Lawmakers advance bill limiting length of freight trains in Iowa

Railroads argue U.S. law preempts states from regulating interstate commerce

Tom Barton

Jan. 26, 2023 3:58 pm

DES MOINES — A state law advanced Thursday by a three-member panel of House lawmakers would limit the length of freight trains traveling through Iowa.

The subcommittee voted unanimously to forward House Study Bill 88 to the full House Transportation Committee for passage that would limit the length of freight trains operating in the state to 8,500 feet, or roughly 1.6 miles. An identical bill cleared initial review in the 2022 Iowa Legislature, but died in committee.

“Having been stuck, like we all have at a railroad crossing, once I get past 100 cars I get pissy. I do understand that,” subcommittee member Rep. Brent Siegrist, R-Council Bluffs, said. “I’m inclined to move it forward, although I’m not sure I will fully support it in committee yet. I want to hear more. … I have some questions, but at the same time I’m not totally opposed to it.”

Freight trains have been getting longer — nearly 3 miles in some cases. A U.S. Government Accountability Office report from 2019 found the average length increased by about 25 percent since 2008, with average lengths of near 1.4 miles in 2017.

That has raised concerns that trains may block traffic more often at road crossings, impeding emergency responders and prompting unsafe pedestrian behavior, such as climbing through stopped trains.

Chris Smith, state director for SMART-TD, a union for transportation workers, said 1,468 blocked crossings were reported in Iowa in 2022. Of those, 502 were reported blocked for at least an hour, and several reported blocked for more than a day, he said.

Braking and other operations can also be more complex for these longer trains, according to the GAO report. Smith, too, said many of today’s train cars were not built and Iowa’s railroad infrastructure never designed to pull more than 100 to 135 cars. As a result, coupling mechanisms have failed in many cases due to increased stress and fatigue of the metal, Smith said.

“Now, they’re running 290-car pull trains,” he said. “The materials, designs, statistics and safety were never tested to the lengths that they’re producing today.”

Railroad traffic through Iowa also could increase soon with the merger of Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern. Some officials and residents in cities along the route, including in the Quad Cities and Muscatine, have expressed concern about the increase in the number of trains as well as the increase in their length.

“We have some problem in Eastern Iowa with the CP/KCS thing, especially for my town in Camanche has a problem with the long trains,” said subcommittee member Rep. Tom Determann, R-Clinton. “So I’m inclined to take it to committee for more discussion.”

Representatives for the nation’s largest railroads argue federal law preempts state and local attempts to regulate railroad activities. Under the U.S. Constitution, interstate commerce is regulated by the federal government.

“All of these arguments are persuasive and they lead to a federal solution and a federal solution only,” said lobbyist Michael Triplett, who represents Union Pacific Railroad.

Should Iowa or any other state pass conflicting standards regulating the activities of railroads, “the supply-chain gets wrecked,” Triplett said.

“If there is to be a solution that is broad enough that can handle the questions of interstate commerce, which is the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government, this should be handled by the Surface Transportation Board or the Federal Railway Administration at the federal level,” he said.

The railroads also contend trains of all lengths have been safely operated for years, and that longer trains maximize resources and reduce fuel and labor costs.

“We have a facility in Western Iowa where we do testing while the trains are going through on the track. It’s innovative. If there’s something that needs to be fixed, we fix it,” Triplett said. “I don’t want you to be left with the impression that we ignore things and we just drag lots of cars through here. That makes no economic sense for us. If makes no logistical sense for us because cars that can’t run because we’ve broken them are cars that we can’t use to serve our customers.”

Limiting the length of trains would only lead to more trains running through communities, said Brad Epperly, a lobbyist representing BNSF Railway Co.

“I don’t think that’s going to improve your safety,” Epperly said.

Smith argued the longer trains are part of a corporate strategy that has driven workers to the breaking point and led to a decimated railroad workforce that is impeding efforts to transport goods.

