2012 Laws Accomplished
At First Adjournment
On March 30, the Legislature adjourned the regular session. This culminated 12 weeks of long hours and hard work to address the heavy agenda of the session. The summary of legislation reflects the major themes of what we have accomplished thus far.
H. Sub. SB 294: Last year, the Legislature passed a budget that, for the first time since 1972, decreased all-funds state spending by nearly a billion dollars and turned a $500 million deficit into a $100 million surplus without raising taxes. Since then, we've been fortunate enough to have a number of good months and revenues are finally headed in the right direction. However, we still have very serious obligations facing the state, which makes it important for us to remain committed to keeping our spending in check. For too long, Kansas government lived beyond its means and we've worked diligently to turn the tide. History shows revenues will remain erratic as the economy struggles and we must pay off state debt and spend conservatively to better stabilize the budget and avoid some of the major shortfalls we were forced to deal with in recent years.
To continue building on the progress made in 2011, the House passed a budget in March containing an approximate ending balance of almost $500 million, exceeding the 7.5 percent statutory requirement for the first time since 2008. This budget is yet another example of the Kansas House exercising fiscal restraint and responsible governing. In the past, it's reasonable to assume this ending balance would have been quickly spent perpetuating the cycle we've been stuck in for years.
If you recall, the budget submitted by Governor Brownback had an ending balance of $436.2 million and the House budget contained an additional $60 million in savings. Most of the savings came from two provisions: 1.) Requiring state agencies to internally finance longevity pay; and 2.) Allowing school districts to tap into unencumbered funds for additional funding. Additional legislation will be considered after the annual April break to consider additional funding requests of state agencies, departments and programs.
During the floor debate several amendments were considered by the House. Keep in mind the House abides by a pay-go rule which requires any amendment that spends additional money to contain a method to pay for the additional costs, or find corresponding cuts. The following major amendments were added to the bill: 1.) Allow KNI to admit patients in FY 2013; 2.) Exempt the Department of Corrections, Juvenile Justice Authority and the Highway patrol from language that requires 90 percent of a positions funding to be returned to the state bank account if it is left unfilled for 120 days; 3.) Transfer $5 million from the Oil and Gas Depletion Fund for community mental health programs; 4.) Transfer $29 million from the State Highway Fund for K-12 education; and 5.) Prohibit any state agency from using taxpayer dollars to provide or perform an abortion unless the life of the mother is in danger or it is required by federal law.
During the last week of the legislative session in March, members from the House and Senate budget committees met in a conference committee to negotiate the differences between the two chambers respective budgets. Although close to reaching an agreement on a portion of the bill, a few critical issues arose before we adjourned forcing the negotiations to continue when we return to the Statehouse on April 25. It's a burdensome process and will absolutely play a pivotal role in the future of our state, so it's important for conferees on both sides to take a measured and thorough approach to the final package.
While several economic factors are out of our control as state legislators, we still maintain a great responsibility to determine what strategies will most effectively spur our growth here at home and project how these factors will influence the Kansas economy. Kansas is a diverse state with distinct urban and rural issues, often making reasonable and agreeable solutions difficult. Budgeting is never an easy process and increased revenues and sizable ending balances often complicate the process. However, I believe it is in the best interest of the state that we continue to work on shrinking the size of state government, pay down our debt, and spend responsibly to better improve the fiscal condition of Kansas. The product we've produced so far accomplishes these goals.
GROWING THE KANSAS ECONOMY
One of the most pressing issues facing the Legislature for the past two years has been strengthening the state's economy. Over the past 12 weeks of the session, and previously in 2011, the House has considered and passed a variety of broad-scale tax policies aimed at reducing the tax burden on the residents of Kansas. Each has gone through the stringent committee process to ensure our end result is responsible, equitable and affordable.
Research shows Kansas has among the highest tax rates in the region and we are consistently losing workers to nearby states with lower tax rates. The House has been focused and committed on developing favorable tax policy which enables employers to create jobs, entices new business to relocate to Kansas, and ensures residents will continue to live and work in our state. Our state has a diverse economy which presents a considerable challenge for any type of major tax policy changes. Regardless, alteration to the current tax code will not come without exhaustive study and deliberation.
H Sub. SB 177 House Tax Reform: In an effort to achieve our basic republican principles and to maintain our promise to Kansas, the House passed legislation that would reduce the income tax rate beginning in 2013 and begin the process of potentially eliminating it altogether. Key provisions include: maintaining current tax deductions, credits and exemptions, including food sales tax refunds, historic tax credits, mortgage deductions and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) proposed for elimination in other proposals. It also eliminates the individual income tax on non-wage business income at a graduated cap for four years and expands the successful Rural Opportunity Zone Program to include 23 more counties.
In addition, the bill maintains the statutory sales tax sunset, passed during the 2010 session, which lowers the sales tax rate to 5.7 percent in 2013 and includes a three percent growth factor that requires any increased revenues over three percent to trigger reductions in individual income tax rates. Each of these provisions were designed to lower income tax rates while also ensuring a healthy ending balance to keep Kansas at a sound fiscal status while limiting spending. Until we control our spending problem, we will not make substantial progress in repairing the long term viability of the Kansas economy.
