House Happenings Week 4

This week the 2012 legislative session entered its second month. Our first major deadline of the session, called turnaround, is on Friday, February 24. All bills, apart from specific exempt bills, must be passed out of one chamber in order to be considered for the remainder of the session. If non-exempt bills have not passed out of the House or Senate by turnaround they can no longer be considered and must be re-introduced as new legislation during future sessions for further consideration. In anticipation of the approaching deadline, committees are meeting on a daily basis to hold hearings and vote on legislation for deliberation by the full House. After turnaround, our primary focus will turn to legislation sent to us by the Senate.

House Bill 2273 introduced by Representative Sharon Schwartz from Washington was unanimously approved this week on the House floor renaming K-99 the Frankfort Boys World War II Highway. The signs and upkeep will be paid for by private contributions and recognizes Frankfort, the community which had the highest casualty percent of any U.S. city. Frankfort lost 32 men in World War II. The highest honor is always due those that serve our country. It now moves to the Senate for committee work and final vote in their chamber.

Many state associations hold their yearly event during session and this week I had the honor of spending part of my day with Doug and Kathy Funk with the Kansas Pharmacists Association. Doug with Funk Pharmacy, Concordia, is the President of the organization this year. Dr. William Knapp from Lincoln with the Kansas Dental Association visited the Capitol Thursday for a lunch and legislative appointments. I always look forward to Farm Bureau Day at the Capitol and this year was by joined Stacy and David Forshee from Cloud County and Steve Baucus, the President of Kansas Farm Bureau from Minneapolis.

We continue to hear bills in all three of my committees. Several bills affecting rural Kansas were sent out of Ag including changing current water law from “use it or lose it” and more local county control of new swine facilities. Both of these bills were voted on this week in the House and passed over to the Senate for review. We continue to discuss several gun bills in Federal and State affairs and are now just receiving budgets in the Social Service Budget Committee. This committee reviews seventeen agencies’ budget and sends the recommendations to the Appropriation committee who then compile the final budget for the entire House committee.

State Revenue Update: January Returns
The 2012 fiscal year is half-way complete and tax-only receipts for January totaled $576 million, $30.6 million (5 percent) below projections of $607 million. Individual income taxes collected $307 million, $33 million (9.7 percent) below estimates. Sales taxes brought in $197 million, falling just short of the $200 million projection. For the month, January 2012 received $5 million less in receipts than the same period in 2011. The $30 million shortfall is predominately due to tax refunds going out at a quicker pace than anticipated because of the increasing number of electronic tax filers. Unlike previous years, the state is able to pay tax refunds from current accounts and has not had to delay refunds. While we never like to see revenue numbers headed in the wrong direction, the information we’ve received from our non-partisan Legislative Research office indicates the low figure is perhaps a bit misleading in this case. Regardless, I’ll continue to pass along an update each month and include further analysis

Medicaid Reform / Managed Care
This week the Republican Caucus discussed the Governor’s plan to move to managed care. The facts are that in 2002 Medicaid was 9% of our State General Fund budget and today it is 19%. The most dramatic growth has been in the persons with disabilities program. The cost has grown from $916 million in 2007 to $1.16 billion in 2010. We also know the Obama Administration has announced their intention to cut over $720 million from Kansas Medicaid over the next few years. We are under a real crunch from both directions and right now other states are, either as our Governor is recommending, turning to managed care while others are facing 18% cuts in benefits. According to the Governor’s staff there are savings that can be found by moving people from unnecessary intuitional settings, decreasing hospitalizations, and better management of chronic conditions. The hope is that the savings projected at $32 million in the 2013 budget grow in years to come. This would help offset the loss of money from the Federal Government so that services to people on Medicaid are not cut. But many questions remain; we know families have been promised that they will be able to keep their case manger. Will there also be a case manager that works for the managed care insurance company? Who makes the final decisions? How will the three different options for coverage work across the state? Will their rates and billing be uniform for the providers? After February 22nd we should have a better understanding of these kinds of details.

K-12 School Finance Reform
This week the school finance reform bill was received in the House and Senate. Hearings are scheduled to begin on the K-12 portion in the Senate Education Committee on Monday. The House Education committee is to hear the technical education part of the bill next Wednesday. The proposal has already undergone change to include the transportation funding into the formula. The biggest change is, of course, doing away with all the weightings, while protecting all schools from any loss from the old formula in transition. Local school boards would have complete discretion how to spend the money that they receive from the state. But just as the money is increased in this proposed formula for our school, many schools across Kansas do not fare as well. When any new funding proposal is working through the Legislative process it will be amended and changed many times. Every year there are bills that affect how we distribute the taxpayers’ money for K-12. I will study the proposals, and along with insight from constituents, work to discern how the changes affect District #107 schools and schools across the state.

The most relevant KRERS bill so far is HB 2194 which we passed last session. This bill created a commission to study different policy issues and establish a plan to get KPERS on track to being actuarially sound. The commission has completed their work and a bill has been written that includes their recommendations, the most significant being to create a new tier that after a certain date in the future, all employees would be under a defined contribution retirement plan. This only affects the new employees. All present employees under the previous tiers would remain in their current defined benefit plan. If these recommendations are not adopted but are voted on by the House and Senate, that triggers the enactment of HB 2194 which would require the state and employees to increase contributions. The employer contribution would move from .6% now to 1.2% by 2017. For employees in Tier 1 there would be two options: The first option would be the employee contribution increase from 4% to 6 % and the future years of service multiplier would increase from 1.75% to 1.85%. The other option would keep the employee contribution at 4% but reduce the future multiplier from 1.75% to 1.4%. For employees in Tier 2 there would be two options: The first would have employee contribution rates freeze at 6% and the Cost of Living Adjustment would be eliminated. The other option would freeze the contribution at 6% and would reduce the multiplier from 1.75% to 1.4%for future service but retain the COLA. These changes are necessary to make the system solvent and to continue to pay earned benefits.

Kansas Recycling
We received some great news this week in a study done by the Department of Health and Environment revealing statewide recycling at an all time high. The study showed 85% of Kansans recycle, up from 65% in 2005. The most popular item recycled was aluminum cans followed by plastics, cardboard, and paper products.

I hope you take the time to track the Legislature’s work in Topeka over the course of the 2012 session. Although early, policy proposals on the above issues, and many others, are quickly forming and I believe it is an important part of the process to keep my constituents updated. Committee schedules, bills, and other helpful information can be easily accessed through the legislature’s website As you know, the devil is in the details and many components of these policies are subject to change. Please let me know your thoughts on the issues discussed by the legislature and others which might be affecting you. Feel free to call or e-mail 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