Over the last six years, Class I freight railroads — which include BNSF Railway, CSX Transportation, Kansas City Southern Railway, Norfolk Southern and Union Pacific — have hemorrhaged a combined 45,000 workers, according to the Surface Transportation Board. That’s nearly 29 percent of their workforce.

Epperly argued the union could have negotiated for shorter train lengths during recent collectively bargaining over a new contract, but chose not to.

Congress last month passed legislation binding companies and workers to a proposed settlement reached in September, but rejected by some of the 12 unions involved, in order to avert a nationwide rail strike.

The Iowa bill now moves to the full House Transportation Committee for consideration.

Comments: (319) 398-8499;

Pre-Session Update, December 2018

After three months of traveling across the state, the transportation task force finished their work a few weeks ago. Our charge was to access all our modes of transportation and make a report to the 2019 Legislature. 

What did we learn? The needs are great and different all across the state. West of highway 81, shoulders, turn lanes and surface improvements are needed due to the increased truck traffic. In our urban areas, congestion due to population growth and economic growth. Most projects fall into three categories, preservation, modernization and expansion. 

Preservation primarily consists of sealing the surface of existing roads. Generally, 1- 3 inches in thickness. Due to the budget constraints from the recession and tax changes, preservation was limited. Preservation is important because it preserves our subsurface which saves us from replacing roads in the long run. 

Modernization deals with adding shoulders and taking out tight curves and dips and valleys of a road. Many times, doing modernization projects you also address preservation. Shoulders are needed due to wider loads such as transportation of wind generators and other industrial products that have taken place in western and other rural parts of Kansas. 

Expansion addresses the tremendous growth we are seeing in our heavily populated areas of our state, Johnson and Sedgwick counties. In 2029 Sedgwick County is expected to be 530,323 and Johnson county 734,065 according to WSU, Center for Economic Development and Business Research. The intermodal in Edgerton and the Legends in Wyandotte County are examples of infrastructure needed that brought in jobs and business development to our state. 

In Sedgwick County, many of us that use the north junction (235 and I-35) to go east and west in Sedgwick county and link us to highway 50 in Newton and 254 to El Dorado. The congestion is beginning earlier and lasting longer in addition to safety challenges of trying to get on and off the ramps. 

After identifying what was needed in the next 10 year program, the task force had to come up with something that was affordable and within our budget. The number one recommendation was to quit stealing from the sales tax that was dedicated for transportation. The second, finish T-Works. We can achieve many of the proposals with the dedicated sales tax. The question becomes, how long do we want to wait to do the economic development projects that the Sedgwick and Johnson County regions need? 

In order to address many of the economic needs, there were recommendations made to provide local units of government some tools to be a bigger player. One recommendation would be to give local units of government some demand transfers that they have not been receiving. If the state started to make these transfers, they would be restricted to transportation needs. 

Other ways to provide local government a greater participation level would be some kind of a relief valve on the property tax lid. Local units of government would only be able to use it for economic development projects and the bill language would need to be very specific. The gas tax could be looked at since it has not changed along with fees for electric motor vehicles, EMV. EMV’s do help decrease emissions into the environment but they are still weight and wear on our roads. There have been more and more announcements that car companies plan to increase the amount of hybrid and EMV’s in the near future. As this happens, we will see a decrease in motor fuel tax receipts and a rise in EMV fee receipts. Tolling on major arterials and fees for extraordinarily heavy and wide loads were other ideas discussed. 

Rail was given some attention, particularly the Heartland Flyer, passenger rail from Newton to Oklahoma City and the importance of short line freight in our rural areas. Improving modes such as public transit, aviation, bicycle and pedestrian accessibility was also part of the report. 

Finally, the report suggested an oversight committee to review where we are at five years into the program to see if any adjustments need to be made. Keep in mind, these are only recommendations by what the task force heard and saw. They will be reviewed by the appropriate committees during the 2019 legislative session and later made into bill form to ensure we continue to have safe highways and other infrastructure.

Click here to read the full update.

April 22, 2016

The regular session of the 2016 legislative season ended on March 24 this year, which was over a week early. It appears that the legislature will get its work done within the 90 day limit set by the Kansas Constitution. I appreciate legislative leadership encouraging committee chairs to get work done in a timely manner, but many outstanding issues remain.