During the floor debate by the full House the following significant amendments were added to the bill: 1.) Exempting most food purchases from sales taxes; 2.) Allowing residents who reside in counties with unemployment over five percent to receive three years tax credit if they move to a Rural Opportunity Zone County for employment purposes; 4.) Maintaining current law on severance tax collections; 5.) Allowing cities and counties to opt out of the food sales tax exemption to lessen the impact on local municipal government budgets
This bill builds on our success from H Sub. SB 1 which passed the House last session and has yet to receive serious consideration from the Senate. The bill allows the House to further strengthen its position to better encourage small business growth. Key to repairing the Kansas economy is limiting state government spending while encouraging private sector growth. Each provision of the bill, including amendments added during the debate are subject to removal in a conference committee where the House and Senate will work out the differences between their respective bills. The end product could look quite different and most likely will not contain each provision contained in the House bill, but our work so far this session builds a firm foundation for the final product.
HB 2561 STAR Bond Sunset Extension: STAR Bonds are a form of tax-increment financing available to Kansas cities and counties to issue bonds to finance the development of major commercial, entertainment and tourism areas. The proceeds from state and local retail sales and compensating use tax revenue generated from these areas is used to then pay off the bonds. The current STAR Bonds program was set to expire on July 1, 2012. HB 2561 extends the expiration date of the program to July 1, 2017.
The STAR Bond program has proven to be a helpful incentive in attracting potential developers to Kansas. This program was instrumental in the development of the Legends Shopping Center and Kansas Speedway projects in the Kansas City area. As we work to improve the business climate in Kansas and bring more potential employers to our state, the STAR Bond program will continue to be a useful tool when used responsibly.
On Tuesday, March 27, the House approved HB 2561 by a vote of 92 to 31. The bill currently resides in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
HB 2609 Property Tax Reduction Funds: HB 2609 provides $90 million in local property tax relief over a two year period by shifting dollars from the State General Fund (SGF) to the Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction Fund (LAVTR). The bill also provides the governing body of any local government with the authority to levy property taxes to adjust the jurisdiction's mill levy rate on an annual basis in order to ensure the local government collects the same amount of total property tax revenue from existing properties as the previous year.
While the legislature focuses on a broad range of tax reform strategies, HB 2609 is an important step forward in lowering our local tax burden. The bill provides Local Ad Valorem Tax Relief, not available to our cities and counties, for the first time since 2003. Kansans are being crushed by an ever-increasing property tax burden, which only suppresses economic growth and prosperity. In the last decade, the property tax burden on Kansas homeowners and businesses has increased from roughly $1.97 billion in 1997 to over $3.8 billion in 2012, a 94 percent increase in just 13 years. This exponential increase in the property tax burden is triple the rate of inflation and 9.5 times greater than the population growth over the same period.
On Monday, March 12, the House approved HB 2609 by a vote of 101 to 23. The bill currently resides in the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee.
HB 2638 Workers Compensation Calculation Improvements: HB 2638 revises provisions of the Employment Security Law (Unemployment Insurance (UI)) regarding the calculation of weekly benefits. When calculating weekly benefits, the bill deletes the current requirement that holiday pay be included and, instead, makes it discretionary to include vacation or holiday pay in the calculation.
The bill also revises provisions for when an employee receives a single lump-sum separation or severance payment to postpone UI payments for the period of time corresponding with the payment. Under the provisions of the bill, employers are required to report the lump-sum data to the Department of Revenue.
Lastly, the bill reduces the UI contribution rate for new employers who start businesses beginning in 2014 from 4 percent to 2.7 percent. For employers to receive the reduced rates, they must file all reports and pay all UI contributions by January 31 of each year. However, if the average high cost multiple of the Employment Security Trust Fund balance falls below one, the lower rate would not be assessed to qualified employers to ensure the stability of the Trust Fund. On Thursday, February 23, the House approved HB 2638 by a vote of 85 to 39. The bill currently resides on Senate General Order agenda where it awaits debate and final votes.
With passage of HB 2638, this marks the second year in a row the House has voted to strengthen and improve workers compensation. By modifying current law to include holiday pay as a wage and through taking lump sum payments into account, the bill reduces the opportunity for claimants to receive both unemployment and payments from the employer. These changes strengthen the positions of businesses in Kansas and encourages new businesses by providing a lower workers compensation contribution rate.
The bill does not cut workers compensation payments to workers and, instead, makes it the rate businesses pay more equitable. The lower rate paid by new business will add additional money to the workers compensation fund and go to paying off the loan taken out by the state to the federal government to help pay unemployment compensation to out of work Kansans.
In addition, the House voted down numerous attempts to increase penalties on businesses that have issues with the workers compensation system. Had those attempts been successful they only would have made it more difficult for businesses to operate in Kansas. A significant portion of the House Republican agenda focuses on working to make the business environment in Kansas more hospitable, and in turn, spur economic growth. I'm pleased we were able to take another step forward in accomplishing these goals with passage of HB 2638.
H Sub. SB 259 KPERS: One of the more critical issues we face this session is the chronically underfunded Kansas Public Employee Retirement System (KPERS). The economy hit pension programs nationwide hard in recent years, locally; it has compounded the structural deficiencies within our own KPERS system. Unless substantive reform measures in Kansas are taken to improve the stability of the pension fund, the issues in KPERS will only worsen. This session, the House took a productive step forward to begin the process of addressing KPERS.
The key provisions of the bill include:
Extending the sunset for working after retirement. The bill extends the sunset for an additional three years so individuals and employers have the ability to continue operating under the current rules they heavily rely on. The sunset allows for additional review and consideration on working after retirement.
Cash balance plan for new employees hired on or after January 1, 2014. A variety of pension plan designs were considered, most considered a variation of a defined benefit or defined contribution plan. Defined benefit plans allow employers to set the benefit. The funding is not based on a specific amount but is determined by several factor, one of the largest being the variance of funding required in the performance of the investment portfolio. When the portfolio underperforms more contributions are needed to meet future benefit payments. In instances where the portfolio over performs the required employer contribution is less. The current KPERS rate of return in eight percent. Defined contribution plans allow employers to set the exact contribution to be paid to the employee account making the plan relatively simple and transparent.
