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Newsletter from Rep. Stan Frownfelter, D-37th Dist.
Committees: Utilities and Telecom, Commerce Labor and Economic Development, Ranking Minority, Insurance, Financial Institutions, Ranking Minority
Week 8: March 4-8, 2013
In this issue:
○ From the Statehouse
○ Turnaround wrap-up
○ Gov. Brownback's reading plan fails in Senate committee
○ House and Senate approve changes to rape law
○ House preserves Longevity bonuses for public employees
○ Budget update
○ HB 2055 - Concealed carry changes
○ HB 2206 -Changes to retail liquor licensing
○ Constituents in the Capitol
○ Keep in touch
From the Statehouse: Week 8
Following the turnaround deadline on Friday, March 1, the Legislature adjourned until Wednesday, March 6. This gave legislators a valuable opportunity to return to their home districts and spend the long recess among constituents.
We returned this week to begin the second half of the 2013 session, where we’ll begin work on exempt bills and bills referred back to various committees. Exempt bills deal with taxation and appropriations and are not affected by the turnaround deadline.
Complete daily calendars are available at www.kslegislature.org along with other useful information. I am also working to keep constituents more informed via Facebook and Twitter, so be sure to follow me at www.facebook.com/username and www.twitter.com/username.
I am privileged and honored to be your voice in the Kansas Capitol. If I can ever be of assistance to you, please feel free to contact me at home or in Topeka.
Due to a great deal of late action bills last week I wasn’t able to include updates on those bills, so I’ve included them below.
Gov. Brownback's reading plan fails in Senate committee
The Senate Education Committee held hearings on Gov. Brownback's plan to increase 4th grade reading scores by holding back third graders who fail to pass a reading assessment. Several educators were present to testify against the proposal. Gov. Brownback's plan received widespread criticism from teachers, administrators, and parents alike.
Opponents challenged the bill by pointing out that holding back students creates so many social challenges for the child that it is ineffective. Furthermore, third grade is too late to address the problem. A better solution would be to invest in early childhood education.
The Senate Education Committee voted down Senate Bill 169 on a vote of 6-5. It’s encouraging that that conservatives joined with Moderates to kill this proposal. Despite the fact that this proposal has received no support from education professionals, at the end of the week Gov. Brownback reinforced his desire to find another way to push this bill through.
House and Senate approve changes to rape law
One positive piece of legislation to pass both the House and Senate last week was a bill that eliminated the five-year statute of limitations in cases of rape. Kansas is among 10 states that imposes such a limit.
The bill also allows for prosecution of a sexually violent crime to begin within 10 years if the victim is at least 18 years old. For younger victims, prosecution would begin within one year of the date the suspect is identified through DNA testing, or within 10 years of the victim's 18th birthday, whichever is later.
This bill was inspired by three constituents who contacted their state legislator in Wichita. The girls were sexually abused at a young age but were too traumatized by the experience to report it. By the time they were old enough to process what had happened to them and tell their parents, it had been too long for the court to do anything about it. The family even obtained a taped confession from the offender, but he was still able to go free.
House preserves longevity bonuses for public employees
We also had success last week blocking a proposal that would have eliminated longevity for state employees. Longevity is a small bonus paid to state workers after they have completed 10 years of service. State workers receive $40 per year of service, with a cap of $1000. This program has been a bedrock of state employee stability for nearly a quarter century.
Longevity is not a giveaway – state employees earn it. To take away something that an employee has rightfully earned is unfairly punitive. State workers have been hit hard by the economic downturn: health insurance premiums have increased, salaries have been cut, no raises have been given in 5 years, and the statewide hiring freeze has increased their workload. Longevity is a small token we can offer loyal, valuable employees to cushion the blow they have endured over the last few years. It is also money that gets circulated back into the economy quickly, as many state employees live paycheck to paycheck.
In the spirit of “running state government like a business,” we must recognize that the cost of retaining good workers is much less than the cost of recruiting and training new workers. In 2011, Kansas suffered from an 11.3 percent turnover rate among public workers, which means one in 10 workers will not be on the job next year. That significantly drives up the cost of running the state while seriously reducing productivity. Longevity is a way of both rewarding those who stay with the state and incentivizing their continued service.
Considering the fact that we only have five weeks left in the session - and that we're facing a $367 million shortfall as a result of the governor's tax plan - it is slightly alarming that there has been so little action on the budget front.