The main unresolved issue facing the Legislature is that the state continues to bring in less revenue than predicted. March revenues were $1.7 million below estimates. While some are calling that a victory, when compared with previous shortfalls, revenues often swing greatly from one month to another and the long-range trend is what matters. The long-range trend is what led the Governor to cut Wichita State and the other state universities last month with only a few months left in their current budget year. Making cuts in such a rushed way can often lead to cuts to successful programs.

As I have unfortunately had to share before, it looks like the Governor and his allies will once again squeeze our highway system and now the state’s pension plans to fill a hole that neither the highways nor the pensions created. To date, $1.7 billion has been transferred from our highways and bridges, making travel less safe for our families and less reliable for our farms and businesses.

Another unresolved issue is school funding. When legislators take the oath of office to uphold the Kansas Constitution, providing students with a suitable education is part of it. Before adjourning the regular session, the legislature fast-tracked a school funding bill (Senate Sub for HB 2655).

This bill is only intended to make sure that the state formula for supplementing school’s local option budgets is constitutionally equitable. The bill was designed to hold districts “harmless,” meaning that no schools would lose money. It also returns the school capital outlay formula to the pre-block grant formula and gives the State Board of Education the authority to approve extraordinary needs funding rather than the State Finance Council. While I think much of the state’s current block grant formula doesn’t do enough, this bill was necessary to ensure schools open in August.

Another major issue that the legislature is going to consider during the wrap-up session is restricting how mayors, city councils, and county commissions will pay for local streets and services. The idea is that this “tax lid” will lead to lower property taxes for me and you. I have predicted for a few years now that the Governor’s tax plan was really a tax shift onto local taxpayers. In order to fill the gap created by revenue shortfalls, the state decided to make local governments pay for more things, such as requiring law enforcement to detain more people with state violations and mental health issues. Support for local hospitals and local road budgets are just a few examples of other areas where more pressure has been put on local property taxpayers.

During debate on the tax lid bill, (Senate Sub for HB 2088) I offered a successful amendment to exempt fire, police and emergency services to ensure that our cities and counties can pay for these critical services. Local communities should not have to pay for an election in order to cover unexpected costs following a tragedy. I believe our local elected officials know how to address the needs of their community better than politicians in Topeka.

While there is not a lot of positive news out of Topeka, one of the good things we did this session was reform our juvenile justice system. Work on this began prior to session and continued for the first few months of the year. The focus of the legislation was to add more evidence-based practices to the system, including more options for community-based detention, immediate intervention, and incentives for good behavior. In order for this to work, the state will need to keep its promise to help juvenile offenders up front rather than continue letting many of them become adult offenders-at a much higher cost to taxpayers and society as a whole.

During this break, I have enjoyed seeing everyone around the district. As always, the input I receive from you though emails, at legislative forums, and at the grocery store is invaluable to me. In my next update, I’ll discuss the recent Consensus Revenue Estimates, April Revenues and the current proposals to balance the budget.

Visiting our Schools

Maize Alternative School
During the April Break, I had the opportunity to visit Maize Alternative School. Success stories throughout the building. Many amazing things are happening in Kansas classrooms.
Pictured with Senator McGinn are Isaiah and Superintendent Chad Higgins.

