WEEK 3 – THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS.
Week 3 of the 2012 session saw a noticeable increase in the pace of legislative business. Bills wind their way through committees and we already had a couple of final action votes on the floor attending to technical changes. More votes will be cast next week as the first session deadlines are fast approaching. February 10 is the last day to introduce new bills.
As per my past policy, I will keep you updated and informed about issues under consideration through the weekly newsletter which you can expect to receive by Sunday. As is my habit, I will indicate how I expect to vote. I ask that you understand that my final decision is not made until after floor debate and all amendments are contained in a bill. It happens occasionally that an amendment changes the intent of the original legislation to the extent that I need to change my mind. A parliamentary maneuver called “gut and go” literally eviscerates the entire content of a bill and inserts new language. This has lead to my having to vote against one of my own bills in past years.
This does not occur very often and therefore I try to alert you of my vote in advance hoping to elicit a response. Please provide feedback pro and con, it is important that I hear from you. Try to keep your messages civil and courteous and I’ll respond in kind.
THE CHILDREN’S AND FAMILY ISSUES COMMITTEE…
…which I have the honor to chair was busy last week. We introduced 7 bills, three of which deal with foster care and family restoration and grandparents rights, their standing in court and compensation for taking care of their grand children, one bill changes the statutes on the citizen’s advisory commission mandating quarterly meetings and publishing their findings. Members will now be appointed by the governor not the courts to assure greater independence. In addition, we introduced a measure which requires the Board of Education to promulgate rules and regulations on uniform separation and restraint of children in special education. A bill which puts parents in control of the education of their autistic kids by having the money follow the child was also introduced. The two bills by the attorney general dealing with human trafficking of minors for sexual exploitation, the sad topic we heard last week, will be assigned to the judiciary committee.
The committee will hold hearings on these and the other bills introduced before the deadline, to discuss, debate and vet them before voting on whether to recommend them for passage. Remember all committee meetings are open to the public and you are welcome to express your views by testifying.
THE FIRST VOTE
We went on General Orders for the first time last Wednesday and voted final action Thursday on HB 2412 Dissolving the City of Treece (residents were relocated by EPA.) HB 2436 Time limit for Corporation Commission to grant a certificate. Both are non controversial and passed unanimously.
OTHER COMMITTEE ACTION
The Federal and State Affairs Committee on which I serve is dealing with certain liquor issues, some of which seem to come up every year, i.e. should grocery and convenience stores be allowed to sell other than 3.2% beer and liquor. In addition, we heard spirited and passionate testimony over two days on an amendment to the Personal and Family Protection Act. This is the bill which allows concealed carry of a handgun. The amendment would allow permit holders to carry their firearm in any state or municipal building which is not secured by electronic screening. I’m certain the chair will work these bills.
The Social Service Budget Committee on which I also serve heard from the Secretaries of the Department on Ageing, KDHE and the Acting Secretary of SRS. There have been great changes in these departments through the governor’s Executive Reorganization Orders (ERO) and we expect a more efficient and leaner form of government because of them. It is also likely that the transition will be difficult. This is particularly true for SRS which lost its two top executives and some of the areas of responsibility which were transferred to other agencies. I got along well with the secretary who left and found him open to my suggestions, the new acting secretary Jeff Kahrs, seems competent and energetic and our relationship is off to a good start. I’m pleased because SRS is a $1.6 billion agency which was very poorly run during the previous administration.
We will be working on the budget for all these agencies and looking to do more with less. A complete audit of the contracts of the private firms handling foster care and adoption will be completed this summer and necessary changes should be following.
HB 2534 is before the Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee. The Speaker made this one of our priorities. Two year old Caylee Anthony disappeared in 2008 and her mother failed to report her missing for more than a month. Unfortunately many states, including Kansas, do not view this sort of negligence as a crime. The new law will impose criminal penalties for failing to notify law enforcement of the death or disappearance of a child. I look forward to supporting this bill when it comes to the floor.
THE REGENTS REPORTING REQUIREMENTS
HB 2533 is a reaction to the sex scandal at Penn State. It requires all state post secondary educational institutions to develop and adhere to reporting standards for cases of abuse. Makes sense to me and I’ll support it.
HOLD YOUR FIRE——-PLEASE!
There are some very controversial and contentious issues we need to address this session, among the ones which have touched a nerve in people are: the new approach to school funding, redistricting, tax reform, managed care provisions in Medicaid, KPERS, and the budget. The governor has proposed bold far reaching substantive programs and changes, for which he ought to be commended (remember his first year record: inheriting a $500 million revenue shortfall, yet he balanced the budget without a tax increase). Instead he gets criticized by the McClatchy papers.
I have also received several irate messages from constituents who are weighing in on these subjects. They are usually mad at something they fail to understand. Remember that none of the proposals have been finalized and that all are far from being ready to be acted on. The governor will not get everything he wants and both House and Senate will need to pass the necessary legislation. Please give me a chance to get the specifics before you chew me out. Not having seen the documentation, I can only respond in general terms.
