Shaw, who lost in the general election to George Docking. Then Chief Justice [William] Smith resigned from the Supreme Court due to ill health on December 31, Hall quickly resigned as governor on January 3, 1957, and Lieutenant Governor [John] McCuish became governor for the next eleven days. McCuish immediately appointed Hall to the newly vacated Supreme Court seat. While perfectly legal, this sequence of actions was considered by many to be highly unethical. In response to the “triple play,” the 1957 Kansas legislature passed a resolution for a constitutional amendment concerning the way judges were appointed. The amendment was passed in the 1958 general election. (See the documents by clicking here.)

The Kansas legislature and Kansas voters decided in 1958 to take the selection of justices out of politics and put it in the hands of an independent commission.

The Commission has nine members. The Chair who is an attorney elected by attorneys state-wide and two members from each of the four congressional districts – one attorney selected by attorneys in that district and one non-attorney selected by the governor. These commissioners review all applicants for a position on the court. They weigh the merits of each candidate and the candidate’s qualifications. The commission sends three names to the governor who selects from that list.

This is truly a non-political merit system. Justices are not chosen based on the likelihood they will rule according the governor’s personal ideology. Despite the talk of “special interests” in the House debate, the merit system denies special interest groups a say in the selection of justices. When selection is put in the hands of politicians, those selected are chosen for adherence to a particular ideology. Is the person anti-abortion? Is the person a gun control advocate?

Proponents of the change want you to believe that they are simply following the “federal model.” To an extent this is true. And looking at the federal model should give one pause. If the party of the incumbent president holds a strong majority in the Senate, the president’s nominee sails through. If not, there is open warfare while the political leanings of the nominee are debated and dragged through the mud.

Kansas has a true merit selection process. It is the best way to ensure that Kansas has a Supreme Court that is bound to the law and not to ideology. That means sometimes each of us will be delighted with court decisions and sometimes we’ll be angry. But the court will rule on the law, not the political whim of the day.



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Big Day Today; Big Week Coming Up!

Feb 3, 2016 by

House Ed Committee to Consider De-Professionalizing Community College & Tech College Instructors

The House Education Committee has scheduled a hearing on HB 2531, a bill eliminating due process protections for instructors at Kansas Community and Technical Colleges. The hearing will be next Tuesday, Feb. 9.

This is part and parcel of the war on dissent being led by Governor Brownback and his legislative allies. They stripped K-12 teachers of due process rights in 2014, the next year they went after state employees ending due process protections for most of them. This year they’ve set their sights on those who serve in our Community and Technical colleges. We can only assume that university professors will be targeted next year.

The legislature has not been hesitant about attacking individual college professors in the past. Twice they’ve gone after individual KU professors – once for a professor teaching a human sexuality course and later for a professor who dared to post a tweet criticizing the NRA. In this brave new world of ours, no one is off-limits. If you disagree with Republican leadership, you will be demonized.

When first reporting on HB 2531, we shared the oft-quoted statement of German theologian Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Will you speak out? Help us stand up for our colleagues and demand an end to war on educators. We must be united in our efforts. We must demand respect for all those who serve our students from pre-school through graduate school. Below are the members of the Committee linked to their emails. Let them know that it’s time to end the war on academic freedom and Kansas teachers. Vote NO on HB 2531.


House Committee Amends, Passes Air Gun Bill

The House Federal and State Affairs Committee worked HB 2468, a bill allowing organizations that have air gun activities to conduct those activities on school property. The bill impacts communities in which 4-H clubs, Scouting, or other youth organizations have shooting sports programs.

The bill was amended on a motion by Rep. Nancy Lusk (D-Overland Park) such that school districts could require such organizations to have liability insurance.

Students could be restricted to having possession of their air guns only during the activities. Such activities are generally held after school hours or on weekends.

The amended bill was adopted by the Committee and now must go to the full House for consideration.