Bills on General Orders March 21st, 2016

S Sub HB 2059 An Act Concerning Water

SB 436 An Act Concerning Public Health

SB 437 An Act Concerning Health Care

HB 2456 An Act Enacting the Interstate Medical Licensure

HB 2632 An Act Concerning the Pooled Money Investment Board

HB 2610 An Act Designating the Junction of Interstate

S Sub HB 2441 An Act Concerning Education

HB 2518 An Act Concerning Vital Statistics

HB 2547 An Act Concerning Wildlife, Parks & Tourism

S Sub HB 2056 An Act Concerning Bail Enforcement Agents

HB 2549 An Act Concerning Law Enforcement

HB 2134 An Act Concerning Consumer Credit

HB 2696 An Act Concerning Law Enforcement

HB 2502 An Act Concerning Civil Procedure

SB 363 An Act Concerning the State Board of Healing Arts

SCR 1610 An Act Reaffirming 10th Amendment Rights

S Sub HB 2156 An Act Concerning Water

S Sub HB 2509 An Act Concerning the Department of Commerce

HB 2617 An Act Concerning Workers Compensation

SB 439 An Act Relating to Grounds for Impeachment

S Sub HB 2509 An Act Concerning the Department of Commerce

SB 353 An Act Concerning Property Taxation

SB 359 An Act Concerning Property Taxation

S Sub HB 2088 An Act Concerning Property Taxation

S Sub HB 2018 An Act Concerning the Uniform Controlled Substance Act

HB 2460 An Act Concerning the Kansas Offender Registration Act

HB 2463 An Act Concerning Crimes, Punishment & Criminal…

HB 2436 An Act Concerning Motor Vehicles

Sub HB 2289 An Act Concerning Driving

SB 469 An Act Concerning Public Employees

Sub SB 356 An Act Concerning Education

Sub SB 462 An Act Concerning Civil Procedure

SB 509 An Act Concerning State Finances

SB 424 An Act Concerning Consumer Protection

SB 480 An Act Concerning Crimes, Punishment & Criminal…

S Sub HB 2655 An Act Concerning Education

Veto Override attempts:
SB 250
State building construction; relating to the monthly reports of progress; making and concerning appropriations for the fiscal years ending June 30, 2016, and June 30, 2017, for various state agencies; concerning the Docking state office building

Veto sustained, 26-13. I voted aye to override.
(Failed to receive 2/3 majority)

Budget Proviso to limit Star Bonds
Making and concerning appropriations for the fiscal years ending June 30, 2016, June 30, 2017, and June 30, 2018, for the state agencies; authorizing certain transfers, capital improvement projects and fees, imposing certain restrictions and limitations, and directing or authorizing certain receipts, disbursements, procedures and acts incidental to the foregoing
Veto override succeeds, 30-8. I voted aye to override.
Goodwill Industries

coming to Newton

It was great to celebrate the groundbreaking of a new Goodwill Industries More about Goodwill Industries store in Newton. Others pictured above from left are Ron Harder, Joe Johnson SJC&F architects, Senator Carolyn McGinn, Elizabeth Schmidt HarveyMarion CDDO, and Emily Compton, CEO Goodwill Industries. Also pictured is Newton Mayor Glen Davis.

New on the McGinn Farm

We were blessed by the recent rain and our corn is coming up on the farm.

We are expecting baby lambs any day now. I hope to feature them in the next legislative update.

Working for Kansas, Working for us!

Due to the large volume of emails, I am occasionally not able to respond to all of your comments. Please know that they are read, and if it is urgent please email my senate email address at or contact my office at:
785-296-7377 during session.

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Local Helpful Links

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Where to Vote
on March 5, 2016
for the Presidential Caucus:


Harvey County:
Sante Fe Middle School
130 West Broadway
Newton, KS 67114

Sedgwick County: (with Harper & Kingman Counties)
Convention Hall at Century II
225 W Douglas Ave
Wichita, KS 67202


Bethel College- Memorial Hall, 300 27th St, North Newton, KS 67114

Senator Carolyn McGinn
Working for Kansas
Paid for by McGinn for State Senate, Leslie J. Ward Treasurer

Working for Kansas, P.O. Box A, Sedgwick, KS 67135

June 17 Update

On Monday, June 1, the 101st day of the traditional 90 day legislative session, the Senate debated a plan for six hours that would have taken away most sales tax exemptions to plug the $400 million budget hole. The biggest of these exemptions go to non-profits, schools, local government construction, and business inputs like parts and utilities. In the case of schools, it would effectively mean that the state would be taxing itself. It was pushed by Sen. Steve Abrams, Sen. Ty Masterson, and several Johnson County senators. It didn’t matter that the plan would ultimately go down to defeat with only 9 votes-up until that point, 9 votes was the most that any plan could get.

