2011 Session: Week 11

This week was a very busy week in the Kansas House of Representatives as we worked to begin clearing our legislative calendar before adjourning for our annual break. In three days, the House of Representatives debated over 50 pieces of legislation. Our time was spent in session with only a few committees meeting except for various conference committees. Next week the House will continue working to finish our legislative agenda. A significant amount of our time will be debating the budget for the next fiscal year which begins July 1 of this year. Also, members of the House will be meeting with their Senate counterparts in conference committees to negotiate the differences in legislation that has passed the House and the Senate. With each agreement reached by a conference committee, both the House and Senate must approve the compromise before they can be submitted to Governor Brownback for his consideration. Often times, these bills will be brought back to us numerous times and often a group of bills will be “bundled” or stuck in under one bill number. I don’t like this procedure but I do keep track of bills I have voted on so it is easy to sort them out and into one.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn for its annual break on April 2nd and return to Topeka on April 27 for what we call “veto session.” This break provides research and revenue staff time to review and assemble the necessary information we’ll need to make informed decisions on the budget when we return in late April. In addition, the break provides legislators a valuable opportunity to spend time with constituents back home discussing their thoughts and concerns on issues directly impacting them. Veto session is traditionally a time where the Legislature deals with bills approved or vetoed by the Governor. We’ll do that but also dedicate a majority of our work to addressing the 2012 budget. Veto session is scheduled to go from April 27 to May 11 but the reality is we will not leave Topeka until a compromise is reached with both chambers and the Governor on our spending package.

Addressing KPERS (Sub. HB 2333)
Sub. for HB 2333 revises the KPERS retirement plan for most current state, school and local government employees but does not apply to the Kansas Police and Firemen’s (KP&F) or Judges retirement plans. The bill contains three main provisions: reduces the annual KPERS benefit multiplier from 1.75 percent to 1.4 percent for future service credit beginning July 1, 2012 for all current and future public employees; increases the cap on annual KPERS employer contributions from 0.6 percent to 0.8 percent on July 1, 2012; and directs any net proceeds from the sale of state property to the unfunded liability of KPERS. During this debate an amendment was attached to the bill that creates a new tier III defined contribution plan for all new state, school and local public employees effective July 1, 2013. The House is expected to vote on this legislation early next week. The Senate has their version of a KPERS bill which differs from the House – these two bills most likely will be merged together in a conference committee and if we don’t have a final product by the end of this year; just remember that it will still be “alive” for next year to perfect if it isn’t what we want.

Currently, the state employee pension system, KPERS, has an unfunded liability of $8 billion dollars. In terms of actuarial solvency, studies have shown Kansas to have the second worst state pension system in the United States, falling behind only Illinois. Pension programs nationwide have been hit hard but the stuttering economy has compounded our structural deficiencies within the KPERS system and will continue to do so unless substantive reform measures are taken to improve the stability of the pension fund.

Casino Floor Smoking Ban Exemption Deleted (Sub. HB 2340)
The Kansas Indoor Clear Air Act was passed in 2010 by the Legislature banning smoking in many public and private places. Included in the Act, however, were several exemptions including gaming floors. Many Kansans and current Legislators felt this exemption was unfair and self serving to the state since the state has a significant interest in most of the casinos in Kansas. Sub. for HB 2340 amends the Kansas Indoor Clear Air Act to delete the current exemption for the gaming floor of a lottery gaming or racetrack facility. The House debated this legislation on Tuesday, March 22, and proceeded to pass Sub. for HB 2340 by a vote of 97 to 26 on Wednesday, March 23. I also must add that an attempt to reinstate smoking in privately owned establishments as an amendment failed. It would have again been personal choice to enter such a facility very much like the businesses with the concealed carry signs that we see in business windows today. It failed by 12 votes on the recorded vote.

