|Some Good News
As a legislator, I tend to focus only on the reports of what is broken. Contrary to many in government office, I don’t feel it necessary to fix things that aren’t broken, any more than a doctor should heal the healthy.
Consequently, it was brought to my attention that my last newsletter was a bit of a downer. There are problems to be addressed, absolutely, but there are a lot of good things from 2017 that you should know about.
• Record for most Kansans ever employed, 1.4 million.
• Lowest unemployment rate since 2000.
• Opened the longest hiking and biking trail in the state, “The Flint Hills Nature Trail,” from Herington to Osawatomie, 117 miles.
• Kansas was the only state in the nation to reduce its rate of adult obesity.
• State’s childhood poverty rate has shrunk to the lowest level since before the Great Recession.
• Infant mortality rate sits at the lowest point in history.
• Opened a new state-of-the-art medical education building at KU Med that will educate an additional 50 doctors each year.
• Opened the biggest milk drying facility in the US in Garden City, providing exportation of Kansas milk production.
• American Royal moving to Kansas.
• Opened “National Soccer Training Center” in Kansas City.
• Quail population is at the highest level in 20 years.
• Wind energy industry continues to grow. Nearly 30% of electricity coming from wind.
Do we have challenges? Of course; that’s what I’m here for.
|TRANSPARENCY OF THE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS
The 2018 Session will be historical in that all Committee rooms are audio live streaming meetings. Committee meetings can be found at: http://sg001-harmony.sliq.net/00287/Harmony/en/View/Calendar/
In addition, the House chamber is set to be video live streamed this session. Currently, there is a temporary camera that allows for viewing after the daily session is completed. A permanent camera to show the session live should be in place in the near future. The Legislature has a YouTube link for viewing daily session: http://bit.ly/2CZj9O0
Once there a certain number of subscribers, a custom URL can be created that will be easier to share with constituents.
The Speaker directed that Committee Chairs implement the following transparency measures. Bills requested for introduction must have an RS#, meaning the proposed language must be prepared by the Revisor’s Office before being brought to a Committee. In addition, the Committee minutes will reflect who requested the bill, such as the individual and in some cases, the organization that they represent. The Speaker is currently working with legislative staff on a request to have each individual bill’s webpage have a notation as to who requested its introduction. In addition, current legislative practices provide more transparency on the Legislature. Committees provide public hearing notice, which is posted both in the building, emailed to distribution lists, and placed in the daily calendars. The Legislative process is more transparent with lobbyists and the press reporting daily on social, print, and television. Many of the state’s largest newspapers have a daily presence in the Capitol, including the Kansas City Star, Wichita Eagle, Topeka Capital-Journal, Hutchinson News, and the Lawrence Journal-World. Many of the television media stations also cover the Capitol. Other organizations provide legislative updates that reach a broader audience, including the Associated Press, Kansas Public Radio, Kansas News Service, and Hawver’s Capitol Report.
Lobbyists reflect a variety of constituencies in the Kansas, from social workers to small business, and to more generally, taxpayers.
There are additional ways for citizens to access more information about the Legislative Process: (1) State Library’s Legislative hotline, operated during the Session: 800-432-3924. The State Library also has phone numbers to call for questions about Kansas government. Those are: 800-432-3919 or 785-296-2149.
(3) Most importantly, citizens should reach out to their legislators, by email or phone. This information is located on the Legislature’s webpage: http://kslegislature.org/li/ Many legislators have newsletters or a social media presence that constituents can follow.
|Governor’s Budget Proposal
Per the Governor’s budget, the state’s fiscal health begins to decline in 2020. Below is the updated SGF Profile for FY 2016 – FY 2022 with the Governor’s budget recommendations included. If the current course is maintained, cuts upward of $300 million must occur annually.
This profile assumes that the highway fund transfers are to remain in place as is as well. Additionally, FY 19 only balances with the assumption that the state skips one of its KPERS payments of $194 million.
Chart (below) courtesy of Sen. Jim Denning of Overland Park
|Sexual Harassment Prevention Training
This week Republican House members underwent sexual harassment prevention training, hosted by the YWCA. Earlier this month, all legislative agency staff and legislative interns also received proper training. Currently, legislators and staff should refer to Legislative Coordinating Council (LCC) policy #53 for further information regarding sexual harassment policies, including the process of reporting an incident. All LCC policies can be found here: http://kslegislature.org/li/m/pdf/2015_policies.pdf
|State of the Judiciary Address
On Wednesday afternoon, Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss addressed the Legislature. In his remarks, Justice Nuss focused on the lower than market rate judicial salaries. He has requested $19.6 million in increased funding for the judicial branch to provide an additional salary increase for judicial employees who last year received 2.5%, as well as, funding to construct two new Court of Appeals judicial suites.
