We are now at day 39 of the session and I expect things to pick up significantly in the coming weeks. While the Legislature has passed a budget, that budget is now out of balance and the Legislature will need to address that shortfall because the constitution does not allow us to have an unbalanced budget. Also, the Legislature still needs to address the school finance decision and find a way to properly provide equitable funding to our schools. There are several contentious bills, especially some that dramatically affect education that will be heard in the coming days. I strongly encourage you to contact the chairs of the committees hearing those bills and let them know how you feel about those bills. Below are some of the highlights of the past week.
It is an honor to represent our community in the Kansas House of Representatives. I very much appreciate your input on matters before the Kansas Legislature so please do not hesitate to contact me. If I can be of service to you or anyone you know please call my office at 785-296-7371 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Governor Signs Budget
Last week, Governor Brownback signed the budget bill previously passed by the House and Senate. The Governor signed the bill even though February revenue was reported $53 million below expectations. The result is the budget is now in the red $47 million because the original bill had an ending balance of only $6 million, far below the 7.5% required. With roughly three months remaining in the current fiscal year (which ends June 30th) we will need to find roughly $47 million just to balance the budget he signed. If we continue to miss revenue expectations in the coming months that $47 million will only grow. Since the governor and his Republican allies are unwilling to reverse course on their mismanagement of the state economy we should expect more cuts. Cuts like the $17 million the governor just made out of our universities and colleges (as I discussed last week). I am strongly against this budget because it uses transfers and budget tricks to balance rather than establish responsible fiscal policy. Below is a good description of the transfers this budget utilizes:
Governor Vetoes Power Plant Bill
In the last few weeks both the House and the Senate overwhelmingly passed SB 250, prohibiting the governor from entering into an agreement with a bank to finance the building of a new power plant for the state capitol complex. The reason the legislature passed this bill in the first place was because the governor entered into the agreement with the bank without seeking any approval from the Legislature. Unfortunately, Governor Brownback decided to veto the bill last week. This bill was necessary to send a message to the governor that he overstepped his authority and it passed both the House and the Senate overwhelmingly with near unanimous votes. It is unclear if the Legislature will attempt to override his veto.
Governor Mortgaging Children’s Future
During debate in a Senate Committee this week, the President of Kansas Action for Children raised the prospect of the Governor and his administration secretly contemplating the sale of future state tobacco settlement receipts for a one-time payment of $400 million to help resolve state government budget problems.
In 1998, Kansas and other states sued tobacco companies for the health related costs of smoking on the residents of Kansas. As a result of that litigation a settlement was reached that provided states with roughly $200 million by 2025. Kansas’s portion of that settlement is roughly $57 million each year and statute requires that money to be used for programs that benefit children through the Kansas Children Initiative and the Children’s Cabinet. It is very concerning that the Governor and his Republican allies in the Legislature, having mismanaged the state’s economy, are now apparently willing to mortgage money meant for children to fill his budget holes. I am opposed to this measure.
Below are a few of the bills that saw action on the House floor in the last week:
- Tanning Bed Restrictions (HB 2369) – Due to the harmful effects of tanning beds this bill would prohibit any person under the age of 18 from accessing any tanning device at a tanning facility. The bill would establish a maximum fine of $250 for any licensee found in violation of this new standard. I voted in favor of this bill and it passed the House 77-44.
- Refugee Limitation (HB 2612) – Seeks to limit the ability of refugees to enter Kansas. The bill was debated on the House floor but was eventually sent back to committee. I voted in favor of sending the bill back to committee. The bill restricts the resettlement of refugees and places unnecessary and burdensome restrictions on refugee resettlement in Kansas. Refugees undergo more rigorous screening than anyone else we allow into the United States.
- Legislature Transparency (HB 2573) – A transparency bill that would require legislative committee meetings to be live streamed and available via the internet. I voted in favor of this bill that passed the house on final action. It is a good first step towards making the legislative process more transparent by providing the public an opportunity to listen live to some committee meetings remotely.
- No GITMO detainees in Kansas (HCR 5024) - A resolution calling on the President to not send detainees from GITMO into Kansas. Passed the House 104-16. I voted against HCR 5024 and want to share with you the explanation of vote that I and other Representatives signed:
MR. SPEAKER: No Kansan supports terrorism. Everyone deplores these despicable acts against humanity. I strongly oppose the placement of Guantanamo Bay detainees in USP Leavenworth, but vote no on HCR 5024 as it defames our President. How can we expect him to acknowledge our resolution when we allege he demonstrated a willingness to violate American law and weakens our standing in the world? I want the President to take our concerns seriously, to recognize we have legitimate misgivings about housing detainees. As written, the resolution fails this. I've drafted a less inflammatory letter to the President regarding transfer of these detainees to Kansas and am sending it today.
State Library of Kansas Resources
The Kansas Constitution, including the Ordinance, Preamble, and Bill of Rights, is available to print in a pocket sized version from the State Library’s websitehttp://kslib.info/constitution. Just click on the link and follow the instructions. A helpful diagram shows how to fold and where to cut to assemble your booklet. Helpful tip: print double sided and flip on the long edge.
League of Women Voters Legislative Coffee
The League of Women Voters will host a Legislative Coffee on Saturday, March 19th at the Kansas City, Kansas Main Public Library, 625 Minnesota Avenue. The event will begin at 10:30 am and I along with several other Wyandotte County Legislators will be participating. Please join us at this event next Saturday to discuss the important matters being considered by the Kansas Legislature.