Legislative Newsletter: March 16th, 2014

On Thursday, March 13th, it was my pleasure to serve as a substitute member for Representative Stan Frownfelter on the Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee and the Financial Institutions Committee.  The Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee discussed HB 2675 that provides incentives to companies hiring Kansan’s with disabilities – more information on this discussion is in the weekly report below.  The Financial Institutions Committee held an informational briefing on payday and short-installment loans. 

This week, I submitted written testimony in support of HB 2749, the Transparency and Accountability in Legislative Meetings Act. This will make Kansas State Government more accessible to our citizens, and allow our constituents to become more informed and engaged in the democratic process.  

I enjoyed joining friends, neighbors and residents at the Cathedral Neighborhood Meeting on Wednesday and the Strawberry Hill Neighborhood Meeting on Thursday. Patty Orth was re-elected as President of the Cathedral Neighborhood and Tim Ryan was elected as President of the Strawberry Hill Neighborhood.  Congratulations to both Patty and Tim and their team of officers – the leadership they provide is much appreciated and their work is what makes KCK neighborhoods strong and vibrant.

There are 3 weeks left of the 2014 regular Legislative Session.  The last day is April 4th at which time the Kansas Legislature will adjourn until April 30th when we reconvene for the “Veto Session”. 

In this Issue:

  • Appropriations Committee reviews KPERS and Judicial branch budgets
  • Appropriations Committee discusses state agencies and capital improvements
  • Committee on Insurance hears testimony on mandated health insurance coverage for Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Joint Education Committee hears from Superintendents on at-risk funding
  • Commerce and Labor holds hearing on incentive to hire Kansans with disabilities
  • Democrats act to support property tax relief for middle-class Kansans
  • Keep in touch


Appropriations Committee reviews KPERS and Judicial branch budgets

Tuesday Morning, the House Appropriations Committee met to review the budgets for the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System and the Judicial Branch. Rep. DeGraaf presented the reports, and explained a few of the recommendations made by the General Government Budget Committee.

Rep. DeGraaf made special mention of the KPERS budget for FY 2015, pointing out that they have been extremely efficient and have retained a healthy rate of return, and have no expected State General Fund dollars requested. The KPERS budget passed for FY’s 14-15 as recommended by the Budget Committee.

Several Constituents have contacted me about the negative impact of a recommendation on the budget for the Judicial Branch Budget FY 15 to remove 15 percent of the branch’s court reporter positions, which equates to 18 FTE positions with an estimated $180,000 to go toward updating the courtrooms.

Rep. Ballard moved to delete this recommendation, and Rep. Lane moved to amend the recommendation to only 9 FTE positions, both motions were defeated. Chairman Marc Rhoades then moved to add an amendment to require an objective report on how these changes affect operations next year, and the amendment passed.

Judiciary Budgets for Fiscal Years 14-15 were passed as amended by the committee.


Appropriations Committee discusses state agencies and capital improvements

The Appropriations Committee met again on Thursday to discuss the appropriations for various state agencies and capital improvement projects.  The Committee passed the following:

A motion that would add $125,000 in the supplemental budget for the Kansas Sexual Predator Treatment Program, which is responsible for treating sexual predators that are not sentenced to jail time.

A motion that would reallocate $500,000 for the Accelerating Opportunity program to account for the growing number of adult’s ages 24-35 participating in the program.  Funding would provide tuition grants for Kansans interested in earning the credential and skills they need to get and succeed in a solid, family-sustaining job.

A motion that would restore 10 positions that were previously cut from the Kansas Lottery agency. The committee passed an amendment that would give the Kansas Lottery greater authority over their own budget, and allow them to minimize cuts within the personnel department.

Discussion about cuts from the advertising budget of a variety of agencies and its potential consequences was also held during the committee meeting.  The Kansas Lottery was facing the heftiest cut from their advertising budget. Proponents to the cuts cited studies that said that advertising was not a big factor in an individual’s decision to participate in the lottery. They found that a steep increase in the prize money in the lottery and a change in payout methods were more predictive factors for lottery participation.