Trigger if cash balance is not actuarially sound in the future. The cash balance plan contained in SB 259 is a variation of a defined benefit plan. It has the appearance of a defined contribution plan because the contribution is defined and shown in the employee account making it reasonably transparent. However, there is a defined benefit element because the plan requires a six percent employee contribution and a four percent employer contribution. The performance of the portfolio reduces what the employer must contribute and the benefits are based on the value of the future contributions. Typically there is a guaranteed rate of return on the contributions and the bill sets the minimum rate of return at five percent. If the portfolio earns less than five percent, the state will have to contribute more.
Additional requirements to increase future benefits. The value of the employee account will accumulate during the employee's working years. The bill allows the KPERS board to grant discretionary dividends if the unfunded liability of KPERS is paid off and the rate of return exceeds the minimum rate objective. If the portfolio outperforms the KPERS eight percent return objective, the KPERS board may award a dividend equal to 50 percent of the outperformance over the eight percent. The dividend could be as much as two percent in any given year but cannot exceed two percent. Therefore, annual dividends would be between five and seven percent with an additional award up to one percent of the dividend in that year.
Modeled after the Nebraska Cash Balance Retirement Plan the bill creates a new tier III for new state employees hired on or after January 1, 2014. It does not affect current KPERS members, pension recipients, nor does it reduce benefits for current KPERS members. The contribution rate for employees is set at six percent of annual compensation and is deducted pre-tax. The employer will match the contribution with a four percent pay credit. The employer rate is service based and will be contributed at one percent the first year and increase a point each year until in year four, when the maximum of four percent is achieved.
During the floor debate, three substantive amendments were added to the bill. The first requires 75 percent of state casino proceeds to go toward addressing the unfunded liability of the current KPERS defined benefit plan. A second amendment provides employees the option of participating in a defined contribution plan. The only major difference this option includes is the investment return has no guarantee since it is based on the market returns, much like a 401(K) plan offered by many private sector employers. The third amendment removed a provision in current law that calculates legislative pensions based on a 372 day calendar even though the legislature is only in session 90 days a year.
For 17 years the state made payments to KPERS that met the legal requirement to fund the pension program but failed to meet its requirement to pay the actuarial required contribution. This resulted in an unfunded KPERS liability of $8 billion at the start of 2011. In terms of actuarial solvency, studies have shown Kansas to have the second worst state pension system in the United States, falling only behind Illinois. SB 252 is a positive step forward in addressing the funding problems within KPERS. However, our work remains unfinished. The problem is so great and the system has been in place for such an extended period of time that any change, even a relatively minor adjustment, can create a major actuarial shift so we must continue to evaluate our options and take further steps to provide stability to the state pension program.
On Tuesday, March 20, the House approved H Sub.SB 259 by a vote of 92 to 33. The bill currently resides in conference where members of the House and Senate are working to reach an agreement on the differences between the two chambers.
HB 2461 KPERS Alternative Investments: HB 2461 makes changes to the investment portfolio by allowing KPERS investors to participate in alternative investments to a greater degree than what is allowed under current law. The bill allows five percent of the total market value of the KPERS fund investments to be utilized with the alternative investment option. The current percentage allowed under law is one percent.
At the end of the 2010 fiscal year, the total KPERS investment fund value was $12.9 billion with an alternative investment cap of $128.6 million. HB 2461 would raise the limit to $643 million this year alone. This is a valuable piece of legislation that allows the KPERS investment board to increase target allocations resulting in a more efficient investment portfolio.
On Wednesday, February 8, the House approved HB 2461 by a vote of 118 to 7. The Senate approved HB 2461 on March 6, by a vote of 29 to 11. The bill now awaits Governor Brownback's signature or veto.
The United States Constitution requires each state to redraw their congressional and legislative district boundaries based on the most recent census figures to ensure one person equals one vote. Census figures show the population of Kansas has grown in the eastern part of the state while western Kansas continues to struggle with declining population numbers. The ultimate goal is to have 713,280 persons in each congressional district.
It is an intricate balance to draft each map because of the many factors that must be taken into consideration. The congressional map is particularly difficult because the first district needs to grow by 58,000 residents, the third needs to considerably shed residents, and standing in between the two are the second and fourth districts, where population figures have remained relatively stable. Two major factors are essential to crafting each congressional map. First and foremost is creating a map with the population deviation for each district as close to zero as possible. The second is to find a way to fairly expand the first congressional district while also being mindful of the impact it could have on the other three congressional districts and their communities.
During the final week of the regular session the House successfully passed its congressional map. Known as Bob Dole 1, the map divides Topeka between the first and second congressional districts with east Topeka shifting to the first district and west Topeka remaining in the second. Fort Riley and Junction City remain in the second congressional district and Johnson and Wyandotte Counties remain in the third congressional district. Currently, divided between the second and third districts, the entire city of Lawrence would be in the second congressional district. Portions of Kingman and Greenwood County would shift from the fourth congressional district to the first district.
In their last vote before adjourning the regular session, the Senate chose to take their only action on a House redistricting proposal this session and killed the House district and congressional map proposals essentially sending us back to the drawing table. The House has acted responsibly in passing both a congressional and House map before the end of the regular session. For twelve weeks, the Senate had the opportunity to take action, but the situation remains unsolved.
