2015 Senate Scene Weeks 1 & 2

2015 Senate Scene Weeks 1 & 2

Senate Highlights
Typical of most years, our first week back in Topeka for the start of the 2015 legislative session was spent mostly on organization and ceremonial activities.  On January 12th, visitors and dignitaries lined the rotunda as we prepared for the inaugural ceremonies which were held inside due to the weather.  Monday’s swearing-in included newly and re-elected members of State Board of Education, Judges for the Court of Appeals, the Kansas Supreme Court, Commissioner of Insurance, State Treasurer, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Lt. Governor and Governor. The Kansas House of Representatives also held swearing in ceremonies for their 125 members and the Kansas Senate welcomed two new members to the chamber and officially opened the 86th Legislative session.  The rest of the week was off to a slow start as members settled in and committees held a few informational hearings. Week two began in observation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the legislature, along with state offices, were closed Monday. However, the abbreviated week did not slow committees from introducing and holding hearings on proposed legislation. The Capitol was filled with a number of advocacy groups meeting with legislators and in just two weeks, we’ve already had 69 bills introduced in the Senate alone. Since we are a citizen legislature, Kansans from all walks of life engage in grassroots lobbying to assist legislators in working on solutions for a multitude of issues.

Committee assignments
The Senate terms are for four years and usually the membership of the committees from the previous two years remain the same however with the addition to the two new Senators a few reassignment were made by Senate leadership.  My committees will remain the same -   Agricultural, Public Health and Welfare and Financial Institutions and Insurance where I will serve as vice-chair.  I also will remain on the Select Committee on KPERS, Joint Committee on State Tribal Relations and the Historical Preservation Committee.    

State of the State Address
Governor Brownback delivered his annual State of the State Address to members of the Legislature on Thursday, January 15th. He outlined a number of ambitious policy initiatives for the legislature to undertake. The Governor’s Legislative Agenda includes a Constitutional Amendment designed to ensure that state debt is a general obligation of the state and to be paid before other tax dollars are expended.  Other items on his agenda include a new school finance formula, judicial reform, increasing voter participation by unifying local, state and federal elections cycles and a 50 year water plan.  For the full text of the speech please visit: https://governor.ks.gov/media-room/media-releases/2015/01/16/state-of-the-state-2015.

The Governor’s Budget Proposal
The current Fiscal Year budget for 2015 projects a revenue shortfall of close to $600 million. A significant portion of the deficit is directly attributable to a change in federal tax policy, specifically the calculation of capital gains earnings. A number of states saw unanticipated revenue drops as well. This shortfall, along with tax cuts resulted in a failure to meet the Consensus Revenue Estimating Groups’ prediction of 5.0 percent increase to state revenue. State statue grants the Governor authority to make targeted reductions or allotments when there is a significant shortfall in the SGF. The allotment plan has already been introduced, although the Legislature is primarily responsible for making the changes necessary to balance the budget for the remainder of the fiscal year.  The Governor’s budget focused on three major budgetary cost drivers: K-12 school finance formula, Medicaid and Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS).  It is important to note that the Governor (the Executive branch) has offered a proposed budget and this is the start of budget process.  However it is the 165 member Legislature (Legislative branch) who will hold hearings, vote and ultimately prepare the budget for the next two years. 

Senate Bills introduced:
Senate Bill 45 (SB 45): Constitutional Carry
Twenty six State Senators, representing all corners of the state and both major political parties, introduced legislation guaranteeing Kansans greater ability to exercise their constitutional right to keep and bear arms.  The bill would remove the requirement for class or a permit to carry a concealed weapon in Kansas under the personal and family protection act. The bill was introduced in protection of Kansans’ Second Amendment rights and to allow for individuals to defend themselves in the incident they are being attacked or see someone in danger.  Kansans would still have the option of applying for a concealed weapons permit for the purposes of interstate reciprocity or to expedite the background searches for firearm purchases. Currently, Kansans are allowed to legally carry a firearm openly, as long as that individual in not prohibited by law from possessing a firearm. This legislation expands that right to those who wish to conceal a firearm. Six states currently recognize some form of “Constitutional Carry”.  These states are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Vermont, and Wyoming. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Federal and State Affairs and at this time, no hearing has been scheduled.   For FAQ’s on the proposed legislation you may find them here as a courtesy from the Kansas State Rifle Association:  http://tinyurl.com/KSStateRifleAssociation.

