We’ve reached “halftime” of the 2014 Kansas Legislative Session, known more formally as “Turnaround”. This is the midpoint of the session where most bills must be passed out of their originating chamber and then be considered by the other.
As with any year, the last week prior to turnaround was a busy one. We considered a large array of bills, particularly on Wednesday and Thursday. We made swift work, and I want to commend Speaker Merrick on getting us through things in a timely fashion.
We will returned today, and the next important deadline is March 21st. By then, our committee work must be complete.
With that as a quick recap, here are the details of what happened in the last week:
Kansas Revenue Exceeds Estimates
The Kansas Department of Revenue says that overall revenue collections were $97.6 million more than projected. Kansas collected $329 million in February, when estimated amounts were just about $231 million. So far, in this fiscal year, Kansas has collected $3.62 billion in revenues, compared to the $3.5 billion projected.
This is a very good sign for the Kansas economy and an indication that policies which make Kansas competitive and encourage growth are important.
Another positive note was the growth in Kansas exports which is one of the metrics used to gage an economy. Last year proved to be a record setting year with Kansas posting a 6.46% increase over 2012 and totaling $12.45 billion, the second largest in state history. Robust export growth has continued to thrive on Kansas staples, airplanes and agriculture. The aircraft manufacturing industry was the largest exported commodity at $1.8 billion. The largest foreign market for Kansas made goods continues to be Canada with more than a 1/5 of all exports making their way north. China jumped from 5th in 2010 to 2nd last year, which is our fastest growing market. Mexico and Japan rounded out 3rd and 4th on the Kansas export list. When looking at the five-state region around Kansas, the average yearly export total was $9.67 billion in 2013, which Kansas surpassed by more than $2.7 billion. The best year ever for Kansas exports was 2008 with $12.47 billion
Here is a highlight of a few of the bills we worked this week. In each case, I indicate how I voted.
Warrant Affidavits - House passed HB 2555, which would open arrest and search warrant affidavits to the public, unless the prosecutor successfully petitions the judge to seal the affidavits. Thus, the government would have the burden of proof to keep the affidavits secret rather than the public having the burden of proof to make the affidavits open. The affidavits outline the reasons police give to judges to obtain either an arrest warrant or a search warrant. Currently, Kansas law treats these affidavits as closed documents unless they can be obtained through a court order. HB 2555 would change the law to open these affidavits to the public
This bill stems from a case in Johnson County where a family was subject to a SWAT style raid on their home by Johnson County sheriff deputies. Deputies raided the home on April 20th 2012, holding the couple and their children at gun point. The couple testified in the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee how the deputies where very aggressive and unprofessional in their conduct during the raid which subsequently turned up a tomato garden in the basement, not drugs. The deputies left with no explanation for why their house had been targeted and raided. The couple learned later state law does not require the statements made by law enforcement officers about probable cause in warrants to be made public, meaning they had no way to find out why their house was raided.
HB 2555 would make government – in particular, law enforcement activities – more transparent. Research done of at least forty other states’ laws indicates that Kansas may very well be the only state in the union whose warrant affidavits are closed documents. Transparency is often an effective check against government abuse. In the cases of making arrests and searching private property, the added check this bill would provide is important to Kansans.
The House passed HB 2555 on Thursday, February 27th by a vote of 113-10. I voted yes.
KanCare Prompt Pay - On Thursday, the House passed legislation that would ensure that doctors, nursing homes and hospitals are better able to manage their finances by ensuring Managed Care Organizations (MCO) under KanCare pay claims in a timely manner. HB 2552 would require the MCOs to pay most claims within thirty days and all other claims within ninety days. Also contained in the bill is a provision requiring that 12 percent interest be paid on late payments. This bill is good policy that will keep state government and its contractors accountable for money owed.
The House passed HB 2552 on Thursday, February 27th by a vote of 123-0. I voted yes.
Rural Opportunity Zones - In 2011, Governor Sam Brownback proposed a plan to stop the outward migration of our rural communities by providing tax cuts and school loan repayments to entice out of state people to move into rural communities. When the plan passed, outward migration had been about 16%. Supporters of the plan argue success, as this migration has since slowed to 4%.
HB 2417 identified 3 more counties which would benefit economically from such a designation. This included Montgomery, Labette, and Cherokee counties which are home to many manufacturing facilities. However, much of the workforce lives out of state. The intent of this bill is positive – helping these companies recruit and retain a skilled workforce in Kansas into good middle class jobs.
