Many thanks to everyone that visited the Capitol this past week! Week 3 brought many local officials to Topeka for annual meetings and opportunities to visit with Legislators about matters before the Kansas Legislature. It is always good to see people from home at the Capitol!
Much of our work currently is in committee with both informational and bill hearings and we are starting to work some of the bills that have been heard the past few weeks. Monday, January 29th is the deadline for members to request that a bill be drafted for consideration this session.
January 29th is also Kansas Day. Kansas entered the Union as the 34th state on January 29, 1861. This year we celebrate 157 years of statehood. Happy Kansas Day!
Democrats Roll Out Transparency Package
On Tuesday, House and Senate Democrats held a joint press conference at which they rolled out a package of transparency bills. One of the cornerstones of our democracy is that voters can hold their representatives accountable; the bills offered by Democrats take major steps toward opening up the legislative process and state government.
The transparency bills introduced by Democrats in the House are as follows:
Gut and Go Prohibition – This bill would create a statute that specifically prohibits removing the contents of a bill in its entirety and replacing with new material. This prohibition would apply to any action on the floor, in committee or in conference committee in either chamber.
Gut and Go Tracking – Currently, not all actions taken on a bill are fully transparent to the public. This bill would provide a mechanism for fully reporting bill action to a publicly accessible website – including any gut and go actions.
No Secret Votes – This bill would require that all votes taken in the Kansas Legislature be recorded. This would include all votes in committee as well as all votes on the floor of either chamber (including GO votes and amendment votes).
Civil Asset Forfeiture – Among other changes, this bill would require all law enforcement agencies to report to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) a listing of all property seized from law enforcement activities and requires the KBI to make that list available to the public. The bill would also provide a clear system for how citizens can reclaim their seized property.
Lobbyists Cool Down Period – HB 2155 would create the Kansas Integrity in Government Act which would prohibit an individual from lobbying or being employed as a lobbyist within one year of the date of that person’s resignation from a term of any state elected office to which the individual was elected or appointed.
DCF Death Records – HB 2309 would amend the Kansas Code for Care of Children by requiring that all reports received by the Secretary of the Department for Children and Families, a law enforcement officer, or any juvenile intake and assessment worker, regarding sexual abuse, great bodily harm or death of a child in the custody of the Secretary be made public record and subject to disclosure through the Open Records Act.
Election Reform – Would create a law requiring manual audits of elections and would amend law related to the timing of the election canvasses and electronic voting machines. The bill would also require all voting machines to provide a paper copy of each vote cast at the time the vote was cast.
Prohibiting Outside Employment – This bill would prohibit any statewide officeholder from being engaged in any outside employment while holding statewide office.
Increasing Penalties under KORA and KOMA – The current penalties within the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) and the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA) are virtually nonexistent. Additionally, state agencies oftentimes charge exorbitant fees before releasing the records and too often take months before fully responding to a request. This bill would remedy these issues and help ensure the public has appropriate access to the records of its government.
Brownback Confirmed by U.S. Senate
On Wednesday, Governor Brownback’s nomination passed through two procedural votes in the United States Senate.
In 2017, Brownback was nominated for the Ambassador of International Religious Freedom position by President Donald Trump. The U.S. Senate failed to act in 2017, and Brownback (who had already handed over certain gubernatorial duties to Lt. Governor Jeff Colyer) remained in Kansas. He was re-nominated by Trump in January 2018.
The first vote on Brownback’s confirmation on Wednesday resulted in a tie, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking that tie to pull Brownback through the first vote hurdle. The second vote Wednesday on the Senate floor involved the full body, and also tied, 49-49 with two Republican Senators (John McCain and Bob Corker) absent.
Pence again came out to break the tie, confirming Brownback to his ambassadorship. He will resign his seat as Governor on January 31st, and Colyer will be sworn in soon after.
State Finance Council Passes Lansing Prison Contract
During the first procedural vote to confirm Brownback’s nomination on Wednesday, another vote was taking place in Kansas – whether or not to approve a contract with CoreCivic to build a new corrections facility in Lansing.
The deal was approved 6-3 by the State Finance Council. Kansas now enters into a lease-to-purchase contract with a for-profit prison company. The three no votes were made by House Democratic Leader Rep. Jim Ward, Senate Democratic Leader Sen. Anthony Hensley, and Republican Sen. Carolyn McGinn.
While Democratic Leadership and caucuses understand that Lansing desperately needs a new corrections facility – and advocate that the facility must remain in Lansing – CoreCivic is an unreliable partner with a substandard history nationwide. A project of this magnitude would be better vetted by the full legislature, rather than a small group of nine members.
Republican Leadership Attacks Deputy Education Commissioner
Republicans Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ron Ryckman sent a letter on Wednesday to the Chairman of the Kansas State Department of Education. The letter attacks the Deputy Education Commissioner of School Finance, Dale Dennis, a decades-long public servant who had dedicated that service to the children of Kansas.
The letter sparked a bipartisan backlash from members of the Kansas legislature, state agencies, and the public. Dale Dennis is the utmost authority on school finance in the state. His removal, which is recommended in the original letter from the Senate President and House Speaker, would be detrimental to Kansas schoolchildren, teachers, parents, and the legislature as we head into a session where crafting a new, adequate, and equitable school finance formula is not only a major priority but a requirement by the Kansas Supreme Court.
First Floor Vote of the 2018 Session
On Friday, the House held the first vote of the 2018 session on the following two bills:
HB 2439: An act concerning crimes, punishment and criminal procedure; relating to involuntary manslaughter; aggravated battery; involving certain violations of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
It is a special honor to serve as your state representative. I both 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 452-S, 300 SW 10th, Topeka, KS 66612. You can reach me at (785) 296-7430 or call the legislative hotline at 1-800-432-3924 to leave a message for me. Additionally, you can e-mail me at email@example.com You can also follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org