I have been pleased with the many constituents’ engagement in my weeks here in Topeka. Educators, medical professionals, our cities managers and employees, attorney’s, insurance professionals, and many concerned citizens have reached out to me, providing expertise and valued opinions as the legislative process grinds through the 2017 Session. Your encouragement and willingness to assist has made this Spring a joy. Thank you.
We have passed the 90-day mark and our tasks should have been completed. Instead we gavel in twice a day, perhaps a conference committee report is read and concurred on minor bills, then Session is adjourned. The major bills for budget/revenue funding and the K-12 formula/funding have still not been presented for vote. Leadership wants a budget bill voted prior to addressing the K-12 issue. Pushing budget before the K-12 plan’s legal financial standard is in place will cap the ability for meeting the needs for all state services.
District 80 News:
The world Premier of Archaeology Channel’s film “Quivira: Conquistadors on the Plains” at historic Burford Theatre in Arkansas City announced the findings of years of archeological study. The fascinating film followed the extensive field work in 2015 that proved Arkansas City as the location of the “great settlement” described in Conquistador Don Juan Onate journals of his encounter in 1601. A settlement of an estimated 20,000 ancestral Wichita Indians called their village Etzanoa.
I quickly went to work arranging for the highest honor bestowed by the House of Representatives, a State of Kansas House Resolution, for the Etzanoa Conservancy. I wanted to share the important news that we were designated as the first-ever “mega site” identified by the North American Archeological Society. Distinguished archeologists and constituents involved in this discovery joined me as I read the Resolution presented to the House of Representatives. The Capitol Visitors’ Center showed the film throughout the day. If you visit our Capitol, please request a film viewing of this important Kansas discovery.
Under the Dome
K-12 School Finance Committee:
The Committee has met nearly every day of Session to work on HB 2410, the Kansas School Equity and Enhancement Act, and has now moved it forward to leadership. The Committee adopted many amendments to the bill as they developed a structure for the new school finance formula that would meet the adequacy requirements as set forth in the ruling by the Supreme Court. The Committee placed several reports and studies into the record, to “show their work” to the Court on many school finance related topics. The Committee was assisted by Legislative Counsel, Jeff King, who attended the meetings and provided his analysis upon request. There were a couple of amendments that were approved last week, on a tie-breaking vote by the Chair, that caused some concern in the school district Special Education Departments across Kansas; but, thanks to immediate pushback from the districts to a mandated therapy placed in the bill, it was referred to the Education Committee for study next year.
Although many have been frustrated at the seemingly slow progress of the K-12 Budget Committee, they did approve the bill after much discussion, debate, and lecturing. Several amendments were debated and voted on with the goal of finding a compromise on the finance piece of the formula that would be agreeable to the divided Committee, meet court muster, and make its way to the floor of the House. The funding package that was finally moved out of Committee provides an increase of $279 million over 2 years. The Base State Aid Per Pupil is calculated at $4,006 next year and $4,152 the following year, which includes a substantial increase in At-Risk funding to target non-proficient students. There is concern, however, that this bill is insufficient per the Court’s ruling on adequacy. The Committee had been working on a $750 million funding formula over 5 years. The bill that passed out of Committee is much less.
Most likely this bill will be debated on the House floor soon, however leadership wants a budget bill first. The Senate is working on its own education bill, so it’s likely the House Bill and the Senate Bill will end up in Conference Committee. Then, each party in the lawsuit against the state needs to review the new formula and its funding and present it to the Supreme Court by June 30th. We have heard that the Supreme Court could need 6 weeks to review the new formula and hear arguments. It is getting later and later for school districts to plan for next year without having a budget. The current funding formula (Block Grant) sunsets on June 30th.
Veto Session is now in week 3 and continues slow. There is a lot of talk about tax law changes but without a school finance plan to meet the Supreme Court’s demands, we don’t know how much spending we can anticipate. It’s a chicken and the egg – which comes first? Meanwhile, we have moved past the standard 90-day Session and closer to the Court deadline to fix school finance, which has frustrated many of us as we don’t believe the delays were necessary.