School funding is not working as designed and Johnson County is a net payer to the rest of the state by a margin of four to one. It’s not all about money but change is absolutely needed. I would like to see consolidation of the 293 districts.
The tax reform proposals to a flatter, fairer, less complicated system leading to the abolition of individual and corporate income taxes – without increasing the sales tax — makes economic sense. It will grow the job market and make Kansas more competitive. The cost is that the 90+ exemptions and deductions are eliminated and everyone has a favorite. People forget the offset no income tax provides, which for wage earners may far exceed the loss of a deduction.
Dr Jeff Colyer, our Lieutenant Governor, has worked for the better part of a year to reorganize Medicaid and has produced a blue print for how we can successfully deal with a $600 million federal subsidy we’re losing (Missouri state government responded by cutting thousands off and reducing benefits, we’re doing neither). I believe his plan deserves a chance.
KPERS goes from defined benefit to defined contribution. This is happening nationwide and does not affect retirees or those vested. A tie-in 401K plan is also under consideration. This may well be advantageous to new employees.
My point is that these serious challenges must be met and I’m certain we’ll have lively debates until we reach compromise on all issues.
POINT OF PERSONAL PRIVILEDGE
On January 23rd, I made the following remarks on the House floor. They were recorded in the Journal and are now part of Kansas history:
“I rise to share some joyous news with you. Last week we heard from two proud grandfathers who introduced their grandchildren. I’ll do them even better—I want you to look at the picture of Ashlynn Christine Loomis, my great granddaughter. The candy bar coming with her picture is not nearly as sweet as she is (I had a picture and a candy put on everyone’s desk.)
My granddaughter Megan, mother of Ashlynn is 18 years old, as is the father. Our great granddaughter was born under less than ideal circumstances, but I’m proud that she was born at all. At no time did they consider terminating this pregnancy although it was inconvenient. Megan started nurse’s training last week rather than last fall. Ashlynn is a great blessing. I cannot adequately express what a joy and comfort it is for an old man to see a new life begin its terrestrial pilgrimage while his is about to end.
You may have seen my present license plate ‘OPA 7′ which will be replaced by ‘UR-OPA 1′ which means great grandpa of one.” The House responded with a standing ovation.
Feel free to visit. It is fine to drop in for a chat but I might be on the floor or in committee and not be available. If you call 785.296.7676, June Christesen, my faithful secretary, will schedule a meeting, tell you where to park, and arrange a tour of our beautiful Capitol. If desired, I can see that we have a photo op with the governor.
Last weeks visitors were:
Mark Squire, Mayor of Spring Hill
Bart Goering, Superintendent District 230
Ann Jensen, Head of the Spring Hill Chamber of Commerce
Dave Drovetta, Mayor of Gardner
Bill Sutton, Candidate for House of Representatives in Gardner
Steve Schutte, Libertarian activist, Gardner
Jim and Inge Neilson, Leawood
OPENING FOR PAGES
I have three dates for pages. To be a page, kids should be 10 to 16 years of age, must arrive in the Capitol by 8 a.m. for a briefing followed by a guided tour of the Capitol, then they go on the floor (parents to remain in the balcony) to assist, have a picture taken with the governor, have lunch and then return home. An educational and fun experience, most kids enjoy even more because it’s on a school day.
Interested? Call June at the number above.
I have finally seen the boundaries of the new districts in southern Johnson County but because they’re not official I cannot yet give details. The House will need to vote them into existence and we must act soon because there is a deadline to assure that overseas American citizens and military personnel get correct ballots. The entire process must be completed by May first.
What I can disclose (but not guarantee) is that the 43rd district will change. Edgerton will be represented by TerriLois Gregory from Baldwin City, and Gardner will be in a new district, hopefully represented by Bill Sutton. Knowing the good charter and work ethic of both, I am assured you will be well represented. I am still the incumbent in the new 43rd which will include new areas east of I-35 and the Johnson County part of Spring Hill.
It is my honor to have served Gardner and Edgerton these 8 years and I am grateful for the many constituents who became friends and supporters. I enjoyed and relish the often passionate encounters and discussions and I came to appreciate that 43rd district residents are not shy about voicing their opinion. I’m certain I disappointed some with a vote or two, that is inevitable but with rare exceptions our discourse ended amicably. Thank you for that, too.
I have often said that if you want perfection you need to run yourself (the filing deadline is early June). My own plans are open. I’ve been talking about retirement for the last two sessions but the temptation to go on is hard to ignore. I’ve largely recovered from my physical problems and God was gracious to let me keep my understanding in spite of a stroke. I’m 72 but I love the job and being part of House leadership helps to get things done.
I commute daily from Olathe which means I leave at 7 a.m. and get home at 6 p.m. The days in the Capitol are busy. I have a friend on the second floor in Governor Brownback which makes quitting harder. I’ll see how I hold up and God willing I’ll make the right decision in June.
THE LAST WORD
“Those who are not concerned with politics are condemned to be governed by their inferiors.” – Plato