The Justice’s request for increased funding comes on the heels of a comment by the attorney representing the school districts currently suing the state for more taxpayer funding, in which he stated that, “it may be that some of those other areas you mention which are terribly important but don’t have constitutional protections may have to suffer.”
The judicial branch employees may be the first to see the truth in Rupe’s statement firsthand, as the Court attempts to force the Legislature to add $2.0 billion into funding school finance over the next five years.
The Kansas Constitution gives the sole power of appropriation to the Legislature. The Kansas Supreme Court does not hold the authority to appropriate funds, nor do they have the authority to close schools, per K.S.A. 60-2106(D).
The Kansas Supreme Court does not have the ability to evaluate the Kansas budget in its entirety, so when the court rules more funding for education, it creates a significant imbalance that cannot easily be overcome. Other critical parts of the state budget, including corrections, roads, DCF, Medicaid and even employees of the judicial system will all suffer as a result. For the full transcript of the address, click here: http://www.kscourts.org/court-administration/State-of-Judiciary/State-of-Judiciary-2018.pdf For the full video of the address, click here: https://youtu.be/53AgJGTY6bM?t=1371
|Kansas Agricultural Alliance 2018 Agricultural Tour
On Friday, the House Agriculture and Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committees jointly toured agricultural sites in the Manhattan area. Sites visited include: Mertz Ranch; Peddicord Land & Cattle Co.; Kansas Department of Agriculture office; Kansas Wheat Innovation Center; Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine; and the MKC Cooperative.
This tour allowed the Committee to see a diversified farming operation, feedyard, and a grain elevator on site, along with agency and university agriculture related operations. Many Agriculture associations helped make the tour possible.
On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee heard from Alan Conroy, Executive Director of KPERS. He provided an update on: 2016 valuation; pension obligation bonds; funding projections; and re-amortization. On Wednesday, the Committee was briefed on the Special Committee on a Comprehensive Response to the School Finance Decision’s report.
The Committee also received an economic forecast from Michael Austin, Department of Revenue. Austin presented slides on the state’s economy. Highlights include: the Great Recession has led to the slowest recovery in the state when compared to other recoveries; two of Kansas’s strategic industries (Natural Resources/Mining and Construction) are holding the state back from seeing faster growth; though the state is at record jobs and has a low unemployment rate, wages are growing very slowly; and slow productivity (output per hour) is holding back national and state economic growth.
He noted that Kansans are optimistic, shown through increased growth in the retail and leisure industries. The Housing market is also showing positive results (growth in residential building permits and home prices). Kansas consumption of goods is growing at a robust pace.
On Thursday, the Committee received an update from Secretary Keck, KDADS, on the recertification effort at Osawatomie State Hospital (OSH), the proviso language in 2017 HB 2002 which required KDADS to determine the structural integrity of buildings at OSH to determine the cost of a 100-bed stand-alone facility; and issues at Larned State Hospital. Keck also provided an update on these issues to the Social Services Budget Committee on Wednesday.
Regarding recertification, the agency had two surveys since the 2017 session ended, which were both zero deficiency surveys. The state got a letter on December 19, letting them start billing Medicaid for services beginning on December 15. With recertification in place, the state may be able to recoup some funding through disproportionate share and billing.
Committee members learned that the cost to construct a 100-bed facility is estimated between $40.2 million and $52.3 million. Keck reported that the vacancy rate is 15.8 percent at Osawatomie, with only 84 FTEs to fill. Regarding Larned, a number of recruitment efforts are beginning to pay off to help with staffing difficulties at the hospital. Larned is working on staffing challenges and training to address concerns raised during surveys.
The Committee also received an update from Secretary Carlson, KDOT. His testimony included State Highway transfers and revenues. He also provided details on the delayed modernization and expansion projects. His testimony included a pie chart breaking down what FY 2018 bonding is financing: interstate light preservation; non-interstate light preservation; bridge repair; bridge replacement; and heavy roadway preservation.
The Committee requested a more detailed accounting of transfers, along with maintenance projects financed by bonding.
