2010 Session Wrap-Up

The 2010 Kansas Legislature wrapped up its work last Tuesday after the House spent several long days debating budget and tax issues late into the night. We worked on the floor until around 5 AM one night and until 3 AM another trying to avoid the tax increase (6th attempt). Of course, the budget that would be approved for Fiscal Year 2011, which begins July 1st, would have to balance. Other issues we addressed during the 12-day veto session included a new transportation plan, stricter seat belt and DUI laws, a texting ban, and an attempted override of a governor’s veto. We had anticipated that the Veto Session would take more than the usual few days, which is why we had worked to save days back. With days in the bank for the Veto Session, in the end, we did finish the 2010 session in less than 90 days. Many of my legislator friends who have served in the legislature for a number of years said they have not seen a year such as this one – ever. It was the first time the House and Senate went home at the break without the Mega budget which basically funds governments’ essential needs then return to tie up the loose ends with the Omnibus budget when we arrive back for Veto Session. And as last year, we ended with a Concur vote – this year on a tax bill which was paired with a Senate concur with the budget bill. The budget bill was much the same as the Governor proposed in January at his State of the State address except a cigarette tax he proposed was eliminated which I find ironic – tax something that will be out-lawed with the smoking ban effective July 1st. Both tax and budget bills needed to pass as one was the spending piece and the other the revenue package. The House Appropriation committee had passed a bill out of committee which never carried much support and was defeated on the house floor after a day of debate. The second budget (the Governor’s plan) was substituted (a gut-and go) and after 18 hours of debate on the House floor became the bill that the Senate agreed with. If the process had worked as we learned in Government 101 – both the House and the Senate bodies would’ve passed a budget. Then the six members in the Conference Committee (three Senate and three House members) would hash out details and bring the proposed bill back to us for a vote – many times if necessary until the House passes one with at least 63 votes. And a concur motion with the Senate allows no amendments from the House members thus no House positions or ideas in the final bill – this session it was the tax bill – it is an entire Senate proposal passed over to us with the majority of their forty members. Finally the Senate agreed with the House Budget bill – they also could make no changes with no amendments. I have learned these past four years that when the Conference Committee step is skipped, the possibility of mistakes and items overlooked is so much greater – such as the budget reduction of the Court System last year which was missed in the final Concur budget and became law. Even as I write this, the Board of Regents is asking the Governor to veto a section of this year’s concurred budget bill as an added amendment takes away $3.6 million rather than adds to higher education as was intended – a mistake which could’ve been caught in the conference committee. It was most clear to me that there was a middle ground – as always – there could’ve been a compromise. There were many ideas of revenue enhancements floated around such as “user-fee-type” taxes such as liquor, cigarette, beverage and others along the line if you-use-it – you-pay-for-it fees. There were proposals of removing sales tax on food and reducing tax exemptions granted though many, many years to all types of services, businesses and organizations – all of these ideas had the possibility of being in the mix. Proposals of less than a full 1 cent sales tax increase that could’ve been considered with a package of reductions (but with no additional reductions to schools, public safety or social services), other enhancements such as sales of idle state property, a change in income tax brackets or simply hold-the-line-on-spending until Kansas comes out of the recession - didn’t have the chance to be debated in the open as I had wished. As it is in real life or in Topeka – communication is the key to a fair and compromised decision and when the system is out-of-kilter (as this legislative year) it leaves an all or nothing – take it or leave it scenario and only two choices on the budget and taxes. In the end-game, keep in mind that the Governor has full VETO power and would’ve vetoed a bill without a revenue enhancement included in the final bill package and many legislators saw a no way out situation. This year’s budget is $13.6 Billion dollars, an increase of $204.5 million dollars with the tax increase of $314 million dollars. It also anticipates a 4% growth in the economy which as a business owner I would have preferred a flat line approach for at least one more year.

Other bills passed last week included another 10 year transportation plan ($8.2 billion) funded by bond money (this will be our “3rd mortgage” on our highways as the 1st two are still unpaid), 0.4-cent increase of the state sales tax increase and $131 million increase in registration fees in 2013 for all trucks – this fee for commercial & farm trucks weighing more than 8 tons will increase from $18 to $100 which is a 500% increase. I again voted no as this was another huge policy that was approved by a motion to concur after only passing one side of the legislature (never debated in the house) and again a fee increase (fee=tax) on our agriculture based economy here in north central Kansas. With the exception of law enforcement officers, texting while driving will be illegal beginning July 2010. In a separate bill HB2130 written in the Senate, there will be a $5.00 fine for not wearing a seat belt with no court costs but individuals can be stopped if an officer thinks you aren’t wearing a belt anywhere in the car. I strongly believe in personal responsibility and with your individual safety in mind - you must wear your belts at all times as my family does but enforced mandates with a carrot of $11 million dollars and directives of “you will do” from the Federal government is still a measure I didn’t support. SB 306 will reduce the application fee by $50 and renewal fee by $25 to the state’s concealed carry law. It will also eliminate the fingerprint requirements for renewals but require a name-based national criminal records check. Home Day Care Centers will all need to be inspected and licensed by the KDHE agency at the state where only currently registered homes are inspected after a complaint has been filed with the passage of Lexie’s Law. This bill was not heard in the House again and the vote was at 4:30AM which is a poor way to pass bills that affect so many Kansans. The good news on this bill is a KDHE online system will be set up which will provide information about day care providers and a history of citations and substantiated findings – this is transparency which is so needed at all levels of government.
A bill that has been drafted and one that I will begin work on getting through the system early in the next session is the Memorial Highway Sign Bill for Don K. Ross on Highway 18 in Lincoln County. Captain Ross was the 1st Medal of Honor recipient of World War II for his actions during the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. I have learned that a bill needs to be introduced and have hearings immediately as sometime they can be “high jacked” and used a vehicle for other bills and amendments. It would be my desire to see it carried through clean and have the Governor’s signature on the one-part bill as a standalone law which can be displayed in the city of Beverly. I will begin the process on the House side with hearings and Senator Emler will take over on the Senate side and hopefully have final votes by the end of January 2011.

This year will end my 2nd term in Topeka. I have sat in seat #85 on the House Floor for the entire time and I have watched and learned and helped our ideas become laws. I have pushed my voting buttons almost 2000 times and when I visit with school kids and groups, I bring along my voting box from my old desk. It has been my pleasure to share the legislative process with anyone who is interested in listening and pass around that voting box complete with working buttons to push as I do. It is important to me in this job to share my experiences and knowledge and I particularity enjoy bringing students to the Capitol or visiting with them in their classrooms. Hopefully school classes can visit again and I will always have dates available for Pages. If you know of a student age 12-18 who would like to work on the House Floor for a day, let me know as I keep a Page folder every year to contact the kids when I am assigned my dates after session begins in January. While in Topeka last week, I filed for re-election for the House of Representative District #107 position with plans in mind to run for a leadership position in my party. It has been my pleasure serving as your Representative for the past four years. Thanks to everyone who have written, emailed or called me – your opinions and suggestions help me to do a better job of representing our views here in north central Kansas.

Please contact me at home or by e-mail if you need help in any way.

Rep. Elaine Bowers
1326 N. 150th Rd.
Concordia, KS 66901
785 243-4256 home
785 243-3325 x2 work
(I do take time to check it my email every day).