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.