State of Education
On Thursday, a Joint Committee meeting of House K-12 Education Budget and Senate Education heard from Commissioner Randy Watson. He provided an update on the Kansans Can program, a vision for Kansas schools. He gave a number of different statistics in his presentation: • White House economists forecasted an 83% chance that workers earning less than $20/hour will eventually lose their current jobs to automation. • In terms of post-secondary success, the workforce needs 70-75% of high school graduates to get post-secondary degrees (36% Bachelors, MA, PhDs; 35% associate degrees, certifications). • Data shows an 87% high school graduation rate. The goal for a 95% rate has been set and was mentioned in the State of the State. • 2 years out of high school, 56% of graduates are looking for jobs, but they are only eligible to be employed in 25% of jobs. There is a need to move from 44% seeking post-secondary degrees or certificates to 70-75%.
A major initiative for the Department of Education are the Mercury and Gemini programs. These programs are working on redesigning Kansas Schools, with 7 districts participating in the Mercury program (Stockton, Liberal, Twin Valley, McPherson, Wellington, Olathe, and Coffeyville).
These schools are visited by KSDE personnel every two weeks. Twenty-one school districts applied to be in the Mercury project and are now part of the Gemini project. KSDE is looking to launch a Gemini II project, with applications starting on February 5. Deadline for applications is April 2. School districts must agree to redesign one elementary and one secondary school. There must be a positive school board vote and a faculty vote of 80 percent.
The redesign is to be around the vision, outcomes, and definition of a successful high school graduate. School districts must be willing to launch a new school design in the 2019-20 school year. Gemini II participants will be announced on April 17 at the State Board of Education meeting.
Information on the Mercury redesign project: http://www.ksde.org/Agency/Fiscal-and-Administrative-Services/Communications-and-Recognition-Programs/Vision-Kansans-Can/School-Redesign
Information on the Gemini redesign project: http://www.ksde.org/Agency/Fiscal-and-Administrative-Services/Communications-and-Recognition-Programs/Vision-Kansans-Can/School-Redesign/gemini
An additional resource on the KSDE website is the Building Report Card, where data from every school district is broken down by building level. http://ksreportcard.ksde.org/
This week the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice heard testimony on HB 2439 which would increase the felony severity level of involuntary manslaughter while under the influence.
Under current law, the crime of involuntary manslaughter while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a severity level four person felony. HB 2439 would create an additional crime in which an individual who has their driving privileges restricted, suspended, or revoked—or one who habitually drives under the influence—and slays an individual via driving, would be guilty of a severity level three person felony.
This new crime would deter individuals who have a record of reckless driving from doing so while under the influence. This new crime only applies to involuntary manslaughter in the case of an individual driving under the influence.
In committee, it was made known by the Ed Klumpp of the Kansas Sheriff’s Association that DUIs and both fatalities and injuries via DUIs are all lower than year past due to current law. Conversely, the rate of individuals driving post-DUI have increased. They advocated for this increase in sentencing as a method to dissuade repeat offenders from causing harm to others and themselves.
Additionally, relatives and friends of those who have been slain by drivers who were under the influence were present and testified in support of the bill. They expressed their deepest concern for other innocent bystanders and other victims of DUI fatalities. This bill is scheduled for possible action on Thursday, January 25th.
On Wednesday, the Health and Human Services Committee held an informational hearing on hemp CBD oil. Officials from the company Folium Biosciences, based out of Colorado Springs, CO, spoke before the committee, described their products and explained their business model.
They also articulated that the they grow hemp that has been bred to contain high levels of CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), of which such oils contain less than 0.2% THC upon extraction.
The Folium Bioscience officials claimed they grow “medicinal hemp,” that THC is the only psychoactive agent found in nature, and with their selected breeding process they have lowered the THC traces found in their products to a marginal level. They also argued that CBD oil is an opportunity to help veterans with PTSD/PTSI and other individuals suffering from Dravet syndrome.
|NEXT WEEK’S HIGHLIGHTS
• Tuesday January 23: Teacher of the Year and Regional Teachers of the Year honored. They will speak at House Education Committee (3:30, Room 546-S) • Tuesday January 23:House Commerce, Labor, and Economic Development: Hearing on HB 2482 Expanding the hours of sale of alcoholic liquor by the drink. (1:30, Room 112-N) • Wednesday January 24 and Thursday January 25: House Judiciary—Hearing on HB 2459: Amending the Kansas standard asset seizure and forfeiture act and establishing the Kansas asset seizure and forfeiture repository (3:30, Room 112-N)
“THE OPPORTUNIST THINKS OF ME AND TODAY. THE STATESMAN THINKS OF US AND TOMORROW.” -DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER
It is an honor to represent you in the Kansas House
Rep. Bill Sutton District 43