The Senate recently debated a 3-tier income tax plan that raised less money than the tax plan vetoed by the governor (and arguably didn’t raise enough to fund a new school finance plan). Senators rejected that plan while we in the House had waited around hoping to vote on a Tax Plan. I fear that this gridlock will continue for many more days in hopes that weary Legislators will cave.
We have no tax plan before us, however many ideas are rumored. “Vote a veto proof plan,” raising less revenue with the traditional 3 legs of revenue (income/sales/property) than needed, then tax gas and/or tobacco or other commodities, change revenue responsibilities to city/counties or continue to “borrow” from KDOT thereby deferring road project costs to future generations. Our past traditional state government assessed revenue requirements and utilizes the 3 legs to achieve balance. That seems to currently be an unpopular concept, instead shifting to other revenue sources as if the shifts of burden can be masked.
Reducing the Sales Tax on Groceries:
The Kansas House passed HB 2380, which reduces sales tax on groceries and food items while also eliminating sales tax exemption for certain services. I voted in favor of the bill for two reasons: Kansas has one of the country’s highest sales tax rates on groceries, particularly burdening seniors and working Kansans. Second, this bill addresses significant changes that have occurred in our economy over the past several decades.
Nationally, there is a growing recognition that our economy has gradually shifted from a goods-based to a service-based economy. Thus, sales tax systems based entirely on goods are declining in comparison to the size of the overall economy. Kansas maintains a lengthy list of sales tax exemptions, estimated to have a total annual value of $6 billion. However, there are logical reasons for most of the exemptions on the list such as the sales tax exemption for our local YMCA, which I fought to protect in this bill.
If the Senate and Governor approve, the following services would become subject to sales tax on July 1: Towing services, Detective services, Security services, Non-residential cleaning services, Pet daycare, Mini storage/Self storage, and Collection agencies. There could still be amendments made to change which services are included or deleted. Sales tax on groceries would be reduced from 6.5% to 5.5% effective July 1, 2020. I voted for the attempted and failed amendment on the floor to not delay implementation of the food tax exemption. There is widespread agreement in the legislature that the sales tax rate on food is an issue that we must address to remain competitive and reduce the burden on our families.
Foster Care Task Force:
I serve on the Children and Seniors Committee in the House, which deals directly with the actions of the Department of Children and Families (DCF). I am pleased to report that the Committee passed SB 126 to establish the Foster Care Task Force. The appointed 18-member panel will be charged with reviewing the DCF operations pertaining to foster care contractors, collecting and analyzing data. They will be task with a yearly report to the Legislature with recommendations for improvements for the Department.
Over the last several years it has become apparent that the foster care system has fallen short in its duty to protect children who may be abused or neglected. A report released by the Legislative Division of Post Audit in 2016 found the following:
DCF failed to conduct thorough background checks on foster families;
Some foster homes have “inadequate sleeping space for some children in foster care.”
DCF does not verify the income information provided by foster families to ensure that they have sufficient financial resources to serve as foster homes; and
Monthly in-person visits to foster homes by case managers did not always take place.
The bill states the recommended improvements may include proposed changes to current law, rules and regulations, and child welfare system processes. The Task Force would be required to review the level of oversight and supervision by DCF over foster care contractors and review the duties of those individuals responsible for foster children and other areas of concern regarding foster care.
The bill also requires DCF to provide data and information on foster care programs as outlined in the bill upon request by the task force. Five representatives, five senators, and eight public members including judges, attorneys, foster care parents, and social workers would be appointed by legislative leadership. The House passed the bill on Final Action unanimously on Monday, May 15th.
Thank you for your support. Thank you for your interest in the process of government and your willingness to engage. Please share this newsletter with others you may know who have yet to provide their emails for me.