Every year is always different, but this year was by far the strangest. After years and years of representatives and senators getting elected to Topeka by signing no-tax pledges and railing against the Federal government in Washington, DC, it’s no wonder our state’s leaders have lost sight of their local responsibility. For many years, I have heard from a lot of people that we need to cut government. That sounds good and we have done quite a bit of it at the state level since 2009. I was Chair of the Senate budget committee when the state made the largest budget cuts in Kansas history to tighten our belts in the face of the Great Recession. Since then, most budgets have been held close to flat, but every one of them for the last three years has assumed the state would eventually face major deficits, so I have voted against them.

Since our state’s budget situation has changed so much in the past few years, I thought I would share about how it used to work. First, Kansas used to have surpluses when the national economy was growing. Now, because we’re in a budget crisis of our own making-much like Washington, DC-we wait to pass the budget until the end of the year so that we can trade votes. Some legislators are given promises on policy. Others are  promised additional funding. This year, due to the massive $400 million deficit, threats of funding cuts to schools, universities, communities colleges, and services for the disabled were the vice grips of choice.

In the last few years, those in charge of the budget have not been able to find enough budget cuts to pay for the 2012 income tax rate cuts and business income tax exemption, and all Kansans have now borne two general sales tax increases to pay for it. Some taxpayers have only had tax increases because of how the 2012 tax law cut and eliminated many deductions, including business losses. Other taxes raised to pay for 2012 include an additional $0.50 sales tax on cigarettes and a tax increase on Managed Care Organization/HMO health plans. As all of us know, any “tax” on insurance companies ends up being a hidden fee that gets passed on to all of their consumers through higher premiums.

An unrelated issue that was attached to the MCO/HMO tax increase was a measure to allow the Secretary of the Department of Children and Families to increase the new $25 limit on ATM withdrawals for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) recipients. The Federal program sends $102 million to Kansas without any state matching funds required. The $25 limitation has raised concerns because most ATMs only allow $20 withdrawals. The average benefit for this program is only a few hundred dollars a month and most of it goes to people’s utilities and rent and other basic necessities. If we force people to get their money in $20 increments with a $2 fee on each withdrawal, it doesn’t necessarily improve accountability, but it quickly makes Kansas’s TANF program into a welfare program for banks. I’m a strong advocate for making sure this money goes where it’s supposed to, but I don’t think “ATM fees” is the answer. Kansas already has one of the tightest welfare programs in the country.

One good thing that came of the long session was that we were able to pass the Scrap Metal Theft Reduction Act. I served on the judicial council last fall to create a bill to decrease this unlawful and costly activity to owners of metal products. It sets up a database similar to what is used in pawn shops to capture stolen items and puts more teeth into the penalty of the crime, including possible jail time. Many farmers, churches, and utility companies have been victims of this crime. The cost in theft and damage to equipment has caused some to lose their insurance policies. I will continue to work to see this destructive crime decreased.

Thank you for all your words of encouragement this past session with your emails and phone calls. If you need assistance dealing with state government, please call me at home (316-772-0147).  For other information about the 31st district, updates, and news articles, please go to my website at:

May 21 Update

First of all, congratulations to all of the graduates of 2015. It’s a great time of year for families, teachers and students to get together and recognize our common commitment to education. Trying to ensure that every kid–urban and rural, wealthy and poor–has access to an equitable public education in Kansas is something that many of us in the state Capitol take very seriously.

Graduation season is also usually the traditional end point of the Kansas legislative session, but not this year. The traditional 90th day deadline came and passed last Saturday without any agreement on how to craft a balanced budget for the 2016 state fiscal year beginning on July 1. Every day the legislature is in session costs taxpayers $43,000. I, and a few other legislators, have signed a waiver so that our salary ended on day 90.