Legislative maps must pass a mandatory review by the Kansas Supreme Court in time to meet federally imposed deadlines to ensure ballots can be sent to troops serving overseas. During the last redistricting process, in 2002, the House map was published on March 21 and approved by the court on April 26. The separately considered Senate map was published on April 8 and received court approval on May 9. By not taking productive action, the Senate is jeopardizing the already complicated redistricting process.
HB 2773 Additional K-12 Funding Through Unencumbered Funds: During the 2011 session, the House took the unprecedented step of allowing school districts to tap into their unencumbered funds to provide additional funding to classroom instruction. Although the economy is slowly improving, the simple fact that education in Kansas accounts for almost 60 percent of the state budget makes it difficult to increase school funding especially when many districts still have large reserves of cash remaining unspent. Understanding there had previously been a statutory barrier preventing school districts from using those funds; the legislature worked with the Department of Education and identified a number of funds that could be utilized to help ease the financial burdens districts were reporting.
After eliminating the statutory barriers in 2011 and seeing only a few districts take advantage, the legislature determined it was appropriate to extend the window for schools to take advantage of this mechanism through passage of HB 2773. This session the House passed HB 2773 in order for school districts to continue to transfer unencumbered cash balances during the 2012-2013 school year for district general operating expenses. This bill gives school districts the opportunity to access some of the approximate $358 million in unencumbered funds in over 90 percent of the state's school districts. These are funds districts have received from the state which have been accumulating in a variety of school district accounts due to use restrictions. Governor Brownback has assured schools, as well as the legislature, that the state will continue to make it's payments to schools on time. With that assurance, in addition to passage of this extension, schools will now have the ability to spend down these growing cash reserves.
On Wednesday, March 21, the House approved HB 2773 by a vote of 114 to 9. The bill currently resides in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Sub. HB 2634 Improving Teacher Evaluations: Sub. HB 2634 proposes to make adjustments to current state law regarding the evaluation of teacher performance in Kansas public schools. The bill would require teacher evaluations to be based on multiple measures of student achievement and growth, as determined by the State Board of Education. The bill would classify each teacher in one of the following categories: highly effective, effective, progressing or ineffective. The classification would primarily be based on the growth in student achievement. Also included in the evaluation would be recommendations for improvement and plans of assistance, if needed.
Teachers who are classified as progressing or ineffective would be subject to at least one evaluation within the first 60 days of a school semester, regardless of their year of employment. Teachers who receive highly effective and effective ratings would continue to be evaluated at least once every three years, as found in current law. If a teacher receives an ineffective designation in two consecutive years, the bill allows for the teacher's employment with the district to be terminated. Before the termination could occur, the teacher must be provided an opportunity by their employing district to go through appropriate professional development.
This bill was a part of Governor Brownback's Excellence in Education Act. The bill has been thoroughly vetted by two House committees and is the result of much consideration, discussion and compromise. I believe this is a positive step forward in improving public education in Kansas. On Friday, March 16, the House approved HB 2604 by a vote of 94 to 30. The bill currently resides in the Senate Education Committee.
HB 2435 Career and Technical Education Workforce Grants: HB 2435 creates the Career Technical Workforce Grant for students who have been accepted or who attend Regents postsecondary institutions. Under the bill, the Board of Regents may award grants to applicants who exhibit financial need. The $1,000 grant for full-time students could not exceed the cost of tuition and fees. This new grant would replace the existing vocational education scholarship.
Improving career and technical education in Kansas has been a growing focus of the legislature in the past few years. We need to continue looking at better ways to education students for jobs that actually exists in an increasingly complex job market. This alternative education path provides students with valuable opportunities to become trained and/or certified in many high demand, well-paying positions across the state while pursuing a career they're truly interested in. This legislation is a valuable tool in further encouraging students to participate in career and technical education and I was pleased to support it.
On Thursday, February 23, the House approved HB 2435 by a vote of 120 to 4. The Senate approved HB 2435 on March 21 by a vote of 40 to 0. The bill currently resides in conference where members of the House and Senate are working to reach an agreement on the differences between the two chambers.
HCR 5007 -- Preserving the Right To Choose and Participate In Health Care: During the 2011 session, the House passed, HCR 5007, the Health Care Freedom Amendment, and sent it to the Senate for further consideration. After a significant wait, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the resolution and sent it to the full Senate for further debate and final votes. Unfortunately, the resolution failed to get the required two-third majority vote and HCR 5007 died on a vote of 26 to 14.
Specifically, HCR 5007, proposed to amend the Kansas Constitution by inserting a new Article 16 regarding health care. The resolution protested the Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress in March 2010, which implemented a federal mandate requiring all individuals to have a minimum level of health insurance. The new article would have prohibited any law or rule from compelling a person, employer or health care provider to participate in any heath care system or to purchase health insurance and allows a person or employer to directly pay for any health care service and not be subject to a penalty or fine. The amendment allowed health care providers to accept direct payment for health care services from a person or employer and prohibits any laws or rules from disallowing the purchase or sale of private health insurance or participation in private health care systems.
HB 2520 Interstate Health Care Compact: HB 2520 enacts the Interstate Health Care Compact in Kansas. The Compact would take effect upon adoption by at least two members states and with the approval of Congress. The fundamental purpose of the Compact is to secure the right of member states to regulate health care in their respective states, suspend conflicting federal laws, rules, regulation and orders within their states; and to secure federal funding for state health programs, like Medicaid. The compact would not mandate how each state handles health care, but offers another tool in designing a system to provide better care, accountability, and flexibility in delivering services to needy residents.
Based on the belief the power to regulate Health Care lies at the state level, the Compact is another way to protest the overreach of the federal government into healthcare. The Compact is an agreement between participating states to join together to restore their authority and responsibility for health care regulation. It would not conflict with efforts by Attorney General Derek Schmidt and members of congress to repeal or modify the federal health care mandate.