Initial House Vote on Supreme Court Constitutional Amendment Shows Little Support

The full House debated and had an initial vote on HCR 5005, a proposal to change the Kansas constitution to give the governor sole power to select members of the Kansas Supreme Court.

Under the Kansas Constitution, a Supreme Court Nominating Commission selects three qualified candidates for a Supreme Court vacancy. Those names are given to the Governor who chooses the new justice. The nominating commission is made up of four attorneys selected by attorneys in each of the State’s four Congressional Districts, four non attorneys selected by the governor in each of the State’s four Congressional Districts, and the Chair who is an attorney elected by attorneys statewide.

The nine-member nominating commission reviews and interviews applicants and makes the selection on merit. The appointee is later subjected to a retention vote at which time all voters weigh in on whether or not that person should continue on the Supreme Court or be replaced.

This process keeps special interests and politics out of the selection of justices and ensures that the Kansas Supreme Court is an independent branch of government that bases their rulings on the law and not on political expediency.

The governor has been working hard to secure the selection process for himself. In a vote on the floor today there were 69 votes for ending the commission and 53 votes to keep merit selection as it is.

This moves the resolution to tomorrow for a final action vote. Because it is a constitutional amendment, it would take 84 yes votes to pass it.

KNEA supports the current merit selection process and the Supreme Court Nominating Commission.

Consolidation Hearing Lopsided

During the hearing on HB 2504, Rep. Bradford’s (R-Lansing) consolidation bill, there were four proponents to 42 opponents. In favor of the bill were Rep. Bradford, Walt Chappell, Mike Howerter (Labette Community College Trustee), and Larry Tawney (concerned citizen).

Opposition was broad including school districts, economic development groups, private citizens, parent’s groups, farm organizations, and KNEA and KASB.

It is hard to imagine that there is much chance for this bill to be worked. Chairman Highland (R-Wamego) has scheduled HB 2486, the Bond Project Review Panel, and HB 2457, the Tuition Tax Credit radical expansion for debate and vote on Monday of next week. HB 2504 is not scheduled to be worked at this time.

Subcommittee on Working after Retirement Formed

Today in House Pensions a couple of “technical clean-up” bills were heard by the committee. The real news from House Pensions is that the chair, Representative Stephen Johnson (R-Asaria), has assigned a subcommittee to review the recent policy changes for participation in Working after Retirement. The subcommittee will meet and develop recommendations which they will then bring to the entire House Pensions Committee for consideration. The work of the subcommittee could lead to changes in the current (new) procedures for participating in WAR. The first meeting of the subcommittee is tomorrow at 9 a.m. Stay Tuned.



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Another Quiet Day Under the Dome

Jan 27, 2016 by

The House Appropriations Committee this morning was briefed on adjustments made to the current year state budget (FY 16) proposed by the Governor to get it back in balance.

It was a relatively quick briefing after which Appropriations Chairman Ron Ryckman, Jr (R-Olathe) asked the budget subcommittees to hold hearings on the suggestions for their particular part of the budget and prepare for working a bill maybe by the end of next week.

The House and Senate Education Committees met jointly for their annual meeting with the Kansas Teacher of the Year Team. It is always a pleasure to listen as they brief the committees on the challenges and joys of teaching Kansas children. And they do get a chance to remind legislators that those challenges don’t become easier with fewer dollars to provide resources!

The House Pensions Committee met to hear two technical clean-up bills. Rep. Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) introduced a bill that would allow KPERS retirees who retired at or after age 62 to return to work for a KPERS employer without being subject to the earnings cap. Last year the legislature changed the rules for working after retirement in response to IRS rules and financial challenges facing KPERS when employees retire before reaching age 62.

In other KPERS news, there has been a rumor about a hearing on a KPERS bill in the Appropriations Committee on this coming Friday. Several legislators reported having received emails from concerned constituents. Chairman Ryckman told the committee that no such hearing was scheduled. He cancelled Friday’s meeting and told the Committee to expect a KPERS update (but no hearing on any bill) next Monday.


