House Happenings Week 7

With a flurry of activity and hours of floor debate, the Legislature reached the halfway point of the 2012 session this week, known as turnaround. Committees had the opportunity to meet on Monday and Tuesday before we turned our focus to the impending turnaround deadline by spending all day Wednesday and Thursday on the House floor. By the time we adjourned on Thursday evening, the House had debated and voted on approximately 90 pieces of legislation this week alone. Considering we’ll usually only consider around 15 pieces in an average week, it was certainly a productive stretch.

Pages
Alex Farr, Addy McCall, Sarah Stratman and Cody Lampe from Bennington High School were my first pages of the year and worked on the House Floor for us on Wednesday. I was a senior at Minneapolis High School when I was a page for Representative Bill Fuller (from Miltonvale and father of USD 333 Superintendent
Bev Mortimer) in 1980. It was my first experience with government and a very memorable day. If you know of a Jr/Sr High School student who might be interested, please let me know and I will be happy to sponsor them.

Tax Update (H Sub. for SB 177 & HB 2212)
One of the most pressing issues facing the Legislature this session is developing favorable tax policy that enables employers to create jobs, entices new business to relocate to Kansas and ensures residents will continue to live and work in our state. A variety of broad-scale tax policies have been proposed and each is going through the legislative process to ensure our end result is responsible, equitable, and affordable. Research shows Kansas tax rates are among the highest in the region and we are consistently losing workers to nearby states with lower tax rates. Our state has a diverse economy, which presents a considerable challenge for any type of major tax policy change.

Caylee’s Law (HB 2534) AND Regents Reporting Requirements (HB 2533)
One of our first caucus priorities this session was the introduction and passage of Caylee’s law. House Bill 2534 implements Caylee’s law, named after Florida 2-year-old Caylee Anthony who disappeared in 2008. Anthony’s mother, Casey, failed to notify authorities of her daughter’s disappearance for a month. Unfortunately, current law does not view this sort of negligence as a crime in many states. In response, numerous states are now aiming to prevent this from occurring again by creating reporting standards. Current Kansas law does not impose criminal penalties for failing to notify law enforcement of the death or disappearance of a child.

In the fall of 2011, Penn State University was rocked by allegations that former football coach Jerry Sandusky had been caught sexually assaulting or inappropriately interacting with underage boys on or near university property. Subsequent investigations appeared to reveal that eyewitness accounts of the abuse were not reported to proper university and law enforcement authorities. As a result, HB 2533 was introduced to require all state post-secondary educational institutions to develop reporting standards for cases of abuse. As unimaginable as these circumstances may seem, the tragedy of the Penn State case served us a warning. Our schools and those in the position to protect children need to have clear, concise reporting standards for instances of abuse.

Safe and Fair Elections Act (HB 2437)
This week, the House voted to amend the Safe and Fair Elections Act (SAFE), to require all persons registering to vote for the first time in Kansas to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship. All current registered Kansas voters are exempt from providing the proof of their citizenship. The original bill, passed during the 2011 session, had the provision go into effect on January 1, 2013 and the bill amends the effective date to June 15, 2012. The motivation behind HB 2437 was the desire to properly vet the wave of expected voters who will register leading up to the presidential and state elections this fall. 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.

Repealer Update
This session the Office of the Repealer introduced over 20 pieces of legislation in the House to do away with outdated rules and regulations, expired commissions, and other aspects of state law viewed as unnecessary. On Thursday the House took up 22 bills all designed to do away with senseless government rules and regulations such as separate living quarters for a jail matron or which county official has the possession of a body after a lynching. This was another positive step forward in reducing government in Kansas and I was thrilled to support the “repealer” bills. If you believe that an unreasonable, unduly burdensome, duplicative, onerous or conflicting law, regulation or other governing instrument, detrimental to the economic well-being of Kansas, exists, please visit http://repealer.ks.gov. You may also send your suggestion to: Office of the Repealer, 1000 S.W. Jackson, Ste. 500, Topeka, KS 66612

Tax Check-Off For the Arts (HB 2454)
Last session, a significant amount of controversy occurred regarding the elimination of state funding for the Kansas Arts Commission. There is no question the non-profit arts and cultural sector is a growing market in Kansas. As a result, HB 2454 was introduced to support the funding of the arts in Kansas. The bill creates an individual income tax check-off on the state tax form for donations to the Kansas Arts Commission. Taxpayers have the option of adding a contribution on their individual income tax form beginning in 2013. All donations would be used solely for the purpose of funding the Kansas Arts Commission.

Career Technical Workforce Grant (HB 2435)
HB 2435 creates the Career Technical Workforce Grant for students who have been accepted or who attend Regents postsecondary institutions. Under the bill, the Board of Regents may award grants to applicants who exhibit financial need. The $1,000 grant for full-time students could not exceed the cost of tuition and fees. Improving career and technical education in Kansas has been a growing focus of the legislature in the past few years. We need to continue looking at better ways to education students for jobs that actually exists in an increasingly complex job market. This alternative education path provides students with valuable opportunities to become trained and/or certified in many high demand, well-paying positions across the state while pursuing a career they’re truly interested in.

As always, I’ll keep you updated on the activities of the legislature while we continue through the second half of the session. Again, I always encourage you to stay informed of the issues under consideration by the Kansas Legislature. Committee schedules, bills, and other helpful information can be easily accessed through the legislature’s website at www.kslegislature.org. Please do not hesitate to contact me with your thoughts, concerns, and suggestions. I always enjoy hearing from my constituents on the topics under consideration and appreciate the perspective from those outside the Statehouse.

Rep. Elaine Bowers
Kansas State Capitol Building
300 SW 10th St.
Room 54-S
Topeka, KS 66612
elaine.bowers@house.ks.gov
1-785-296-7642