On Wednesday, February 22, the House approved HB 2520 by a vote of 86 to 37. The bill currently resides in the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee.
KanCare Medicaid Reform: One item generating considerable interest throughout the legislative session this year has been the Brownback administration's implementation of its managed healthcare initiative, known commonly as KanCare. KanCare is an integrated care system intended to control costs of the Medicaid program; create long-lasting reforms to improve the quality of health of Kansans and to improve the care and outcomes for those receiving Medicaid related services.
Over time, Medicaid costs have risen substantially, and now constitute a major portion of our budget in Kansas. Additionally, while the current system does provide quality care for many, there are problematic issues within the existing system which have resulted in long waiting lists, misdirection of care, fraud and abuse. At the present time, the many services provided by Medicaid are unaccountable and fragmented, and ranked nationally; Kansas has some of the highest utilization rates for any state. This is not a promising trend. In addition, conflicts of interest have created long waiting lists for services and massive fraud has been identified with home and community based services.
Under KanCare, managed care organizations must demonstrate their ability to be effective in reducing problems stemming from physical or behavioral health issues and preserve services that improve recipients quality of life. To cut down on conflicts of interest that prevent needy Kansans from getting care, KanCare separates eligibility determination from the provision of services which results in smaller waiting lists and direct assistance to those with the greatest need. Recognizing independent living centers provide important care to the disabled; reforms under KanCare improve documentation, internal control and compliance with the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services.
KanCare is the result of more than a year's worth of involved, detailed study and planning. This approach is far different than those taken by other states dealing with similar budget constraints. For instance, several states have chose to impose sharp rate cuts or stop providing care to needy citizens while others quickly pushed through Medicaid reforms without adequate review and input. Kentucky spent less than eight months, from concept to implementation of reform, and abruptly transferred 77 percent of its Medicaid consumers from a fee-for-service model into a managed care system causing mass confusion for consumers and health care providers. This will not be the case in Kansas.
It's understandable that those who do an admirable job of providing services to the disabled are concerned about the changes to the system. However, unlike other states that some of these concerns are based on, 75 percent of Medicaid consumers in Kansas already receive some form of managed care. In addition, the state has carefully watched the implementation process in other states in an effort to learn from their experiences.
The result is a gradual 14 month rollout with focus on maintaining current providers and minimizing transition difficulties. Currently, the care is uncoordinated and providers are not given incentives to improve health outcomes. Medicaid costs to the state are skyrocketing and additional federal budget cuts could result in Kansas losing $1 billion in federal Medicaid funds. The administration contends it would be a costly mistake to postpone making these critical improvements to the Kansas Medicaid program.
Any massive overhaul to a program like Medicaid is one that needs to be taken seriously and fully vetted as we are affecting the lives of many needy Kansans. Whatever the end result, it must be one that balances the need to control the costs of Medicaid while minimizing the impact to those who rely on the program.
HB 2534 Caylee's Law: One of our first caucus priorities this session was the introduction and passage of Caylee's law. House Bill 2534 implements Caylee's law, named after Florida 2-year-old Caylee Anthony who disappeared in 2008. Anthony's mother, Casey, failed to notify authorities of her daughter's disappearance for a month. Unfortunately, current law does not view this sort of negligence as a crime in many states. In response, numerous states are now aiming to prevent this from occurring again by creating reporting standards. Current Kansas law does not impose criminal penalties for failing to notify law enforcement of the death or disappearance of a child.
On Thursday, February 23, the House approved HB 2534 by a unanimous 124 to 0 vote. The Senate approved HB 2534 on March 15 by a vote of 40 to 0. The bill currently resides in conference where members of the House and Senate are working to reach an agreement of the differences between the two chambers.
HB 2533 Regents Abuse Reporting Requirements: In the fall of 2011, Penn State University was rocked by allegations that former football coach Jerry Sandusky had been caught sexually assaulting or inappropriately interacting with underage boys on or near university property. Subsequent investigations appeared to reveal that eyewitness accounts of the abuse were not reported to proper university and law enforcement authorities.
As a result, HB 2533 was introduced to require all state post-secondary educational institutions to develop reporting standards for cases of abuse. As unimaginable as these circumstances may seem, the tragedy of the Penn State case served us a warning. Our schools and those in the position to protect children need to have clear, concise reporting standards for instances of abuse. I'm confident this legislation uses the most reasonable approach to guarding against any similar circumstances and was pleased to assist in its passage. On Thursday, February 23, the House approved HB 2533 by a vote of 123 to 1. The bill currently resides in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
HB 2353 Personal and Family Protection Act (Concealed Carry): HB 2353 amends the Personal and Family Protection Act to allow individuals with concealed carry licenses to carry a firearm in a state or municipal facility if adequate security measures, such as electronic screening equipment and security personnel, are not in place. Under the bill, state or municipal facilities include libraries, college campuses, city halls, and public office buildings.
On Friday, March 9, the House debated HB 2353 for over two hours and made substantive changes to the bill. Two amendments were added that addressed the liability concerns of public and private entities to prevent them from being legally responsible for the actions of concealed carry holders in on their premises. Three other amendments were approved that would exempt, for four years, post-secondary educational institutions, publically owned hospitals and publically owned nursing homes, respectively, if their governing board or body voted to do so. On Monday, March 12, the House approved HB 2353 by a vote of 70 to 54. The bill currently resides in the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee.