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Changes Coming to Rules for Working After Retirement

May 18, 2015 by

The current statute regarding the provisions for working after retirement sunsets on July 1, 2015. This is the second sunset of the law which was originally passed in 2009 and renewed in 2012. During the six years that the current rules for working after retirement have been in place, a number of issues arose and were studied in Legislative Sessions and in Interim Committee Meetings.

During the 2015 Legislative Session both the House and Senate submitted bills to address issues raised by the IRS, by legislators, and by school employees regarding working after retirement. The end product is Senate Substitute for HB 2095, a bill that has now passed both the House and Senate and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.

It is important to understand two pieces of information regarding KNEA and changes to the provisions governing working after retirement.

First, KNEA’s stated position was to simply renew the current provisions for another three years. Representative Ed Trimmer submitted such a proposal in HB 2253 and KNEA testified in favor of the bill.

As legislators discussed issues related to IRS rules and KPERS funding, it became apparent that there were not enough votes in either chamber to support a simple renewal of the current law. The new provisions in Senate Sub for HB 2095 became the “last train out of the station”. If this bill did not pass then the current provisions would sunset and we would return to the previous provisions which set an earnings cap of $20,000 per calendar year while working after retirement in a KPERS-covered position.

The reasons for changing the provisions of working after retirement are quite simple. The IRS had sent a notice letter stating that no pre-arranged hiring agreements could be made between a KPERS eligible employee and the KPERS employers. This system of pre-arrangement was growing in Kansas and if allowed to continue could result in the loss of the tax exempt status of KPERS. Additionally the cost to the KPERS system for employees who worked after retirement was more than the contributions made by the employer to the KPERS system.

Senate Sub for HB 2095 prohibits pre-arranged re-hiring agreements and puts limits on working after retirement. Those limits include:

  • Permission to hire a retiree in a hard-to-fill position as determined annually by the State Board of Education. There will be five identified areas statewide.
  • Permission to hire a retiree in a hardship position. Such a position is one that has not been designated as hard-to-fill, but for which the school district has been unable to find an applicant. The district must document their efforts to find a non-retiree to fill the position and apply to the Joint Committee on Pensions and Benefits to get permission to use this option. These positions are for one year although they can be renewed.
  • Current retirees working after retirement are grandfathered in until July 1, 2017, at which time the new rules will apply to them as well.

The bill also raises the annual earnings cap from $20,000 to $25,000. The cap applies to a calendar year, not a school year.

Given that the only option under consideration was to subject all KPERS retirees to the $20,000 earnings cap, Senate Sub for HB 2095 represents a reasonable compromise. It addresses the problems identified by the IRS and the KPERS actuary, still provides for districts that cannot find new employees to fill positions vacated due to retirements or resignations, and for those who work part time, it raises the earnings cap. KNEA chose not to oppose the final agreement.

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Due Process and KPERS Actions

May 6, 2015 by

Senate approves bills on state employee due process, KPERS working after retirement

Both bills we reported on yesterday were adopted on final action votes in the evening.

HB 2391 that essentially phases out due process protections for state employees was adopted on a final action vote of 24 – 16. All amendments were also rejected. KNEA opposed the bill. Those voting NO were: Democrats Faust-Goudeau, Francisco, Haley, Hawk, Hensley, Holland, Kelly, and Pettey and Republicans Fitzgerald, Holmes, McGinn, Peterson, Schmidt, Tyson, Wilborn, and Wolf.

HB 2095, the bill on working after retirement in a KPERS position was adopted on a vote of 40 – 0.

Both bills will now go to the House where Representatives will have the opportunity to vote to concur or non-concur in the bills but not permitted to amend them.

Committees talk about KPERS privatization

Presentations were made by Prudential and Dimensions, two investment providers, discussed the cost of turning KPERS over to private investment groups.

The presentation indicated that making such a move would be very expensive. There was no discussion on the impact on current retirees or how a transition could be made.

This is an issue we will continue to monitor.

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