The committee heard discussion on possibly exempting certain agencies from the 10% cut from their advertising budget, and concluded that all universities within the state of Kansas would be exempt, as well as other agencies that would be left with less than $1,000 in their advertising budget after the cut.

Ultimately, the committee passed out a substitute bill that was amended with the agency exemptions and technical corrections.


Committee on Insurance hears testimony on mandated health insurance coverage for Autism Spectrum Disorder

The House Committee on Insurance held a hearing this week on House Bill 2744, which would require all insurance companies to require coverage for 10 hours per week of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy for autistic children up to the age of 18 starting January 1, 2016.  Many in the autism community argued that 10 hours of coverage each week is not enough; the minimum recommendation is 20 hours. (Read more here.)


Joint Education Committee hears from Superintendents on at-risk funding

The House and Senate Education Committees met in a joint meeting to hear a roundtable discussion on at-risk funding for Kansas schools. The state provides at-risk funding to districts based on the amount of students who receive free or reduced prices for school lunches.  The roundtable discussion consisted of superintendents from school districts all across the state. Areas of Kansas represented before the committees included Kansas City, Olathe, Topeka, Wichita, Shawnee Mission, and Garden City.

According to the superintendents, poverty is the biggest problem faced in their schools. They need the at-risk funds to aid struggling students in achieving their academic goals and behavioral challenges. The at-risk funds they receive are helping them aid students who are facing poverty, learning English as a second language, and homelessness. Dr. Cindy Lane, Superintendent of KCK District 500, making the case to continue at-risk funding stated that "The research is clear, poverty is the No. 1 factor that impacts life outcomes."

 

Commerce and Labor holds hearing on incentive to hire Kansans with disabilities

The Commerce, Labor and Economic Development met on Thursday, March 13th, to discuss HB 2675. HB 2675 fine tunes a bill that was passed out of Senate Ways and Means last session that encourages companies to hire Kansas citizens with disabilities. The bill outlines tax incentives that are available to companies whose workforce is comprised of at least 10% of employees with a disability. This is a change from the previous version in which 20% of a company's workforce had to be disabled in order to be eligible. A company may also receive a cash reimbursement upon hiring an individual with a mental or physical disability, and if they retain the employee for a year, they will receive another cash payment.

Testimony in favor of the bill was delivered by representatives from Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation, who shared stories of their success with hiring individuals with mental or physical disabilities. He said that these tax and cash incentives motivate companies within the private sector to give jobs to qualified Kansans, and help disabled individuals reach their employment and independence goals.

The program would also save the state money as newly employed people stop taking state assistance. But it’s unclear when that savings would be realized since as each person exits state assistance another person from the waiting list would enter.

Overall, this seems to be a very pro-jobs bill that proposes a great program which gives some of our most vulnerable citizens a fair chance.

 

Democrats act to support property tax relief for middle-class Kansans

On Wednesday the Kansas Democratic House Caucus pushed through an amendment that provides $45 million in property tax relief for Kansas homeowners struggling under the weight of rising property taxes. The Kansas House voted 102-17 in favor of an amendment to HB 2542 that would restore the local ad valorem tax reduction fund starting in Fiscal Year 2015.

Restoration of these funds would mean real relief on the local level by lowering property tax mill levies putting more money in the pockets of middle-class Kansan’s.

However, on Final Action vote on Thursday, some far-right Republicans could not bring themselves to support middle-class families. You can find a list of the final four Kansas House of Representative members who opposed property tax relief for middle-class Kansas families below. Click on their name if you'd like to email them and ask them why they don't support property tax relief for hard working Kansans.

 

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 173-W, 300 SW 10th, Topeka, KS 66612.  You can reach me at (785) 296-7371 or call the legislative hotline at 1-800-432-3924 to leave a message for me.  Additionally, you can e-mail me at pam.curtis@house.ks.gov.  You can also follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org. 

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Paid for by Pam Curtis For State Representative. Steve Curtis, Treasurer.