HB 2465 & HB 2494 Protecting Kansas Children: Current state law requires the Prisoner Review Board to order lifetime electronic monitoring of certain offenders if they have been sentenced to prison for certain sexual crimes involving minors. HB 2465 expands that law to require courts to order lifetime electronic monitoring for the same offenders. Both the Board and Court would be required to evaluate the prisoner's financial situation to determine the amount they would have to pay for costs associated with the electronic monitoring. On Wednesday, February 22, the House approved HB 2465 by a vote of 123 to 0. The Senate approved HB 2465 on March 15 by a vote of 40 to 0. Governor Brownback signed the bill into law on March 26.
HB 2494 amends the statute of limitations for sexually violent offenders when the victim is a child. If the victim is under the age of 18 at the time of the offense, the statute of limitations would start to run of the day after the victim turns 18 years old. Under current law, the statute of limitations starts to run on the day after the offense is committed. On Wednesday, February 22, the House approved HB 2494 by a vote of 123 to 0. The Senate approved HB 2494 on March 20 by a vote of 40 to 0. The bill currently resides in conference where members of the House and Senate are working to reach an agreement of the differences between the two chambers.
Requiring more child sex offenders to have lifetime electronic monitoring is a common-sense move that strengthens public safety. Additionally, extending the statue of limitations for when a victim of child abuse becomes an adult at the age 18 provides them additional opportunities to pursue charges against those who harm them. Both bills are simple, yet effective, pieces of legislation that strengthen current law on those who commit crimes against children.
HB 2613 Lifetime Protection Orders: HB 2613 requires courts to extend protection from abuse and protection from stalking orders for at least two years and possibly through the lifetime of the defendant if evidence shows previous orders have been violated. The orders are also required to be extended if the defendant has been convicted of a person felony or attempted person felony against the plaintiff or any member of the plaintiff's household.
On Tuesday, February 21, the House approved HB 2613 by a vote of 123 to 0. The Senate approved HB 2613 on March 20, by a vote of 40 to 0. A conference committee was briefly appointed so members of the House and Senate could reach an agreement of the differences between the two chambers. An agreement was quickly reached and the Senate approved the compromise on March 27 by a vote of 40 to 0. The House will vote on the compromise when we return from the annual break at the end of April.
CONSERVING WATER RESOURCES
Impacting many communities in the western half of the state, Kansas water policy remains an executive branch priority, and was one of the first issues settled in the 2012 legislative session. The House has passed a number of changes to existing law designed to help sustain one of our most precious and declining resources. Without careful planning, we risk endangering the livelihood, and ultimately the economic stability, of Kansas agricultural economy.
The Ogallala aquifer is the primary source of water in the western third of Kansas. Counties located above the Aquifer account for approximately two-thirds of the state's agriculture economy and preserving the Aquifer is key to the economic future of Western Kansas and entire state. Without water from the Aquifer, agriculture and related business would not be sustained, manufacturing would slow and towns in the area of the Ogallala would struggle to survive. The need to preserve the aquifer is key to the economic future of western Kansas and the state. Without careful planning, we risk endangering the livelihood, and ultimately the economic stability, of Kansas agricultural economy. Each of these policies will help establish a foundation of good stewardship and prolong the lifespan of this precious resource.
HB 2451 Removing Use It or Lose It Water Policies: HB 2451 updates current state water policy to incentivize water conservation. The bill would remove the current use it or lose it policy in water law that forces water allocation rights to be used or else be taken away. Currently, water rights holders are given an allocation of water to use if this allocation is not completely used the water rights could be lost. HB 2451 would not force the water to be used and prevents water rights from being taken away.
On Thursday, February 2, the House approved HB 2451 by a vote of 124 to 0. The Senate approved HB 2451 on February 16 by a vote of 40 to 0. Governor Brownback signed the bill into law on March 5.
SB 272 Multi-Year Flex Accounts: SB 272 allows for multi-year flex accounts to assist irrigators, landowners and other affected parties in periods of drought. This would give parties flexibility in using their water allocation over a five year period. Years where individuals use more water than allocated can be set off by other years where the full allocation is not used. On Thursday, February 16 the House approved SB 272 by a vote of 124 to 0. The Senate approved SB 272 on February 23 by a vote of 40 to 0. Governor Brownback signed the bill into law on March 5.
SB 310 Local Enhanced Management Areas: SB 310 establishes a process where Local Enhanced Management Areas (LEMA) can be established within a groundwater management district (GMD). The bill requires a GMD to recommend a plan to the Division of Water Resources for review and public hearings. After the public hearings are held, the LEMA plans may be accepted, rejected or returned for revision to address concerns from the public hearings.
If the plan is accepted, an order of designation would be issued to lay out the boundaries of the LEMA. A groundwater right holder could stay the order of the designation by applying for a review of the order. In addition, public hearings must be held to review the LEMA designation within seven years of the date of the finalization of the order.
This bill provides an option for local citizens to put forward proactive conservation plans in times of water shortages. It provides the affected parties the opportunity to decide how to address the shortage and avoid the political process involved with the current process.
On Thursday, March 15, the House approved SB 310 by a vote of 122 to 1. The Senate approved SB 310 on March 20 by a vote of 40 to 0. Governor Brownback signed the bill into law on March 30.
HB 2516 Water Bank Extension and Permanency: HB 2516 extends the availability and permanency of the Water Bank Act. In the late 1990's, the Legislature passed the Water Bank Act allowing for two water banks in the state. A person with water rights can deposit a portion of their usage rights into the water bank for purchase. Currently, there is only one bank operating in central Kansas and it has not been put to great use. However, the potential for fracking in Kansas makes this a useful tool in ensuring oil producers have the water they need for the fracking procedures. On Thursday, February 16 the House approved HB 2516 by a vote of 124 to 0. The Senate approved HB 2516 on March 27 by a vote of 40 to 0. The bill now awaits Governor Brownback's signature or veto.
