House Happenings Week 10

A significant amount of work was accomplished during the tenth week of the 2012 legislative session with the House debating tax legislation and the proposed House budget. This week was also the last full week most House committees had to consider legislation with Friday being the hard deadline for bills to be passed out of committee. March 31 marks the end of the regular session and the legislature will adjourn for its annual break before returning to Topeka on April 25 for what is called “veto session.” During veto session we’ll continue to work to reach an agreement with the Senate on areas of unfinished business like redistricting, the budget, tax reform and addressing the unfunded liability of KPERS. The veto session is scheduled for the first two weeks in May. However, the reality is we will not leave Topeka until both chambers reach an agreement on the aforementioned issues. Next week, the House will spend most of its time on the floor debating bills to clear our legislative calendar. On weeks like this, it is not uncommon for us to debate for entire days on the house floor.

House Budget Proposal (H. Sub. SB 294)
Last year, the Legislature passed a budget that, for the first time since 1972, decreased all-funds state spending by nearly a billion dollars and turned a $500 million deficit into a $100 million surplus without raising taxes. Since then, we’ve been fortunate enough to have a number of good months and revenues are finally headed in the right direction. History shows revenues will remain erratic as the economy struggles and we must pay off state debt and spend conservatively to better stabilize the budget and avoid some of the major shortfalls we were forced to deal with in recent years. The Senate approved its budget on Thursday, March 15. Once the House budget is passed, a conference committee with members of the House and Senate will be appointed to negotiate the differences between the two budgets. It's a burdensome process and will absolutely play a pivotal role in the future of our state.

Kansas Income Tax Reform (H Sub. SB 177)
This week the Kansas House debated legislation that would reduce the income tax rate beginning in 2013 with other key provisions including: maintaining current tax deductions, credits and exemptions, including food sales tax refunds, historic tax credits, mortgage deductions and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) all of which are proposed for elimination in other bills. It also expands the successful Rural Opportunity Zone Program to include 24 more counties and residents who reside in counties with unemployment rates over five percent and move to a county designated a Rural Opportunity Zone for employment opportunities will receive a tax credit for three years. In addition, the bill also maintains the statutory sales tax sunset passed during the 2010 session, which lowers the sales tax rate to 5.7 percent in 2013. It also exempts most food purchases from sales tax but would allows cities or counties to opt out of the food sales tax exemption to lessen the impact on local municipal government budgets.


Agriculture Grain Reports
Every year the Kansas crop commissions report to the House and the Senate Agriculture committees. The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that Kansas is the largest wheat-producing state and produced 369 million bushels of wheat in 2010. Kansas farmers planted nearly 9.5 million acres of wheat which is an increase of about 700,000 acres over previous years. Be watching in July for the opening of the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center in Manhattan – a 25,000 square feet of state-of-the art research and greenhouse space. It will be a hub for developing new varieties and new technologies for wheat and will be the only one of its kind in the world. Kansas continues to rank first in grain sorghum production in the US with over 50% of the market and production totaled 110 million bushels in 2011. Although the Kansas corn crop was down 23% from last year, the 2011 corn crop was still valued at $2.8 billion dollars. An interesting note – all 2011 NASCAR race vehicles operated on 15% ethanol fuel and drove over 1.3 million miles on the ethanol blend. The NASCAR performance study stated in its “Million Mile” report – “There is no question in our minds that E15 is a quality fuel.” Kansas Sunflower production continues to grow and US sunflower oil sales to Canada have grown 167% in just three years. Sunflower seeds have high oil content and average yields can produce 600 pounds of oil per acre. The oil can be used for biodiesel, a clean burning alternative fuel that is biodegradable and nontoxic.

Celebrating the Wildlife & Sport Fish Restoration Program (HR 6015)
This week the House commemorated the 75th anniversary of the Wildlife and Sport Restoration Program with House Resolution 6015. Over a century ago hunters, anglers and trappers realized America’s natural resources were in danger and could not sustain unregulated harvest and habitat destruction. Therefore the group joined forces to support laws to end the excessive harvest of fish and wildlife.

The first law supporting the Wildlife and Sport Fish restoration program was created on September 2, 1937, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act to raise funds through a dedicated excise tax on sporting guns and ammunition. In 1950, the act was enacted and provided funds to fish conservation and boating and fishing recreational programs in each state through an excise tax placed on certain fishing and boating equipment. The House approved this resolution by a voice vote on Tuesday, March 13. I was pleased to recognize the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program and believe it has been essential to the restoration and management of the fish and wildlife resources across the United States.

If you’re tracking legislation or have a bill of interest you’d like to voice concerns on, time is quickly running out. To track the bills we’re debating, simply log onto the legislative website at www.kslegislature.org and scroll to the “calendars” tab near the top of the page where you will find our daily debate calendar listed under the heading “General Orders” and the bills we’ll be taking final votes on listed under “Final Action.”
I encourage you to let me know your thoughts on the issues discussed by the legislature and others which might be affecting you. Please feel free to call or e-mail and I’d be happy to discuss any topic you are interested in.

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