Budget negotiations have moved to a Conference Committee, of which, only two members of the House and two members of the Senate need to sign a final product before sending it to an up-or-down vote in each chamber. The full Kansas House of Representatives has not had the opportunity to debate or amend its budget. If as expected, the Kansas House is only able to vote on the final product, 123 out of 125 representatives’ districts will be cut out of the ability to amend the state budget for two years.

The budget conference committee has stalled as a package that still leaves the state with a $400 million deficit. After several years of budget cuts or flat funding, negotiators argue that more cuts would affect essential services or endanger Federal matching funds. Finding a way to increase revenues without simply rolling back part of the tax shift passed two years ago seems to be the main drag on coming to a solution.

The House Tax committee passed out a tax package last week that several House members supported which would have raised the general state sales tax rate to 6.85%. When you add in local tax rates and special district tax rates, some parts of the state could have seen sales tax rates of close to 10 or 11%. Raising the sales tax that high would put Kansas among the highest sales tax states in the nation, hurting our economy and fixed-income citizens in one fell swoop. That plan failed on the House floor, but sales tax increases are still the preferred solution to many legislators.

Republican Rep. Mark Hutton, of Wichita, has put forward several proposals that would roll back part of the 2012 income tax exemption for 330,000 Kansas businesses. Senate President Susan Wagle has also stated publicly her support for amending that policy, and Senate Tax Chair Donovan has proposed replacing that policy with an employee tax credit for businesses.

Part of the problem in these negotiations is that some Johnson County Senators are insisting on increasing taxes on farmers as part of any deal. I think that Kansas still has enough rural and mixed-district Senators to serve as a firewall against attacks on Kansas’s family farms, and I will continue to make it a priority to fight for our state’s first and largest industry.

Some of you may have heard about the controversy the legislature had with the transportation network company, Uber. The legislature passed a bill that ensured Uber drivers had basic insurance protections required of all drivers, and that they could also pass a basic background check. Uber finally agreed to negotiate with Kansas to ensure such protections after refusing to do so and the service should be back up and running soon.

The big business group Uncork Kansas finally got a vote by the full Senate on an attempt to expand access to alcohol in the state. While this 30-page floor amendment was sold as only dealing with the sale of full-strength beer, it would have allowed beer up to 12% strength and expanded lottery ticket sales as well. If at some point we want to have a full debate on this issue, we should follow the regular process with plenty of public notice. At this point, we know the bill would hurt small business, but we have no proof it would create more jobs. For these reasons, I voted against the amendment.

There are still a few issues swirling around besides tax and budget issues. As always, I welcome your input and hope to be back on the farm and working in the district soon.

May 5 Update

The regular session of the 2015 Kansas legislature ended on April 2. Before adjourning, the Kansas Senate passed a budget that included a deficit of over $600 million over 2 years, based on the current year revenue shortfall and revenue forecast. I voted NO on this budget. The State of Kansas has been teetering on the brink of a self-inflicted budget deficit for too many years now and we need to work on a sustainable solution that keeps taxes low and funds public education and other core services fairly.

Since the Senate passed that unbalanced budget, the consensus revenue estimating group has estimated the revenue shortfall to have increased so that now the projected deficit is almost $800 million. That’s over 10% of the state’s entire discretionary spending budget.

So far, the Governor has suggested tax increases on cigarette and tobacco products and alcohol, in addition to some other changes that add up to a little over $200 million. He has also proposed increasing the privilege fee on the managed care companies that run the state’s Medicaid program, KanCare. Even if all of these proposals were passed, the state of Kansas would still be facing a deficit, and many of these proposals face considerable opposition in the legislature.

The legislature reconvened for “Veto Session” on April 29. Traditionally, this part of the session is set aside for the legislature to consider the Governor’s vetoes and potentially override them. As has often been the case in recent years, most of this time will be taken up trying to craft a budget and tax plan that balances. If the Governor would not have signed the 2012 tax bill, the state would have over $1 billion in reserve and finding a solution would be relatively easy. With the Governor seemingly unwilling to compromise on the 2012 tax policy, it may take a long time for the legislature to get out of Topeka, costing taxpayers more than 1 teacher’s salary for each day we don’t finish.

