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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
In this issue:
○ From the Statehouse
○ Judicial selection in Kansas
○ HB 2241 - Renewable energy standards portfolio
○ HB 2055 - Guns in public places
○ HB 2178 - State employees; relating to longevity bonus payments
○ HB 2210 - Elections; relating to change of party affiliation; when not permissible
○ Constituents in the Capitol
○ Keep in touch
The seventh week of the 2013 Legislature got off to a slow start as Kansas continued to dig out of back-to-back massive snowstorms that dropped more than two feet of snow in some places. With the mid-session turnaround deadline looming for Friday this set the table for a flurry of activity later in the week. On Thursday, the House scheduled final action on 18 bills, and debated 39 bills. On Friday, 35 bills were scheduled for final action, and 10 bills remained on general orders.
Complete daily calendars are available at www.kslegislature.org along with other useful information.
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.
Judicial selection in Kansas
Conservatives have made altering the current system of selecting judges one of their top political priorities for the 2013 legislative session. Currently, Kansas Supreme Court and Kansas Court of Appeals judges are nominated by a nine member commission consisting of five lawyers and four non-lawyers. The governor then gets to select the judge out of the commission’s three nominees.
This current system is referred to as merit selection because it allows for the selection of judges based on legal experience and a reputation for fairness rather than political loyalties. This merit selection system was instituted in Kansas after the “Triple Play of 1956” scandal in which a sitting governor schemed to have himself appointed to the head of the Kansas Supreme Court after losing his bid for reelection.
Earlier this session Senate Republicans passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 1601 which proposes a constitutional amendment which would give Gov. Brownback the ability to select Kansas judges with approval of the Senate, similar to system used in Washington D.C.. This proposed constitutional amendment would go before the voters during the August 2014 primary instead of the general election that November.
Kansas voters clearly approve of the current system. Even according to the conservative Kansas Policy Institute 54 percent of Kansans approve of merit selection, versus 39 percent who disapprove. Critics accuse proponents of trying to subvert the will of Kansans by placing this amendment on the August primary ballot instead of putting it before all eligible Kansas voters in the November general election. The Kansas House Democrats are committed to preserving an independent, competent court system in Kansas and would like to leave the partisan cronyism to Washington, D.C..
Renewable energy portfolio standards
In 2009 the Kansas Legislature passed the Renewable Energy Standards Act by a 5 to 1 margin. This act provides that Kansas receives 10 percent of their electricity from renewable resources like wind and solar energy between 2011 and 2015, 15 percent between 2016 and 2019, and 20 percent by 2020.
Kansas utilities have already achieved the 10 percent goal and are closing in on the 15 percent goal - three years ahead of schedule. Currently, HB 2241 threatens that progress. This year, the Energy and Environment committee passed HB 2241 which proposes changes to the Renewable Energy Standards Act to weaken Kansas’s commitment to renewable energy.
HB 2241 would lower the renewable energy goal from 20 percent to only 15 percent - effectively freezing it place. In doing so, Kansas would be the first state reverse, decrease, or backtrack on it’s commitment to renewable energy.
This change is not without consequences. Renewable Portfolio Standards play a critical part in recruiting and retaining the wind industry in Kansas. The 19 wind farms currently operating or under construction in Kansas have created more than 12,300 Kansas jobs, $13.7 million in annual payments to landowners, and $10.4 million in contributions to Kansas communities each year.
In 2012, wind energy was the No. 1 source of new U.S. electric generating capacity, providing 42 percent of all new electric capacity. Kansas was ranked third in the nation for new wind installations. With the continuance of the federal production tax credit and the implementation of the RPS, along with al wind resource that could provide the state's electricity needs 90 times over, Kansas has positioned itself to be the wind energy leader in the coming years.
Although the House referred this bill to the Utilities and Telecommunications committee for further debate the Senate later voted down the proposal.
Kansas House Bill 2055 - Allowing guns in public places
HB 2055 seeks to mandate that all public buildings install “adequate” security measures or be required to allow conceal and carry permit holders to enter with a gun.
Under the bill, “adequate” security measures are defined as the use of “electronic equipment and personnel at public entrances to detect and restrict the carrying of any weapons into the state or municipal building.” These measures may include metal detectors or metal detector wands. If a municipal or state building is unable or unwilling to install these additional security features, they will be required to allow legal conceal and carry permit holders to carry their firearms inside.
Many municipal officials expressed concern about the bill, suggesting it was a state imposition on municipal governments’ decisions on how to best secure their facilities. A city official from Lenexa, Kan., opposed the bill, noting that additional security measures in each city building would be a burden on the city’s budget. She believed the city, not the state Legislature, was in the best position to make decisions about municipal buildings.
Chris Mechler, a court services officer with the Kansas Office of Judicial Administration, testified that only 12 of the 110 courthouses in the state, and none of the 25 court-related office buildings had the “adequate security measures” and upgrades to airport-like metal detectors or wand-toting security staff would cost a significant amount of money. She also voiced concern that since upgrading the security at each court building would be burdensome, under HB 2055, the courthouses would be required to allow conceal and carry permit holders to carry firearms, a dangerous notion considering that court facilities bring people in conflict together in one isolated building. She believed allowing firearms in the courthouse would be a significant risk to safety.
Under the bill, state or municipally owned medical care facilities, adult care homes, and universities and colleges would be exempt for a four-year period.
HB 2178 - State employees; relating to longevity bonus payments
A bill proposing to changes to state employees longevity pay was defeated by the House this week. HB 2178 proposed a change to the longevity bonus that would require the Legislature to approve the bonus each year. Currently, longevity is a legal responsibility of state agencies. Critics argued that the proposed change would create uncertainty and jeopardize payments to the state workforce. could be funded previously by simply telling agencies to take it out of their existing budgets or through an appropriation in the budget. HB 2178 takes away any flexibility in paying longevity putting the payments at risk.
HB 2178 was defeated on the House floor by a vote of 42-78.
HB 2210: Elections; Changing of party affiliation
This week the House Committee on Elections gave approval to HB 2210, which proposes to restrict when a person can change party affiliation. Currently, a voter must file to change parties 14 days before any primary or general election. HB 2210 would allow a voter to switch party only until the primary filing deadline for candidates, usually at noon June 1, and not until after the State Board of Canvassers certifies the primary.
The proponents of the bill frame argue it will prevent political gamesmanship. They stressed the point that only true party members should have a say in who is a party’s candidate for a general election. Deputy Secretary Bryant reported that party switches complicate the administrative side of elections. He reported that last year there were around 54,000 statewide party switches, amounting to 3.2 percent of the registered voting population.
Opponent argued that this bill restricts voting right because people wouldn’t be allowed to choose their representative leaders. Also, that some voters would be effectively disenfranchised from the primary process because they might not realized they have to register with a party well in advance to vote in its’ primary.
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.