Voter ID and Senate Vacancies (House Sub. SB 129)
SB 129 as it was originally passed by the Senate changes the requirements for filling a vacated State Senate seat. Under current law, when a senator vacates office before October 15 of the second year of their term an election is held that November to select a person to serve out the remaining two year term. If the vacancy occurs after October 15, a person is selected by the political party and appointed by the Governor to serve the remainder of the term with no midterm election. The bill changes the date from October 15 to May 1. HB 2067 was amended into SB 129 during debate on the house floor. This House bill required voters to show photo identification before voting. It also required voters who vote by advance ballot to provide their ID number or a copy of their ID with their ballot application and requires proof of U.S. citizenship for any person registering to vote. The bill exempts all current Kansas registered voters from providing proof of citizenship. If a person fails to have a valid form of identification, they would be allowed to vote but through a provisional ballot. For individuals who need a birth certificate or photo ID to vote or register to vote, the state would waive the normal fees that apply to such documents if they have a household income at or less that 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

Twenty-seven states have enacted broader voter ID requirements than those required by the federal Help America Vote Act. In those states, all voters must show ID before voting. Nine other states request or require photo ID and the remaining 18 states accept additional forms of ID that do not necessarily include a photo. Current Kansa law requires first time voters to provide identification unless they did so when registering, the identification does not require a photo. Previous attempts to require voter ID passed both chambers in 2008 but the legislation was vetoed by then Governor Sebelius. On Wednesday, March 23, the House passed House Sub. for SB 129 by a vote of 87 to 37.

Wildlife and Parks Cabins (SB 123)
Many Kansans do not know that most of our state parks have cabins available for rent. The popularity of these cabins is quickly growing as Kansans look for more affordable options to escape from home. SB 123 allows the Secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) to set fees for the use of cabins owned and operated by the Department. The bill limits the maximum fees for the cabins from exceeding $250 per night; $1,500 per week; and $5,000 per month. These rates seem high but are the CAP – they cannot be raised any higher than stated in this bill. In addition, the measure lowers the aggregate threshold amount requiring legislative approval for land purchased by KDWP to 160 acres from 640 acres. SB 123 passed the House by a vote of 102 to 22 on Tuesday, March 22. To get more information on where you can rent cabins at state parks, please visit the link below.

State Employee Award Program (Sub. HB 2221)
On June 30, 2006, a state employee suggestion program expired leaving the state with no method to reward state workers who bring wasteful state programs or spending to the attention of their superiors. Sub. for HB 2221 institutes a new program allowing state employees to submit a cost reduction suggestion for a state agency. If the suggestion is adopted, the employee will receive a monetary reward in an amount not to exceed 10 percent or $5,000 of the cost reduction. This bill passed by a vote of 120 to 4. In the past few years, hundreds of state jobs have been eliminated and state employees are often doing the work of two or more people. This is good legislation that encourages state workers to speak up if they find deficiencies or waste in their department or agency and rewards them for their action.

The Annual Wake up to Kansas Breakfast sponsored by the Kansas Corn Growers, Kansas Soybean, Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers and the Kansas Wheat Growers Associations was held last week. Tom Tibbits from Ottawa County representing the Corn Growers helped serve the breakfast. Tom farms with his dad John and granddad Riley near Minneapolis and “tweaks” on Twitter (his handle is @ksfarmboy). The Tibbits family is also highlighted in the Corn Fact Book published by the Corn Farmers Coalition. He writes a blog about farming complete with pictures. You can find the article and photo of the three Kansas farmers at www.CornFarmersColalition.org under Down-To-Earth-People on page 23.

A lot of work will be done before adjournment and the process is often confusing to those watching. If you have questions regarding legislative procedures or need help following a bill’s progression, please give me a call and I’ll be happy to explain the process. You can also visit the Legislature’s website, www.kslegislature.org to follow the bills we’re debating. Simply access the website and click the “calendars” tab at the top of the page. There you will find our debate calendar under the heading “General Orders” and our anticipated votes under “Final Action.” If you happen to be in town and 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 by the Legislature 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