2011 Session: Week 6

It is hard to believe we will soon be at the halfway point of the 2011 Legislative session. February 25th is “Turnaround Day” which is the day bills must be passed out from their House of origin. Following turnaround, the House and Senate then begin work on the bills that have been passed out of the other Chamber, House or Senate. There are however a few exceptions, such as when an exempt committee passes a bill or when the Speaker requests a bill to be moved forward.
Because of the February 25th deadline, next week will be extremely long and strenuous as we will be on the House Floor all day debating dozens of bills. Among the issues that will be taken up are: Repeal of In-State tuition for illegal immigrants, proof of citizenship and photo ID requirement to vote, redefining misclassification of contract workers, increasing the speed limit on 4 lane interstates to 75 mph, late term abortion ban, tax bills, pay check protection for workers, and a number of other bills that will run a wide spectrum of about anything that you can imagine.

Every Good Idea Has a Cost / ID Theft
One of the most interesting surprises you quickly learn when you are a new legislator is that every good idea you research and craft legislation to address has a cost. Every time a bill is drafted the division of the budget creates a fiscal note. These notes represent a careful calculation as to the dollar cost of the proposal including the number of full or part-time employees. The review also examines how the bill could affect the duties of the agency or local government referenced in the bill. These are often very shocking as it seems often the better the idea the higher the cost. Another fact is that the cost will increase year to year. For the last few sessions, the fiscal notes have been carefully considered. Very few are passed that have any fiscal impact and we have been more cautious of the effects on local governments.
This week we had an example of a bill that would help protect Kansans from the crime of Identity Theft but we had to carefully review the fiscal note. HB 2008 would change the severity of the crime from a nonperson to a person felony which will require prison time. Prison time has a cost and the projection for this bill would require an additional 20 beds in our already overburdened corrections system. However, this is a crime which is also very costly to individuals, businesses, and communities alike. Last year more than 2,000 identity theft crimes were reported at an average of about $40,000 per incident amounting to more than $80 million in damages.

Workers Compensation
On Wednesday, the House debated HB 2134 which revises portions of the Workers Compensation Act.
The first piece of workers compensation legislation was adopted in Kansas over 100 years ago to ensure the care of injured workers while also protecting employers. However, 17 years have passed since the existing statutes were revised and court action dictated the need for updating workers compensation law in Kansas. HB 2134 is the work of labor and business interests who negotiated the main provisions of the bill to ensure its fairness for employers and employees.

Interstate Commerce, Long-Gun Firearms
House Bill 2013 repeals five existing laws regarding the sale and purchase of firearms commonly known as long guns. Current law allows Kansans to only buy and sell long gun firearms from states contiguous to Kansas as originally required by 1934 federal law. In 1984, federal law was amended to remove restrictions on interstate activity and HB 2013 would update Kansas law with existing federal law.

The Ag and Natural Resources committee has heard only a few bills and the last one again looking at the operation of the Kansas Wildlife Department’s deer seasons and fees. Federal and State affairs sent out several bills including HB 2218 concerning fetal pain and the Community Defense act which will regulate the locations of adult entertainment business and regulations of the industry. Social Service budget reviewed the budgets of the Kansas Nursing Board and the Kansas Veterans Association – both which will have a reduced budget due to the budget and the economy downturn.

This week was the busiest so far with visitors from home. It was a pleasure again to have Mrs. Gerard’s Concordia High School senior government class visit the Capitol. Dana Hauck with Kansas Livestock Association spent the day in Topeka and had dinner with me at KLA’s annual conference. Bob and Lorene Steimel with the Community Foundations along with school superintendants Larry Combs and Gary Nelson were in the city on Wednesday. I had a nice meeting with Cloud County Commissioner Johnnita Crawford on February 16 and had the chance to visit with the American Legion delegation from Concordia during the Legion’s annual gathering. Dane and Gretchan Barclay with Alsop Sand were in Topeka for the Kansas Aggregate Producers Association meeting. It was my honor to have lunch with Cloud County Community College Phi Theta Kappa Scholars Justin Irvine and Patricia Mansker and staff from the Concordia campus on Thursday. My first pages of the year were Olivia and MaKayla Nelson also on Thursday. They were brought to Topeka by their grandparents Alice and Rich Nelson. They all had the chance to meet Governor Brownback and have a picture taken before the girls began work on the House floor at 11:00 on Thursday.

I hope you are tracking the legislature’s work in Topeka and, 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