However, I remain skeptical about the ever continuing expansion of this plan, which picks winners and losers between counties and is a governmental attempt at social engineering by trying to direct where people should live through tax policy. I am not completely comfortable with that approach.
The House passed HB 2417 on Thursday, February 27th by a vote of 104-19. I voted no.
Property Tax Reform - On Wednesday, the House passed legislation that would statutorily define for property tax purposes commercial and industrial machinery and equipment to include such property used directly in the manufacture of cement, lime or similar products. There are two cement companies headquartered in Kansas – one in Neosho County and one in Allen County. HB 2456 would help protect these companies from being assessed excessively high property taxes.
One of these companies saw its plant’s commercial and industrial machinery and equipment unilaterally reclassified as real estate in 2012, doubling its tax bill. This company, which operates in eight states, is now paying sixty percent of the total property taxes it pays in Neosho County. The aim of HB 2456 is to keep these two American owned companies in Kansas and to ensure that their competitiveness with out-of-state cement companies is not unduly hampered.
The House passed HB 2456 on Wednesday, February 26th by a vote of 100-23. I voted yes.
Pharmacy Licensing – From time to time, we vote on seemingly non-controversial bills that have good intentions but nonetheless grow government or provide it too much power. In my view, HB 2561 is one of those bills.
HB 2561 would amend the Kansas Pharmacy Act to allow the Board of Pharmacy (Board), through rules and regulations, to change the timing of expiration dates for pharmacist licenses, registrations for pharmacy technicians, and registrations and permits for other entities regulated by the Board, and to allow for the prorating of fees for license and registration periods less than those established; set maximum fees for renewal of certain registrations and for the issuance of duplicate permits and registrations; remove language providing for a single registration for a manufacturer or distributor of any drugs operating more than one facility in the state or for a parent entity with divisions, subsidiaries or affiliate companies within the state under specific circumstances; remove the registration and fee requirements for pharmacy students; establish registration requirements, disciplinary measures, and other requirements for pharmacist interns; and make technical amendments.
The bill passed 105-18. While there were parts of the bill that I didn’t have an issue with, I voted no. I believed it handed too much rules and regulatory authority to an unelected board.
Kansas Healing Arts and Physician Assistant Licensing – Another example of a bill that I believe represented an unnecessary growth in government was HB 2673. This bill would update and modernize provisions and terminology in the Kansas Healing Arts Act (HAA) and the Kansas Physician Assistant Licensure Act. The changes that would be made by the bill include, in part, terminology and definition changes, requiring participation in the Health Care Stabilization Fund as a “health care provider”, replacing the statutory limitation on the number of Physician Assistants (PAs) that could be supervised by a physician and directing the Kansas State Board of Healing Arts (Board) to establish regulations imposing limits appropriate to different patient care settings, making uniform the administrative and regulatory structures among the 13 health professions licensed by the Board, addressing the discipline of professions regulated by the Board and of PAs, and creating a new category of physician “re-entry” license and new licensure designations for PAs.
The bill passed 105-18. I voted no. Much like the previous bill, while there were many parts of the bill that were not objectionable, I felt the overall powers given to the Board of Healing Arts under this bill were so expansive to warrant caution.
State Fossils - HB 2595, as amended, would designate the Tylosaurus as the official state marine fossil and the Pteranodon as the official state flying fossil. The bill was introduced by the House Committee on Vision 2020. While I appreciated the attempt at education behind the bill, I didn’t believe the designation was warranted. The bill passed 96-27. I voted no.
Blue Alert Syste - HCR 5029 would declare that the Kansas Legislature urges the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to establish a Blue Alert system. A Blue Alert would be issued after four criteria are met:ul>
A law enforcement officer is killed or seriously injured;
An investigating law enforcement agency determines that the offender poses a serious risk or threat to the public or law enforcement personnel;
A description of the offender’s vehicle, vehicle tag, or partial tag is available to broadcast to the public; an
An investigating law enforcement agency of jurisdiction recommends activation of the Blue Alert.
The resolution notes that Kansas already has in place similar alert systems, including the Amber Alert for abducted children and the Silver Alert for missing senior citizens. Additionally, 18 states have a Blue Alert system in place, while other states and the federal government are considering the establishment of a Blue Alert system.
The resolution passed 121-2. I voted yes.
There were a number of other bills considered. You can see the full list in the Journals from Wednesday and Thursday on www.kslegislature.org. If you have any questions about any bill, don’t hesitate to ask.
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