2011 Session: Veto Session

On Wednesday, the Legislature returned to Topeka to begin Veto Session, scheduled to go until May 11. Veto session is traditionally dedicated to addressing bills approved or vetoed by the Governor and working on the state budget. However, this year we have a number of issues still waiting to be wrapped-up. In the short time we have left, many items remain on our to-do list including KPERS reform and finalizing the budget.

The Kansas Constitution requires the Legislature to produce a budget each year. Just imagine if the Federal Government had such a requirement – and as difficult as it is, Kansas does pass a budget every year based on the projected revenues given to us twice a year. Prior to adjourning for our annual break the House and Senate passed their respective budgets and a conference committee began meeting to negotiate the differences. At the start of negotiations there were over 230 differences between the two bills. To further complicate the process, revenue estimates for Kansas were revised downward by approximately $20 million. Between the proposed budgets of Governor Brownback, the Senate and the House, only the House budget remains in the black by an approximate $48 million. As I sit here in the Statehouse, the conference committee continues to meet and hammer out the differences. We will not leave Topeka until an agreement is reached.

What makes this part of the session difficult is the continual struggle between legislative chambers. While the House has passed a number of significant pieces of legislation, our success will ultimately be measured by our ability to combine those proposals with Senate plans and mold a final product capable of majorities in both chambers. With so many competing interests and diverse constituencies this is never an easy process. Compromise will require flexibility, patience and focus by all involved, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to assemble a responsible budget that sets our state on a path toward economic recovery.

Governor’s Statements on the Veto Session
On Friday morning Governor Brownback met with members of the media to discuss his thoughts on the 2011 Veto Session. The main focus of Brownback’s meeting, consistent with the rest of the session, has been on creating jobs in Kansas. Over 100,000 residents are currently unemployed and we must ensure businesses have the necessary tools to invest in and create jobs. As a result, the House has taken several steps to create and pass policies that promote a business friendly environment including Rural Opportunity Zone (ROZ) legislation, expensing legislation and workers compensation legislation—along with broad-based tax reform in an effort to eliminate the personal income tax in Kansas. With passage of ROZ legislation and workers compensation reform, Kansas has already seen a positive response from the business industry both inside and outside of the state.

The Governor also encouraged the Legislature to work on compromises regarding KPERS and the budget. Currently, KPERS has an unfunded actual liability of over $8 billion, the second worst pension system in the nation. Over 225,000 state workers depend on KPERS for their retirement pension and the system must be better funded and reformed. The main point of contention between the House and Senate concerns the option of transitioning to a 401(k) like plan. Regardless of the final KPERS outcome the most difficult part for KPERS members will be in transitioning from the current system to the new, still unknown, model. I am hopeful the compromise will contain a responsible solution that eases the uncertainty surrounding the solvency of KPERS.

As previously mentioned, members from the House and Senate are meeting to work out the differences between the two respective budgets. Governor Brownback explicitly stated that he understands the process of finalizing the budget is a daunting process but encouraged the Legislature to pass a budget that “contains the biggest ending balance possible.” Going further, the Governor discussed allotments and said the issuances of allotments are not the Kansas way and we should not be in a process of doing allotments in the future.

Community Defense Act (H. Sub. for SB 25)
The Community Defense Act, contained in H. Sub. for SB 25, would regulate the location and operation of certain sexually oriented businesses including: adult arcades, adult book stores, adult video stores, adult cabarets, adult theaters, semi-nude model studios, sexual device shops and sexual encounter centers. The bill establishes limitations on how far these businesses can be from specific public and private facilities and sets requirements for the physical configurations of sex oriented businesses. In addition, the bill restricts the types of performances, hours of operations, age of employees and the activities that can take place in the aforementioned businesses. The bill allows any city or county to have an ordinance or resolution regulating these businesses as long as they do not conflict with the Community Defense Act. The House passed H. Sub. for SB 25 on Friday, April 29, by a vote of 96 to 23. The bill now heads to the Senate for its consideration; however action is not expected to be taken by the Senate in this session.

The traditional break (which can be traced back many decades) allowed us to return home for a few weeks in April however most legislators had forums and other legislative activities during this time. North central Kansas welcomed Governor Brownback two times – once in Lincoln County to sign the Donald K. Ross Highway bill (HB 2003) and the signing of the Rural Opportunity Zones bill (SB198) at the North Central Kansas Tourist Information Center in Belleville. The ROZ bill which will go into effect July 1 consists of 50 counties including Cloud and Lincoln in District #107. Our counties and communities soon will be looking into the incentives of the program which will be administered by the Department of Commerce. The big selling points are two popular provisions – a five year income tax abatement and a portion of student loans paid by the county of residence which will need to be adopted on a county by county basis. The ROZ bill is creating excitement and many questions as far away as California – for more information, feel free to contact me at my information below or the Kansas Department of Commerce at (785) 296-3760, Dan Lara or email dlara@kansascommere.com.

I hope you have been tracking the legislature’s work in Topeka. 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