HB 2517 Water Transition Assistance Program Permanency: HB 2517 makes the Water Transition Assistance Program, a five-year pilot program, permanent. The program is designed to permanently retire all or portions of irrigation water rights and was originally set to expire on June 30, 2012.
On Wednesday, February 22, the House approved HB 2517 by a vote of 123 to 0. The Senate approved HB 2517 on March 20 by a vote of 40 to 0. The bill now awaits Governor Brownback's signature or veto.
Impacting many communities in the western half of the state, Kansas water policy has become a key initiative of the 2012 session. The House has passed and will continue to work on a number of changes to help sustain the Ogallala Aquifer and other water resources in Kansas. Without careful planning, we risk endangering the livelihood, and ultimately the economic stability, of Kansas agricultural economy.
HB 2686 Drug Testing For Assistance Recipients: HB 2686 requires individuals who receive or who apply to receive government cash assistance to participate in a drug screening program beginning January 1, 2013. Each year, one-third of those receiving cash assistance would be randomly screened by the state for illegal substances.
The first and second time a recipient fails or refuses to participate in the drug screening they would be subject to education or drug treatment programs and would be ineligible for cash assistance for 12 months. If a recipient fails or refuses to participate in the drug screening for a third time, they would be permanently prohibited from receiving cash assistance. Households with residents who have been terminated from cash assistance would have to get future cash assistance from an SRS approved third-party payee.
Finally, persons found guilty of a crime with an element of possession, use or distribution of a controlled substance on or after July 1, 2000 are forever ineligible to receive cash assistance. Persons convicted of misdemeanors would be ineligible for cash assistance for 24 months from the date of their conviction and those convicted of felonies would be ineligible for five years from the date of their conviction.
An increasing number of states are looking at measures similar to this to ensure government assistance is being used for its intended purposes. I anticipate healthy debate regarding this measure, and would be interested to learn where you stands as HB 2686 are currently in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee.
H Sub. SB 62 Conscious Protection Legislation: Since 1970, Kansas law has stated that no one should be required to perform or participate in an abortion procedure. To further affirm that legislation, the House debated and passed legislation this week (H Sub. SB 62) that broadens conscience objections for medical facilities and health professionals in Kansas who are opposed to abortion. The bill further confirms state job protection law for physicians who refuse to participate in an abortion and for pharmacists and other providers who cite a personal belief for refusing to prescribe or dispense contraceptives.
Conscious protection clauses have widely been used for more than 40 years following the 1973 United States Supreme Court decision that legalized abortions. This legislation is a response to action by the Federal Department of Health and Human Services to weaken regulations tied to federal conscious protections for medical facilities and professionals. The introduction of medications like the RU-486 and morning after pills has expanded the conscious protection issue to include pharmaceuticals. According to the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and South Dakota all have laws that allow pharmacists to refuse to fill an emergency prescription for contraceptives. Three others, Maine, Tennessee and Florida have broad refusal measures that do not specifically include pharmacists.
On Thursday, March 29, the House approved H Sub. SB 62 by a vote of 95 to 29. The bill currently resides in conference where members of the House and Senate are working to reach an agreement of the differences between the two chambers.
H Sub. SB 142 Religious Freedom: In our last week of the regular session, the House took up legislation creating the Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act. The purpose of the bill is to safeguard existing legal protections with respect to the free exercise of religion under Kansas law. In 1993, a similar bill was passed at the federal level with strong bi-partisan support (approved 97-3 in the Senate) and was signed by President Clinton.
SB 142 locks in the long standing position of Kansas Courts that government cannot imposes upon an individual's sincerely held religious beliefs in the absence of a compelling state interest. While this legal standard has been upheld by our Court of Appeals as recently as May 2011, SB 142 will ensure that the same protections already guaranteed in our State Constitution find statutory support as well. The bill balances the right to free exercise by reaffirming that the state has a compelling interest in preventing discriminatory practices as defined in the Kansas Act Against Discrimination and under Federal law.
SB 142 does not preempt local ant-discrimination laws as some have claimed, but does recognize a legal defense in cases where such laws seek to compel individuals to violate a sincerely held religious belief. Using the coercive power of government to fine or otherwise punish individuals for practicing the dictates of their religion (as has happened in other states) is the very opposite of tolerance. As James Madison so aptly put it, Religion must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature unalienable.
On Thursday, March 29, the House passed H Sub. SB 142 by a vote of 91 to 33. The bill currently resides in conference where members of the House and Senate are working to reach an agreement of the differences between the two chambers.
HB 2437 Safe and Fair Elections Act: This session, the House voted to amend the Safe and Fair Elections Act (SAFE), to require all persons registering to vote for the first time in Kansas to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship. All current registered Kansas voters are exempt from providing the proof of their citizenship. The original bill, passed during the 2011 session, had the provision go into effect on January 1, 2013 and the bill amends the effective date to June 15, 2012. The motivation behind HB 2437 was the desire to properly vet the wave of expected voters who will register leading up to the presidential and state elections this fall. On Thursday, February 23, the House passed HB 2437 by a vote of 81 to 43. The bill currently resides in the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee.
Twenty-seven states have enacted broader voter ID requirements than those required by the federal Help America Vote Act. In those states, all voters must show ID before voting. Nine other states request or require photo ID and the remaining 18 states accept additional forms of ID that do not necessarily include a photo. Before the provisions of SAFE went into effect, Kansas law only required first time voters to provide identification at the polls unless they did so when registering to vote.
