2010 Session: 11th Week

Dear Constituants,

The weeks seem to be passing very rapidly here in Topeka and we will begin week eleven with all day Session on the floor as the regular committee process ended last week. However, I do sit on Federal & State Affairs and if necessary, we can be called back in for meetings as it is an exempt committee. My daily routine will stay the same but we will be meeting as “a committee of a whole” rather than breaking into the three smaller committees. Many of my days begin at 7:00AM when I arrive to get a head start before the building begins to hum with activity. The Republicans hold Calendar at 8:00AM where we go over the bills that will be presented on the House floor and discuss possible floor amendments during the debate. Normally, my three committees would meet at 9:00AM, 1:30PM and 3:30PM with Session at 11:00 during the regular Legislative cycle. This week the House session will begin at 9:00AM and work through the day and perhaps into the evening to hear the bills that are left on General Orders. Along with the bills we are debating on the Floor, we will be asked to consider concur motions which are reports from the conference committees (three Representatives and three Senators) whether we agree with the House version and the Senate version merged into one bill alone. Often times two, three, four or more bills are added in together and I must make sure the content has not changed since my last vote on the individual bill.

It is not surprising that the House has shown little to no support for tax increases after limited debate on HB 2549 (which contained the Secretary of Revenue’s proposal to eliminate a number of sales tax exemptions). At the beginning of the debate, there were three amendments that passed with almost unanimous support. These amendments continue the sales tax exemptions for purchases by churches and religious organizations, residential utilities, and Lottery and Bingo ticket sales. With the adoption of the amendments, the bill would only remove the sales tax exemption on coin operated laundry facilities. Most of us thought that at that point we would have some of the components Governor Parkinson’s most recent tax proposal offered and have a long day of debate. However, a motion to table the bill until the last day of session, which is May 3, was brought forward and the motion passed with a narrow vote. In the Senate Tax Committee none of the bills to increase taxes passed out of committee when “worked” this week. It is not clear just what the support for a tax increase will be, or on what it will be offered. It does not make sense to prevent action for seven weeks until the very end of session and forcing the House to determine the money that is spent in our budget without knowledge of available revenue. That is not the way that most of us balance our family budgets. A House bill was passed off the Floor that would establish a study group to thoroughly analyze tax exceptions which are currently being utilized under state law. These exceptions range anywhere from sales tax exemptions on farm machinery to Girl Scout cookies. This study will give the legislative process more facts on how to best proceed in the future on tax collections and budgeting. Next week, the House will be working on the first passage of our budget priorities. Numerous amendments to spend more than the current revenues will support are likely to be offered. The House is scheduled to take up SCR 1614 which would create a stabilization fund in our state treasury. This was an issue that Governor Parkinson recommended in his State of the State Address in January. Kansas is currently one of only five states without such a fund. The fund would better prepare our state to have savings available to transcend economic downturns or other events such as disasters. This is how it would work. When the actual state revenues (minus federal funds) of a fiscal year are more than 3% higher than the previous year, .25% of the state revenues (minus federal funds) are transferred to the budget stabilization fund. Expenditures from the fund would require a three-fifths vote by both the House and Senate. This is very similar to the Budget Stabilization bill that the Government Efficiency and Fiscal Oversight Committee worked and passed out of committee last session. The biggest difference is that this proposed legislation is a resolution to amend the constitution, not just state statue, and would provide a higher protection for the fund. The bill, with strong support from the House and Senate, will most likely be worked through conference committee and because it is a constitutional amendment it will require a vote in the general election to be adopted. It certainly was a big surprise to learn that the state did not have a “savings account or reserve fund” to fall back upon when I began my first term but I have signed on every year to support this effort.

My committee work was heavy this past week with a variety of topics. House Commerce and Labor took up HB 2697 which would allow grocery stores to sell liquor and wine (but not Wal-marts or convenience stores) with a large group of people testified in favor of and against in the two day hearing. Due to the lack of time, the bill was not “worked” but I would guess it will be back next year as a bill can stay “alive” in the process for the next two year cycle. House bill 2537 which would have allowed convenience stores to sell full strength beer also failed to move out of Fed and State as well. Both of these bills would have changed how tax is collected on spirits, clerks under the age of 21 selling liquor and out-of-state ownership of stores. I believe both issues need more study. Perhaps the assignment of an interm committee over the summer to investigate the facts, fairness and the effects on all areas local economy that the proposed changes would be the best way to look at both of these issues. We also worked on Children in Need of Care, HB 2512 which clarifies more grandparent involvement in the laws enforced by the SRS and courts. The Community Defense Act was heard on Thursday in Federal and State Affairs; again a large group testifying pros and cons about stiffer regulating laws on adult stores and clubs. The Ag and Natural Recourses committee took up hunting clothing requirements for elk hunting at Fort Riley and a proposed bed tax collected (sent to our local CVB’s) on the cabins under the management of Kansas Department of Wildlife. Both moved out of committee on to the House floor for debate this coming week.
On Thursday, March 18, the Kansas Mental Health Coalition was here in the statehouse. They are an umbrella organization for more than 30 organizations that represent consumers of mental health services, advocacy groups, and child welfare providers. Three different groups met with me during breaks between committees. My friends, Shella and Jeff Thoman and their boys Noah and Isaac spent the day in the Capitol. They were able to catch both Senator Taddiken and myself and had the lucky experience of being evacuated along with everyone in the building during a fire emergency in the construction area during their visit.
Be sure to pick up the April 2010 edition of the Readers Digest. It was my honor to submit Commissioner Steve Errebo of Lincoln County as a hero in the HERO section of the magazine. The author told me that this was one of the best stories he ever had the opportunity to write and that Steve was the perfect subject for this section. You can find his story beginning on page 35. Congratulation Commissioner Errebo – you deserve this and so much more!!

Rep. Elaine Bowers
Phone 1-800-432-3924
Kansas State Capitol
Room: 54-S
300 SW 10th St.
Topeka, Kansas 66612
Phone: 785-296-7642
Email: elaine.bowers@house.ks.gov