What's even more alarming is that there is even less consensus on the revenue front. Last week Senate leadership expressed support for Gov. Brownback's plan to raise the state sales tax. That was immediately followed by a press conference from House leadership to announce that there is no appetite for a sales tax increase in the House. There seems to be a real sense of chaos on both sides, which is probably why we have yet to see any kind of budget or tax proposal after 7 weeks of work (despite the fact that the governor has supermajorities in both chambers).
The House has cut about $24 million more than Gov. Brownback recommended ($140 million total in cuts to date), and is calling for more cuts. Further, they seem to be transferring a lot of money from other agencies for the purpose of moving that money into the State General Fund. These transfers are band aids - they won’t heal the wound. Gov. Brownback’s tax plan has decimated the state general fund and it will continue to do so into the future unless he fixes it. For a governor so fixated on "structural government reforms," Gov. Brownback seems to be ignoring that approach where it is needed most.
Here are some other budget highlights (so far):
● No new money for public education next year, and a mere $14 per student in the year following;
● Cuts $50,000 from the Economic Development Initiatives Fund. This program provides incentives for companies that employ and train individuals with disabilities;
● Cuts $275,000 from the Economic Development Initiatives Fund for the Accelerate Entrepreneurship Program;
● We haven’t talked about this enough. This budget transfers nearly $250 million from the state highway fund specifically to pay for schools. We are de-funding the largest jobs program ever to pass the Kansas Legislature - a program that is estimated to create 175,000 jobs, in order to fund tax plan that is expected create an estimated 33,000 jobs. That just does not make sense. We’re also bonding specifically to pay for schools. The Highway Fund is not a bank but we are using it to pay our bills. This is a perfect example of the unsustainability of Gov. Brownback’s tax plan.
● Cuts nearly $1.5 million for staff, capital outlay, and commodities expenditures for the Sexual Predator Treatment Program at Parsons State Hospital;
● Deletes 24 FTE positions from the Kansas Juvenile Correctional Complex;
● Cuts 5 more FTE positions and 2 unclassified permanent positions at the Department of Corrections.
HB 2055 - Concealed carry changes
The House Federal and State Committee gave approval to sweeping changes to concealed carry laws that may result in more concealed weapons in public places.
HB 2055 would require state, city and municipal buildings to allow entry of concealed weapons unless the building provides security at the entrances. In committee this bill was amended to eliminate the misdemeanor penalty for bringing a concealed weapon into a building that prohibits them.
Proponents of the amendment argued to remove criminal charges because sometimes gun-owners may simply forgot they’re carrying when entering an area where concealed-carry was not allowed.
Additionally, HB 2055 would change who decides concealed-carry policy for public schools and Universities. Currently, the Board of Regents is responsible for concealed carry policy in schools and universities. The regents support the current policy that prohibits concealed weapons in schools. HB 2055 proposes to remove this decision from the regents, and give it to school boards and Universities leadership instead.
HB 2206 -Changes to retail liquor licensing
HB 2206 proposes to change how Kansas issues liquor licenses. Currently, licenses are only available to individuals operating liquor stores and individuals are limited in the number of retail locations they can operate. Sale of liquor and intoxicating beverages of with an alcohol volume greater than 3.2% are prohibited outside of liquor stores.
The most significant change proposed by HB 2206 would be to make available full strength beer and win in Kansas grocers. This, coupled with a change allowing corporate entities to receive liquor licenses would see grocery stores enter the retail liquor marketplace.
Proponents of this bill argue that the current law creates a competitive disadvantage for Kansas grocers that leads to a loss in sales tax and liquor tax revenues to border states. Proponents assert that the convenience of one-stop-shopping for food and wine is good for business is Kansas.
Opponents, however, point out that liquor stores in Kansas are small businesses. The proposed changes would pit small liquor retailers against big-box and superstore grocers like Walmart and Hy-Vee. Opponents argued that the revenue generated by small liquor stores stays in Kansas communities, whereas the proposed change would see that revenue sent to out-of-state based corporations. Opponents also pointed to a study that found that the change could result in the closure of more than half of Kansas liquor stores. Opponents asked the committee to stand with Kansas’s small businesses instead of some of the largest corporations in the world.
I always enjoy seeing people from back home visiting the Capitol during the session to share their views on issues and to learn about the legislature and the history of our Capitol building. If you are going to be in the Capitol this session, I hope you will drop by my office.
Keep in touch
It is a special honor to serve as your state representative. I value and need your input on the various issues facing state government. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions. My office address is Room 561W, 300 SW 10th, Topeka, KS 66612. You can reach me at 785-296-7648 or call the legislative hotline at 1-800-432-3924 to leave a message for me. Additionally, you can email me at email@example.com. or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org.