House Happenings 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. Next week, members of the House will begin meeting with their Senate counterparts in conference committees to negotiate the differences in legislation that has passed the House and Senate. With each agreement reached by a conference committee, both chambers must approve the compromise before each bill can be sent to Governor Brownback for his signature or veto. I expect the House to spend the better part of next week balancing the demands of conference committees while also continuing to debate and vote on legislation. On March 31, the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn for its annual break and will return to Topeka on April 25 for what we call “veto session.” This break allows research and revenue staff to review and assemble economic and tax collection data needed to make informed decisions on the budget when we return in late April. Perhaps more importantly, the break allows legislators to return home and spend time visiting with their constituents back home on the issues directly impacting them.

KPERS Reform (H Sub. SB 259)
One of the more critical issues we face this session is the chronically underfunded Kansas Public Employee Retirement System (KPERS). The economy hit pension programs nationwide hard in recent years and locally, has compounded the structural deficiencies within our own KPERS system. Unless substantive reform measures in Kansas are taken to improve the stability of the pension fund, the issues in KPERS will only worsen.
The bill creates a new tier III for new state employees hired on or after January 1, 2014 and is modeled after the Nebraska Cash Balance Retirement Plan. SB259 does not affect current KPERS members, pension recipients nor does it reduce benefits for current KPERS members. The contribution rate for employees is set at six percent of annual compensation and is deducted pre-tax. The employer will match the contribution with a four percent pay credit. The employer rate is “service based” and will be contributed at one percent the first year and increase a point each year until in year four, when the maximum of four percent is achieved. During the floor debate in the House, several amendments were added to the bill. The first requires 75 percent of state casino proceeds to go toward addressing the unfunded liability of the current KPERS defined benefit plan. A second amendment provides employees the option of participating in a defined contribution plan. The only major difference this option includes is the investment return has no guarantee since it is based on the market returns, much like a 401(K) plan offered by many private sector employers.

Redistricting Kansas
Last week the House Redistricting Committee sent a new congressional map, called Eisenhower B, to the full House for consideration. During the debate on Tuesday, the Eisenhower B map was replaced with a new congressional map, called Capitol 1 which then failed to gain sufficient votes on Wednesday to pass out of the House. As of now there are no official congressional maps under consideration by the Kansas House. It is an intricate balance to drafting each map because of the many factors that must be taken into consideration. The congressional map is particularly difficult because the first district needs to grow by 58,000 residents, the third needs to considerably shed residents and standing in between the two is the second and fourth districts, where population figures have remained relatively stable. A proposed map which has the best chance of coming out of the committee will split Kansas House District #107 between the 1st and 2nd districts with Lincoln and Saline remaining in the 1st and Cloud and Ottawa moving to the second congressional district.

Creative Arts Industries Commission Creation (HB 2766)
During the 2011 session, much debate ensued regarding the future of the Kansas Arts Commission. As a result, HB 2766 was introduced to create the Creative Arts Industries Commission in the Kansas Department of Commerce and absolve the Kansas Arts Commission and the Kansas Film Commission. The Creative Arts Industries Commission would be the official state program for the arts and tasked with promoting, supporting, coordinating, fostering, developing and measuring the outcomes of the arts in Kansas.

Grandparent Rights (SB 262)
SB 262 requires grandparents to be considered when evaluating what custody, visitation or residency arrangements are in the best interest of a child who has been removed from the custody of their parent. The bill makes the court consider the wishes of the parents, child and grandparent and must also review the extent of the involvement of the grandparents in the child’s life. The physical and mental health of all involved individuals as well as how active the grandparents have been in the child’s life must also be taken into consideration by the judge. If, for any reason, the court decides it is in the child’s best interest to be placed in SRS custody the bill allows the grandparents who request custody of the child to still have preference in the placement evaluation. Should the grandparents not be selected for placement, SRS must prepare and maintain a written report on the specific reasoning for the alternative placement.

Kansas Top Ten In Government Transparency
This week the Washington based Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity released a first-of-its-kind study that reviewed the government transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanism in all 50 states. Kansas scored a 75, ranking ninth in the nation. New Jersey had the highest grade with a B+ and eight states; North Dakota, Michigan, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Georgia receiving the lowest F grade. Only five states earned a grade of B and 18 states received a D. No state received an A. Overall, the study found states are doing a poor job delivering transparency and accountability to citizens. Concerns were raised by the study showing statehouses are ripe for corruption and self-dealing. The study looked at 330 corruption risk indicators across 14 categories of government while also reviewing the strength of laws and practices that encourage openness and deter corruption.

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.” With only one week left remaining in the regular session, time is quickly running out for you to voice your concerns on legislation and issues of interest to you. As always, I’ll keep you updated and encourage you to contact me with your thoughts, concerns and suggestions.

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