Informational Hearings – Marijuana
This week, the Senate Committee on Public Health and Welfare held two days of informational hearings on the legalization of marijuana. The first day included a number of parents asking legislators to legalize cannabis oil, a form of medical marijuana. Four parents testified on behalf of their children who suffer from severe seizure disorders.  The parents, who had tried a number of legal forms of medication, saw cannabis as a last resort.  The Silver-Haired Senior Legislators also support the legalization of medical marijuana and testified as an advocate.  The Kansas Medical Society and doctors testified against the legalization of marijuana, including medical marijuana. The medical society stated in their testimony that drugs and other substances are regulated under the Controlled Substance Act and undergoes significant clinical study and evaluation by the FDA before they are used on humans. They asked, until the FDA concludes marijuana is a superior or equivalent medical treatment to drugs that are currently legal, the state not to legalize the drug for dispensation until such research and trials had been conducted. At this time, no hearings have been scheduled to debate SB 9 in the Senate health committee.

Home on the Range Cabin Highway (SB43)
The Home on the Range Cabin near Smith Center in Smith County is a log cabin built by Dr. Brewster Higley VI.   The song now known world-wide was written by Higley as a poem while living at this location in 1870’s.   The poem was named “My Western Home” and later became the lyrics for the popular song, Home on the Range and was named the official song of Kansas in 1947.   Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time.   The cabin was listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1973 and was restored in 2013.  At the request of El Dean Holthus, I introduced a bill in Senate Transportation to rename Highway 8 as the Home on the Range Cabin Highway.  A hearing will be held in the next few weeks and I would encourage anyone who would like to testify on the importance of this historic landmark to contact El Dean or myself for the committee schedule. 

Job Report: Unemployment at 4.2%
Kansas’s December unemployment rate remained unchanged from the November number at 4.2% but was down 0.7% from the December 2013 unemployment rate of 4.9%. Kansas added 12,800 private sector jobs since last year, and Kansas nonfarm jobs increased by 12,800 jobs.  Kansas currently has the tenth lowest unemployment in the nation, and more Kansans are working than at any time in our history.

Visitors from Senate District #36
It was my pleasure to meet with groups across the district during the early few weeks of session.    
Visitors representing their organizations from home the past few weeks were C-12 Energy, the Magistrate Judges, the Academy of Family Physicians, Independent and Rural Telephone Associations, the Kansas Workforce group, KS Agribusiness Retailer and Cooperatives, State Farm Agents and KS School Board members.   

I welcome you to the State Capitol for a visit during session.  My office remains the same, 223E (east wing second floor) next to the cage elevator.  Additions to the Visitor Center are two new kiosks each one with a large touch screen monitor for visitors to use.  You will be able see the calendar of the day, events and now directions to find the offices of Capitol staff and legislators.  The Kansas State Historical Museum will also be displaying temporary exhibits and this month featured gowns worn by the 1st ladies of Kansas including Alice Carlson, wife of Governor Frank Carlson, Theo Landon, wife of Governor Alfred Landon, and Mary Brownback, wife of our current Governor Sam Brownback.     

As session progresses, not every bill introduced will make it to the governor’s desk but that doesn’t mean opinions, facts and testimony were not heard. Your participation in the state legislature is vital. As we continue to weed through the different bills, I hope to hear from you. I want to know how legislation will impact you and our district or the ideas you have to improve a bill. There’s still plenty of time to get involved, but the legislative calendar does move quickly, so if you have interest in a particular subject be sure to engage soon.

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