2011 Session: Week 5

This week marked the end of the fifth week of session with some major bills voted on and passed off the House floor including the spending freeze bill and health care freedom amendment. With more than 300 bills currently introduced in the House, the pace has been the busiest yet this session. The next deadline is February 25th and is called “Turnaround day.” This is the day in which all legislation must be passed out of its house of origin, either the House or Senate. We will be working with our friends in the other chamber as we exchange legislation for the consent of the other house.

Spending Freeze Bill
Tuesday marked the longest debate yet this session at four hours over the Governor’s spending freeze bill, HB 2014 which would hold the line on state spending through this fiscal year ending June 30th. The House amended the bill adding money in for military veteran’s services which were cut out in committee. There were also several attempts to increase spending for select programs throughout debate but all were successfully defeated. In the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Senators approved a bill with $63.3 million in additional spending over the House’s recommendation. The bill begins debate on the floor of the Senate on Monday.

Healthcare Freedom Amendment
On Thursday the House began debate on House Concurrent Resolution 5007, a proposed constitutional amendment regarding health care. Specifically, the bill protests the federal healthcare takeover, passed by Congress in March 2010, which implemented a federal mandate requiring, under threat of a tax penalty, all individuals to buy health insurance. The new article to the constitution would prohibit any law or rule from compelling a person, employer or health care provider to participate in any heath care system or to purchase health insurance and allows a person or employer to directly pay for any health care service and not be subject to a penalty or fine. The amendment allows health care providers to accept direct payment for health care services from a person or employer and prohibits any laws or rules from disallowing the purchase or sale of private health insurance or participation in private health care systems. This amendment is a formal assertion of our state sovereignty, however; it will be up to the United States Supreme Court to determine the final course in this public policy battle. It will ultimately be the Court who weighs state sovereignty vs the power of the Congress. The House passed the resolution Friday 91 to 27. If approved by two-thirds of the members of the Senate, the proposed constitutional amendment would be up for approval by Kansas voters during the November, 2012 general election.

Restructure of State Government
Now that we have dealt with the shortfall in revenues for the 2011 budget, we are facing a greater deficit in the Governor’s first budget for 2012. Governor Brownback has made a balanced budget without tax increases a priority and an important component of this are his Executive Reorganization Orders (ERO’s). These are designed to achieve cost savings through reorganization, consolidation and elimination of state agencies. The Governor has offered the following ERO’s:
The parole board would be abolished and the responsibility would be given to the Department of Corrections.
The Arts Commission would be reorganized as the Kansas Arts Council. The Kansas State Historical Society will act as the state agency which will qualify for various grants in support of the Arts Council. The State will continue to provide funding for the matches until the non-profit organization becomes viable.
Travel and Tourism would be merged into Wild Life and Parks. This has made sense for years, will save costs, and many believe will be more effective.
The Kansas Commission on Disability Concern would be moved from Commerce to the Governor’s office. This move has been supported by the disability organizations.
Kansas Health Policy Authority would be merged into Kansas Dept of Health and Environment.

These Executive Reorganization Orders are enacted after 30 days of their signing as long as the House or Senate offers no resolution rejecting a specific ERO. Several other Commissions/Boards are targeted for elimination or consolidation. Some of these will require legislation to adopt the Governors recommendations. The House passed one of these this week with HB 2054. This bill will move the work Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation (KTEC) does to the Department of Commerce and save the state $1.7 million. While this seems like a lot of reductions, the simple reality is that this is not enough. Budget projections for FY 2012 show a deficit of $600 million with the possibility of a $1 billion shortfall in FY 2013. This is a clear indication of a structurally imbalanced budget and what we are fighting to correct.

Committee work
Committee work the next few weeks will primarily consist of “working” bills that have already had a hearing earlier in the session. One unpopular bill heard in Agricultural and Natural Resources this week was HB 2009 which would have formed a Goat Council in Kansas. The conferees were all negative and simply believe that the goat industry is doing fine and doesn’t need to be governed by a small new council with a “fee” or a check-off per goat sold. The Department of Agriculture updated us on several divisions including Water Resources on flex accounts for groundwater use, the Dairy Marketing Board and the Grape and Wine Council. Kansas now has twenty-four wineries licensed across the state. The annual Jefferson Cup Wine Competition is the only completion that honors the best of the best among wineries from all regions in the US. Only twenty awards are given out each year and Kansas won four of these in 2010 –with wines from Blue Jacket Crossing, Douglas County, Somerset Ridge, Miami County and two wines from HolyField Vineyards in Leavenworth County. House Bill 2013 dealing the sale of rifles and shotguns and HB2006 over turning the law which allows children of illegal aliens to pay for their college education at instate rates were both sent out of Federal and State Affairs this week. Current law states these students must have graduated from a Kansas High School, attended at least three consecutive years and have applied for citizenship – there are currently 418 such kids in Kansas at this time. This bill will have a debate of the House floor then if passed out, will go through the same process on the Senate side and full vote again. The sad decision to recommend the closure of the Kansas Neurological Institute was made in the Social Service Budget committee Wednesday. It will be presented to the full Appropriations committee by the Chairman within a few weeks. Kansas Health Policy (KHP) was merged into Kansas Department Health and Environment (KDHE) as recommended by the Governor. The Chairman will take this recommendation to the Appropriation committee as well.

The weather again kept several people from attending events in Topeka including two men who were to testify on HB 2003 in the Transportation Committee – this bill will rename a portion of Highway #18 in Ottawa and Lincoln Counties after Captain Donald K. Ross as a Medal of Honor Recipient. It was an honor to present the bill to the committee myself. The bill will be heard on the House Floor within a few weeks after it is sent out of the committee. Tammy Britt and Susie Haver had dinner with me for Kansas Tourism and in the celebration of the Kansas 150th Anniversary of statehood. County Treasurers, Leah Hern, Dickinson, Joyce Walker, Lincoln and Pat Baccus , Ottawa County attended the County Treasurers of Kansas Legislative Day and later attended a reception with me.

It is a special honor to serve as your State Representative and I value and need your input on the various issues facing state government. As always, I hope you are tracking the legislature’s work in Topeka - you can also follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org. If possible, take the time to visit this session. If you would like an individual meeting, I’d be happy to arrange one. In the meantime, I’m always anxious to hear your thoughts on how the issues discussed in Topeka affect you. Reliable feedback is very important in making sure I’m accurately representing my friends and neighbors here in the district. Please feel free to call or email and I’d be happy to discuss any topic you are interested in. Thank you for the honor of serving you.

Rep. Elaine Bowers
Kansas State Capitol Building
300 SW 10th St.
Room 54-S
Topeka, KS 66612