Legislative Newsletter: March 10th

On Thursday, March 6, I took the oath of office to serve as the Representative of the 32nd House District in Kansas administered by the Honorable Tom Malone, Chief Judge, Kansas Court of Appeals.  I am fulfilling the unexpired term of the late Representative Mike Peterson who served our community for many years.  I am very honored to serve as your State Representative.  Every day, the decisions made by our Representatives in Topeka impact our daily lives.  I look forward to working with you and being your voice in Topeka.

In this issue:

  • From the Statehouse
  • Appropriations Committee hears various Budget Reports
  • At-risk discussed in joint Education committee meeting
  • Transparency Act makes its way To Appropriations
  • Supreme Court ruling drops in School Funding case
  • Keep in Touch
From the Statehouse
This week was fairly quiet under the dome as we came back into session on Wednesday after a long weekend to refresh after Turnaround. We had no General Orders on Wednesday, voted on two bills on Thursday, and had a “Pro Forma” Friday, meaning that there was no real session. The event of the week, and perhaps the event of the session, came 9:30 Friday morning when the Kansas Supreme Court published their ruling in the case of Gannon vs. State, otherwise known as the School Finance case. The ruling by the Supreme Court is sure to set the stage for the rest of the Session, and I will be sure to keep you updated as I learn more. This issue is a top priority for me, because I believe it is time that our schools were fairly and adequately funded.

Appropriations Committee Hears Budget Reports

The Appropriations Committee met on Thursday, March 06, to hear budget reports on a variety of agencies. These agencies included the Revisor of Statutes, the Legislature, the Division of Post Audit, the Judicial Council, the Kansas Lottery and the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission.

The committee approved of the Revisor of Statutes budget and the Legislature budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. The Committee requested a more specific outline that explained the allocations of funding in future years for the Legislature budget.

During the budget hearing for the Division of Post Audit, the committee discussed increasing the budget in the Post Audit Committee to make it possible for them conduct more audits. The Committee is requesting additional funding for a new three-person auditor team that could conduct more audits as requested by representatives. The three person team would cost approximately $250,000 the first year and $240,000 each subsequent year. The committee praised the work the auditors do, and the committee approved the Post Audit Budgets for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

The committee discussed the possibility of decreasing the budget for the Judicial Council, specifically by decreasing the amount of money spent on salaries within the department. The proposed cut would come out of the Executive Directors salary, but the committee ultimately decided to get a report from the board that explained the reasoning for current salary levels before making any decisions.

The Committee passed the Kansas Lottery budget as is for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, and they approved a $22,000 increase in funding for the 2014 Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission budget.

At-risk discussed in joint Education committee meeting

A joint meeting of the House and Senate Education Committees was held to get answers to a set of questions posed by committee members.

Deputy Commissioner of Education Dale Dennis provided the committee with reams of data regarding school spending, the history of school finance since 1992, legislative changes in that time period in the funding formula and much more. He was followed by Craig Neuenswander of the Kansas Department of Education who filled the committee in on how at-risk money is generated and then how it is spent on moving kids to higher levels of achievement.

Neuenswander also provided data showing changes in the gap between low income students and others over time. While the gap had been shrinking slowly for years, it has widened a bit in the past year.

Dave Trabert of the Kansas Policy Institute also spoke on school finance. Trabert claims that when it comes to education, money doesn't matter, most kids are doing poorly, and schools are inefficient and have been hiring too many people. Trabert also called for a new cost study.

Transparency Act makes its way to Appropriations Committee

A Senate bill that aims to increase the transparency and accountability of representatives in the Capitol made its way to the House this week. SB 413, also known as the Transparency Act, was introduced to the Appropriations Committee on Thursday, March 6th.

The Transparency Act would require audio and video streaming in the four largest committee rooms here at the Statehouse. Cameras would be set up in rooms that hold the committees on budget, education, judiciary and commerce, and federal and state affairs. The bill aims to make it easier for constituents to see their representatives in action, and allow Kansans, especially those who can’t make it to Topeka, to get more involved in the democratic process.

Senate Minority leader Anthony Hensley endorsed a two-year trial run, with the hopes of its success leading to a full-blown program. Proponents of the bill find it to be worthy of its $188,000 a year price tag; saying that transparency for citizens costs a lot of money, but it is an important investment.

Opponents of the bill say that political theatre is an inherent part of committee meetings and events that take place on the floor, and having cameras will only enhance the showboating by legislators. Opponents also worry that with all the videos available to citizens, some may take bits and pieces of the footage and negatively twist it and then post it on social media.

Kansas is one of only three states that permit audio-only streaming from the House or Senate floor.

Supreme Court ruling drops in School Funding case

On Friday morning, the Kansas Supreme Court released their long awaited ruling in the Gannon vs. State case, which challenged the constitutionality of the level of public school funding by the state.

The ruling stated in part what we expected: the Kansas Legislature has failed to equitable finance K-12 public schools. A deadline was established for July 1 for executive and legislative branches to agree on measures to fully fund capital outlay and supplemental aid provisions, also known as the local equalization fund, to the tune of $129.1 million. This money is aimed in great part at offsetting the difference between property-rich and property-poor school districts. If we fail to meet this deadline, the district court will take action as “it deems appropriate” in order to correct the inequities.

The issue of adequacy, however, was sent back to the Shawnee County District Court. Whether we are “adequately” funding our schools or not will be determined by several criteria, including what is known as the Rose Standards. This means that we will most likely be waiting several months more before  any ruling is dropped on the adequacy component.

The ruling is a whopping 110 pages, which I am currently studying closely so that I may better understand what is at stake. What the Kansas Supreme court made clear today is that we have not met our obligation to fund our schools in an equitable way. The task at hand is a daunting one, as we’ll have to find a way to equitably fund our schools after Gov. Brownback proposed and passed the largest cuts to education in state history.

The complete ruling can be found online by clicking here.

Keep in Touch

It is a special honor to serve as your representative. I value and need your input on the various issues facing state government in order to better serve my district and this state. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions. My office address is Room 173-W, 300 SW 10th St 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@ks.house.gov. You can also follow the legislative session online and find many useful resources at www.kslegisture.org