March 18 Update

Education Block Grant – H Sub for SB 7
After announcing and rushing through a new education formula a week ago Friday, the motion to concur on H Sub for SB 7 was up for a vote in the Senate Monday.  H Sub for SB 7 was announced at a press conference on Friday morning, March 6th, before a bill was ready. By Monday, it was up for a hearing in House appropriations after gutting the contents of H Sub for SB 7 and inserting language for an education block grant.
After passing the House on Friday, March 13th, the bill was quickly sent to the Senate so a motion to reconsider could not occur.
Because H Sub for SB 7 was a conference committee report, those of us in the Senate were not able to able to debate or amend any of the contents of the bill.  This is the second time this procedure this was used this year on monumental issues that impact our district and our state.

This bill passed 25-14 – I voted No.

Senate Vote on SB 7

March 6 Update

As of late last Thursday, the legislature has reached the traditional mid-point of session known as Turnaround. All bills that have passed the House or Senate will now go to the other chamber for hearings and scrutiny. Any bill not heard on the chamber floor is dead unless it was introduced in an exempt committee or blessed by the Senate President or Speaker of the House. The budget is one of those exempt pieces of legislation, but much of the work on it is being postponed until after the April revenue numbers are released.

Last week we debated 65 bills and voted on 51 bills in one day. Spreading that legislation out would lead to a more transparent process and allow for more constituent feedback, so I hope now that the conflict over the Joint Rules has been resolved, we will see a more measured approach. Since I do not want to double the size of the local paper, I will try to highlight some of the bills that received a lot of debate.

Senate Bill 70 requires new background check and reporting requirements for teachers who have broken the law. Sounds like a good idea and I did not have an issue with the underlying effort to protect our children from those who should not be in the classroom. However, one part of the bill would require school districts to finger print teachers every five years. I’m not a forensics expert, but I’m pretty sure most people’s fingerprints do not change over a period of five years. Since the legislature does not require this of many other professionals, such as law enforcement and those who work with children and seniors, why would we put this extra cost on teachers and local schools? I supported an amendment to remove this part of the bill, but because that amendment failed, I could not support the original, flawed bill.

Another bill, Senate Bill 171, dealt with moving the election dates for cities and school boards from the spring to the fall. This bill, as originally drafted, would have also made those elections partisan. The bill has currently been amended to be non-partisan and on the odd years but could be changed back to the original form. Partisan elections have become so mired with distracting and misleading attacks and propaganda. We should not be discouraging local community leaders from public service by making city and school activities partisan as well.

Senate Bill 60 would allow home school children to participate in extra curricular activities. Senator Knox, who has experience on this issue as a home school parent, introduced the bill. In the course of debate, the difference between co-curricular and extra-curricular activities was brought to light. Students participate in co-curricular activities when they enroll in a school for a foreign language or high-level math course. Extra-curricular generally include non-credit sports and artistic activities. Personally, I would be concerned about recruiting activities, limiting the opportunities of full-time public school children, and putting another unfunded mandate on schools.

Senate Bill 188 would force school districts to publish budgets online as required by statute, or else pay a penalty of $1,000 per day. The bill did not give any direction for the money other than the state general fund. I supported an amendment that would have listed schools that are not compliant with the statute on the State Department of Education website, but that amendment did not pass. This is an unnecessary unfunded mandate. School budgets are already available to the public.

Senate Bill 56, introduced by Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook of Johnson County, would make it easier to prosecute teachers for showing any “allegedly harmful” material to minors. This bill was brought to us last year because of a single inappropriate incident that occurred in a Johnson County school that was fully addressed by parents and the local school district. Like the finger-printing bill, I think this is another example of state government trying to be big brother in all of our local school districts and classrooms. If the state government is going to micromanage school districts like this, why do we have local school boards? I trust our teachers, and I do not think we should expose all of them to frivolous prosecution for the poor choices of a few.

There is more I could share, but I have reached my allotted number of words for this week’s column. If you would like more information about the bills we are debating or hearing in committees you can go to our Kansas Legislative website