February 18 Update

By the end of this week, the legislature will be one week away from “turnaround,” the traditional point at which legislation needs to have passed the House or the Senate to be considered by the other chamber. There are always exceptions to the rule, often including major legislation decided in the dark of night like last year’s school bill, but generally this tradition is intended so that both sides have a chance to hear legislation in committee and on the floor before passing it.

I usually stick with my own chamber, but I want to highlight some good work done by a bipartisan coalition in the House to force a few rules changes intended to increase transparency in State Government. One measure that was approved would
limit the House from considering bills from midnight to eight in the morning. Not only does this improve public access to legislative business, but a few legislators have been injured or died over the years after unnecessary late night political
negotiations that could have been avoided. The State Senate did not adopt a similar rule, but hopefully the House’s action will influence both chambers to conduct more of their business in the light of day.

In the Joint Rules, the House is also insisting on limiting the number of bills that can be bundled together in a Conference Committee Report. When multiple bills are bundled together at the end of session, it may help Committee Chairs and
leadership make promises to get major budget and tax legislation passed, but it prevents Senators and House members from being able to express their support or opposition on individual issues.

Last year was the first year that the legislature passed permanent policy as part of a budget bill when it passed a school finance bill that also created a permanent corporate tax credit program for private education and eliminated workplace protections for teachers. That bundling of permanent policy and yearly appropriations was done to gain the votes needed to comply with a Constitutional requirement to equalize school funding. That effort passed the Senate last year but was unable to make it through the House process in time.

On the budget, House and Senate budget committees have been hearing from agencies, businesses, non-profits, and citizens who can make the trip to Topeka about different ideas to solve the deficit situation the state of Kansas is now in. The
House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee voted against the Governor’s recommendation to take hundreds of millions more dollars from the state transportation fund for roads and bridges. That action was reversed by the House Appropriations Committee, and I am very disappointed. I do hope this legislature confirms our state’s commitment to safe and efficient highways.

In Senate Ethics and Elections, Senate Bill 171 would move city and school board elections from the spring of odd numbered years, like they are this year, to the fall of even-numbered years. This would put city and school board races on the same ballot with everything from township and precinct officers to county and state officials and even the Presidential election. The current legislation would also make city and school board elections partisan.

The main reason behind this effort is because spring elections have a lower turnout than other elections in Kansas. I am hearing from a lot of people in my district who are concerned about having our communities divided up by partisanship the
way our state and Federal governments have been. Many people who put their name on the ballot at the school or city council level are simply interested in making sure our cities and schools are the best they can be, without ideological or
partisan influence. While I would like to improve voter turnout in Kansas, I hope the legislature will think of better solutions, such as all-mail voting, that have already worked to increase turnout in special elections across the state.

This Thursday I will attend the annual Kansas Exemplary Educators Network State Education Conference. I will read a Senate Resolution honoring the 2014 Kansas Milken Educator, Amy Stanislowski, third grade teacher at Dodge Literacy Magnet Elementary School in Wichita. As a Milliken Educator, Ms. Stanislowski received a cash award of $25,000.

We had a lot of visitors in the Capitol this past week. Visitors to my office included Miss Rodeo Kansas 2015 and constituents from the Farm Bureau, higher education and 4-H. Everyone shared happenings and activities of how they are working to make us a better community and state.

February 10 Update

I have visited with a lot of constituents who have said: “surely, the legislature won’t change the city and school board elections to partisan elections?”

Well, the horse is out of the gate….

Testimony needed ASAP today for Senate Bill 171, which would move local and school board elections to November and make them partisan.

Monday afternoon, Sen. Mitch Holmes, R-St. John, and chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, introduced a sweeping bill that moves the election date and overhauls much of the state’s election law. Currently, city and school board elections are non-partisan and held in the spring. However, under SB 171, city and school board candidates would run on a partisan basis in political party primaries in August and then general elections in November.

READ MORE – KASB Action Alert on SB 171

For more information, please read the following Wichita Eagle article:, Wichita school board to consider resolution against moving time of local elections.

Another bill of interest that had a hearing today, requires teachers to be fingerprinted every 5 years. SB 70, introduced by Senator Greg Smith form Johnson County.

February 9 Update

We have begun our fourth week of the 2015 legislative session. Legislation has been introduced in committees and public hearings have been held, but no major legislation has been passed. By the time you read this article, the legislature should be starting an awkward transition from a waltz to the polka. One of the first moves the legislature will have to make this year is mid-year spending cuts in a recission bill (Senate Bill 4). It, along with the Governor’s allotments, will take money out of highways, children’s programs, and the state’s pension payments for the 2015 fiscal year, which ends June 30.

Since the budget bills for fiscal year 2015 were passed in 2013 and 2014, the state of Kansas has fallen off a fiscal cliff created by the legislature. Federal tax law changes have accounted for a small part of the state’s insufficient funds, but for the most part, the major 2012 and 2013 tax changes have completely flipped a $587.8 million ending balance at the end of 2013 into an even larger deficit.

In the Governor’s State of the State address, he spoke of three major areas that he sees as the problem and the solution to Kansas’s deteriorated fiscal situation: K-12 education, the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS) and the state’s Medicaid program, now known as KanCare. It is true that these public resources and employee benefits represent a lion’s share of the state’s budget, but state expenditures of $6.1 billion in 2015 are about the same as they were in 2008. Having served as a budget committee leader during the crisis budget situations caused by the world financial crisis, it is very disappointing to see the state basically in the same situation again while most other states have surpluses.

Often, crisis-based decisions lead to unintended consequences and false choices that are basically like robbing Peter to pay Paul. There are many state functions like schools and roads and access to basic healthcare that we as taxpayers can either pay for now or pay a lot more for later in prisons, driving delays, and unpaid emergency room expenses.

In the near future, a lot of the funding cuts the Governor has proposed are one-time sweeps that will need to be repaid within a year or two or else risk further harm to the state’s creditworthiness. As the state relies more and more on borrowing, our lower credit rating will cost Kansas taxpayers year after year without receiving any tangible benefit in return.

While the budget and tax committees are busy trying to figure out how to balance the budget, other committees are working on policy as well.. One proposal would completely remove any requirement for background checks or a safety course for those who carry a concealed firearm (SB 45). Certainly, the vast majority of gun owners are law abiding citizens. It concerns me, however, that law enforcement will not be able to lawfully check who is lawfully or unlawfully carrying a gun. Another proposal by Secretary of State Kris Kobach would allow voters to mark one box at the top of the ballot and vote for a party, rather than having to read and consider candidates by name. Apparently, the Secretary thinks that President Washington was just being fussy when he admonished the country against partisanship and factionalism in his farewell address.

Of course, there are still many areas where legislators work together without regard to ideology or partisanship. I hope to detail more of those efforts in a future update, including the formation of a Senate Rural Caucus to focus on the agriculture and local issues that affect a large part of our state. Kansas Day is also always a good reminder of what our state can do, and last week, our State celebrated its 154th birthday. It was nice to celebrate part of it with Lauren Galusha and her family from Maize. Lauren received First Place for 6th grade in the Happy Birthday, Kansas! student photo contest.

This year I am serving on Agriculture, Natural Resources, Judiciary and a new committee, Corrections and Juvenile Justice. This past fall, I chaired the Joint Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice.

It is always great to see all of you who make the trip to Topeka for issues important to you. If you are planning a trip to the capitol and have time, please call ahead and let me know you will be there. Our days can be very busy with committee meetings, but we can always step out to say hello. I still have some slots available if students between the ages of 12-17 are interested in serving as a Senate Page. My office number is 785-296-7377.