RESTORING ARTS FUNDING
HB 2766 Establishing the Creative Arts Industries Commission: During the 2011 session, much debate ensued regarding the future of the Kansas Arts Commission. As a result, HB 2766 was introduced to create the Creative Arts Industries Commission in the Kansas Department of Commerce and absolve the Kansas Arts Commission and the Kansas Film Commission. The Creative Arts Industries Commission would be the official state program for the arts and tasked with promoting, supporting, coordinating, fostering, developing and measuring the outcomes of the arts in Kansas.
Stakeholders from the Arts Foundation, Kansas Arts Commission and Citizens for the Arts worked over the interim with the Brownback Administration to reach an agreement on the future of arts and arts funding in Kansas. HB 2766 is the result of their compromise. I believe this bill is a positive step forward in stabilizing the arts industry in Kansas. By placing the Creative Arts Commission in the Kansas Department of Commerce, the commission is given the important resources it needs to focus on creating jobs and encouraging growth in the arts industries.
On Wednesday, March 21, The House approved HB 2766 by a vote of 118 to 4. The bill currently resides in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
HB 2454 Tax Check-Off To Support Kansas Arts: Last session, a significant amount of controversy occurred regarding the elimination of state funding for the Kansas Arts Commission. There is no question the non-profit arts and cultural sector is a growing market in Kansas. However, as the state continues to rebound from years of declining revenue, our focus must be on restructuring government while focusing on providing only essential services.
As a result, HB 2454 was introduced to support the funding of the arts in Kansas. The bill creates an individual income tax check-off on the state tax form for donations to the Kansas Arts Commission. Taxpayers have the option of adding a contribution on their individual income tax form beginning in 2013. All donations would be used solely for the purpose of funding the Kansas Arts Commission. On Thursday, February 23, the House passed HB 2454 by a vote of 95 to 29. The bill currently resides in conference where members of the House and Senate are working to reach an agreement of the differences between the two chambers.
RESPONSIBLE LIQUOR LAWS
HB 2550 -- Restoring Happy Hour In Kansas: Kansan, Carrie Nation is widely known as a lively member of the temperance movement from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Known for entering alcohol serving establishments and attacking the bar with a hatchet, Nation was part of a movement that resulted in Kansas voters adopting a prohibition amendment to the state constitution in 1880, which wasn't repealed until 1948, 15 years after the end of national Prohibition. Since the end of Prohibition, Kansas has remained well known for its conservative liquor laws, including a 1985 law banning happy hour drink specials.
The happy hour ban was passed by well meaning lawmakers concerned about alcohol abuse. At the time, legislators assumed drinking establishments would never allow discounted drink specials for an entire day and failed to ban happy day specials thus allowing those to be available today. This week, through HB 2550, the House moved to repeal the longstanding happy hour ban.
HB 2550 repeals the state ban on happy hours at bars, taverns, clubs and restaurants. As indicated earlier, current state law allows alcoholic beverages to be sold all day at reduced prices but prohibits reduced prices for certain hours of the day. Those who supported the bill touted the possible economic benefits the bill provides to restaurants and drinking establishments and praised the bill as a promoting the free-market. In addition, many believe current state law promotes irresponsible drinking more than happy hour specials.
On Wednesday, March 7 the House approved HB 2550 by a vote of 80 to 41. The bill currently resides in the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee. The Senate has already approved a separate, similar measure allowing for happy hour specials.
HB 2532 Expanded Liquor Sales: For several years Kansas has entertained serious debate on substantially expanding liquor sales in Kansas. This session, the debate has continued with HB 2532. If passed, the bill would immediately allow grocery and convenience stores to sell full strength beer and wine if they have a Class A or B license. However, those stores would be prevented from selling spirits until January 1, 2016 unless they purchase an existing Class C license from an individual or retailer in their county.
Supporters of HB 2532 believe the bill would level the playing field and modernize the state's current liquor policy. Pointing out that nearly 40 percent of small town grocery stores have closed in the past three years, proponents believe the change would allow small grocery and retail stores to stay in business and continue serving their communities. Opponents believe the change would unfairly pit small mom-and-pop stores against big box retailers like Dillons and Wal-Mart who may have already received substantial tax incentives and are concerned about making it easier for minors to have access to alcohol. They also note the legislation would create thousands of new outlets for these sales, costing the state more in enforcement and social services.
As indicated earlier, this is not the first time this legislation has been introduced, and there are many more arguments than these. Like any issue, there are two sides to this story and both have valid viewpoints. A topic like this will usually have many layers, so it's important to research all of our opinions thoroughly before reaching a conclusion.
Sub. HB 2689 Mega Liquor Bill: Sub. HB 2689 contains the contents of eleven other liquor related bills in addition to the original contents of the bill regarding railway cars and alcoholic beverages. The bill currently resides in conference where members of the House and Senate are working to reach an agreement on the differences between the two chambers. The provisions of the substitute bill include:
REDUCING THE SIZE OF GOVERNMENT
This session Secretary Taylor with the Office of the Repealer has introduced over 50 pieces of legislation in the House and Senate to do away with outdated rules and regulations, expired commissions, and other aspects of state law viewed as unnecessary. To date Governor Brownback signed a total of 54 pieces of legislation removing expired and unnecessary policies, regulations and areas of government for possible repeal.
If you believe that an unreasonable, unduly burdensome, duplicative, onerous or conflicting law, regulation or other governing instrument, detrimental to the economic well-being of Kansas, exists, please visit http://repealer.ks.gov. You may also send your suggestion to: Office of the Repealer, 1000 S.W. Jackson, Ste. 500, Topeka, KS 66612