2015 Senate Scene Week 5

Senate Scene – Week 5
By the last week of February the legislature will have officially reached the halfway point for the 2015 session, also known as turnaround. With the Kansas Legislature being a part-time branch of state government, it fits a significant amount of work into 90 short days. Once we reach turnaround, each chamber will only consider the other chamber’s proposals with just a few exceptions. The pace of business in the Capitol will undoubtedly pick-up as we quickly approach the deadline. We will likely see a larger amount of bills on the floor in the next few weeks. Committees will continue to work on legislation introduced in the Senate. As they pass legislation out of their respective committees, we will debate them as a whole on the Senate floor. At each step in this process, bills may be amended or altered significantly. So if you’re tracking legislation, be sure to keep a close eye on the calendar which can be found at www.kslegislature.org. 

1st Pages for Session 2015
Madison Moffet and Logan Winklepleck, 5th graders at Stockton Grade School served as pages on February 2nd.  They spent the day touring our beautiful Capitol, running errands for Senators and meeting the Governor for a picture before session. 

Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society – All State Academic Team 
Cloud County Community College students, Gustavo Arana, Marysville and April Knipp, Belleville, were recognized at the 20th Annual All State Academic Banquet which was hosted by Phi Theta Kappa and the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees on February 12th.  This team is designed to provide the same kind of recognition to our state’s two-year college scholars by saluting their academic achievement, leadership and service. 

League of Kansas Municipalities Essay Winner
On February 4, the League of Kansas Municipalities presented Brandalyn Thyfault, a 7th grade student at Palco Junior High, with the North Central award for the annual “If I were Mayor” Essay Contest.  Over 1300 students participated in the contest.  The League presented the awards as part of their annual City Hall Day.  Brandalyn’s teacher, Heather Voss, attended the lunch along with her parents and grandparents. 

Visitors from Senate District #36
It was my pleasure to meet with groups across the district this past week.  Visitors representing their organizations from home were members of the American Legion and VFW Posts, County Treasurers, Firefighters, Chiropractors and Farm Bureau people from nearly all counties in #36. 

errands for the Senate and taking a DomeHappenings for this week…
SB 171
The Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections held two days of hearings on SB 171, which would move municipal elections from March to August for primary elections and April to November for general elections. The discussion of moving spring elections has been debated for several years in the legislature. The Senate committee heard two full days of testimony on the bill this week. Proponents of the legislation cite the lack of voter participation in city and school board elections as a reason for moving elections.  Spring elections are also when local initiatives such as bond issues and tax adjustments are on the ballot. These local initiatives impact the daily lives of all citizens of a municipality yet only a small number of voters participate in the process.    Opponents expressed concern on making the elections partisan, and perceived technical and administrative issues that could occur with a change.  This topic always generates considerable discussion, and after members have time to evaluate testimony and feedback from constituents they will meet to “work” the bill and offer edits/suggestions, which might be significant when dealing with such a broad and substantial change.

SB 154
In Commerce committee, members reviewed the state’s unemployment insurance benefits (SUTA) and contribution rates of employers. This bill is the final piece of a multi-step reform to fixing the state’s UI benefits, which will create a fair and predictable forecast for employers paying in to the system.  Since 2010, some short term fixes were put in place as advocates on all sides of the issue continued working toward compromise and a more “global” fix to finally putting the issue to rest. SB 154 completes the task of implementing “fixed” tax rates and tables into statute so employers will have much more predictability in budgeting and business planning. A number of businesses from across the state are working together to determine the best proposal that adequately funds benefits without over taxing employers.  Hearings on SB 154 will continue in committee on Monday, February 16. While there is still work to be done to reach a compromise this year, this is yet another example of the kind of work that won’t garner headlines or splashy editorials, but will have a direct and measurable impact on our business climate in Kansas. These are our true priorities, and this is very important work.

SB 168
Monday, the Senate Select Committee on KPERS will hold hearings on SB 168, which was introduced this week. SB 168 would authorize the state to bond $1.0 billion for the Unfunded Actuarial Liability for the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System (KPERS). SB 168 would refinance the state’s current interest rate from 8 percent to 3.5 percent. This would create a savings of $1.8 billion. The savings from the reduced interest rate would be paid into the KPERS for the employer contributions. As the committee works the bill next week, they will analyze the current rates and employer contribution rate assumptions. I will keep you updated on their findings as they continue to “work” the bill.

New Kansas map available
The 2015-2016 Kansas Official State Transportation map is now available. In addition to the usual features, the new map includes information about visitor resources, how to get up-to-date road conditions, a list of state recreation areas and museums and a lot more. The maps are free and available at various travel information centers, attractions and other locations across the state. They can also be requested on the Kansas Department of Transportation website at http://www.ksdot.org/maps.asp.

As always, I’ll keep you updated on the items under consideration in the Capitol and I encourage you as questions arise, to contact me.  Committee schedules, bills and other helpful information can be easily accessed through the legislature website, www.kslegislature.org.  You can also find the listen-in tab at this website and hear debate and discussion in the Senate Chamber at 2:30pm and in the House Chamber at 11:00am. 

Thank you for the honor of serving you! 

Senator Elaine Bowers
Kansas State Capitol Building
Room 223-E
300 SW 10th St.
Topeka, KS  66612
785 296-7389