ALL ALONE AND NO PLACE TO GO
As of Friday May 4, all administrative staff of the House was discharged, which means I will have no secretary during the (hopefully) last week of the session and will be harder to reach. Please use my personal email address for routine messages and requests. Do not expect the usual 24 hr response as I have to answer without help after a long day in session. For urgent, time sensitive discussions, call me while I’m on the floor at 1-785-296-7615. Please use discretion and understand that I will not be able to engage in long conversations and cannot take calls during final action voting.
HELL WEEK COMING UP
Inasmuch as we still have three major issues to resolve and bills to pass, leadership advised all legislators to rest up this weekend as we will be having long sessions. All nighters are not unusual and we have one or two every year debating and voting the omnibus appropriations (budget) bill which must pass to keep the government liquid, but this year in addition we still need to agree on a controversial tax reform bill, and wrestle with the 800 pound gorilla in the room: redistricting. We also have numerous routine bills passed by both chambers in committee to iron out differences. Once compromise is reached, both House and Senate must vote on them again before they can go to the governor for signature.
BAD HABITS DIE HARD
Marathon sessions and bundling of bills are traditions we ought to dispense. I joined with several representatives a couple of years ago in a motion to prohibit votes after midnight and to disallow bundling. It simply makes sense to be alert and awake when important bills come up and after 18-20 hours one is simply no longer sharp. Combining several bills with unrelated topics is equally objectionable. Last year I saw one such piece of legislation which contained 7 different bills, two of which I liked a lot, four of which I was not invested in and one I could not support. What to do? Anyway we failed to change the rules because of tradition. The consequence is that we sometimes pass defective laws and the first thing the new legislators must do is to correct mistakes made by the previous members.
ISSUE ONE: TAX REFORM
We have made substantial progress in a compromise which will satisfy the House, the Senate and the Governor. We might vote on it as early as Tuesday. While the details of the final bill are not complete I can tell you its main provisions:
- The income tax rate will be reduced at an accelerated rate
- All tax brackets will be lowered in Jan 2013, and will go from 3 to 2 brackets
- Tax on income up to $30,000 will go from 3.5 to 3%; those over $30,000 go to
- Current deductions and exemptions are kept, except for non- refundable tax credits
- EITC is not changed
- The sales tax increase will sunset as scheduled from 6.3% back to 5.6 %
- There is a new severance tax on oil wells production over 100 barrels/day
- Non wage income for LLC’S, S-Corps and sole proprietor ships will be eliminated up to $100,000.
My view is that we’re on the right path to an overhaul of our cumbersome and expensive system of taxation, but I’m not thrilled, I would prefer elimination of the 92 exemptions which cost the state more than $2.2 billion and a faster pace of eliminating investment and income tax in favor of taxes on consumption. Finally, I am not convinced that some economic projections and assumptions made to get the expected outcomes are realistic. We have also voted for property tax relief as previously reported and unless some unfortunate last minute changes are made I intend to vote for this plan.
ISSUE TWO: THE BUDGET
The House Appropriations Committee passed its final budget last Wednesday and sent it to the Senate. Their budget plan is also done. We expect to debate these bills Monday and hopefully vote out an acceptable bill, and then the conference committees will meet to iron out differences. This process is tedious as each line item is the result of months of work in subcommittees (one of which, the Social Service Budget Committee, I have served on for 4 years). I expect that we will reach a responsible budget within our means which will result in a surplus. I look forward to voting for the omnibus bill for the first time in 8 years.
ISSUE THREE: THE REDISTRICTING DILEMMA
One week after the Senate voted down the House map, we returned the favor and rejected the Senate version of their map. This might appear to be unseemly—only once before in Kansas history has one chamber voted against the other—it is indeed a serious issue.
The Senate drew a fatally flawed map that did anything but follow the guidelines such as maintaining communities of interest, maintain acceptable population deviations, no delusion of minority voting power, preservation of county and municipal boundaries or avoid pitting incoming Senators against each other. Their initial product gave us:
- a pro-life minority senator drawn into a freshman majority district
- deviations created where D or R drops 5 to 7%
- 32 of 40 districts have deviations in population over 3%
- collapsed a senate district and relocate it
- disenfranchised Hispanic voters in violation of the National Voting Rights Act, dividing the largest Hispanic district into 3 smaller districts thus creating the lowest population of Kansans of Hispanic descent
- the cities of Liberal and Dodge City divided into 3 districts
- and, the Senate admitted to drawing out known challengers, but two Senators used theatrics on the senate floor to amend back in only two of the known challengers.
These facts would most likely not withstand a court challenge. With a vote of 43-72 we killed this horrendous Senate product. While we passed our redistricting map February 9th on a bi-partisan basis after a 20 minute debate and a 114-9 vote, the Senate cannot find 21 votes to agree on theirs. The House has demonstrated the process works just fine. It is embarrassing we are the last state in country to redistrict.
The control of the Senate for the next 10 years is at stake and the entrenched leadership is doing everything possible to stay in power. There are 8 Democrats and 32 Republican senators but sufficient RINOS to prevent settlement on a fair and equitable solution. Communication between the respective leaders is frosty to say the least and the outlook is grim. I certainly hope a solution can be found before our sine die date of May 11th. The importance of this cannot be overstated as filing deadlines and printing of ballots for the military overseas require sufficient time. As of now nobody knows what district will be theirs to represent.
MY PERSONAL PROBLEM
I will not file before I know my district boundaries. As many of you know, I was recruited to run in 2004 after I had retired from my business. I’ve thought about retiring from the legislature. The problem is – I love the job and I have grown in it to make a difference. I accepted additional responsibilities with the chairmanship of a standing committee. I’m happy to report that after overcoming serious health issues, I have a perfect attendance record and accomplishments in working for disabled children. I’ve had a good session. With all my afflictions, God let me keep on working. My constituents have honored me and re-elected me with ever greater margins. It is hard to express my feelings of gratitude to the 28,000 people I represent.
Never the less, the work is physically demanding. Also there are financial considerations. In the past I have largely funded my campaigns myself and I have a deficit of over $50,000. I hesitate and hate to have to raise funds, but with grandkids going to college this year I would have little choice.
After lengthy discussions with my doctors, my family, my wife, and after counting my pennies I’ll announce, probably in the next newsletter. Messages of en/dis-couragement are welcome.
BILLS PASSED LAST WEEK
HB 2631 Expanded dental hygienist practices
HB 2471 Board of adult care administrators
H Sub SB 129 Drainage districts
SB 367 Jury selection
SB 14 Insurance
HB 2655 Kansas uniform trust code
SB 262 Grandparents rights in custodial cases (this is a bill I worked on for 2 years)
I supported all of the above and opposed the following which also passed:
HB 2454 Creates the Creative Arts Commission- As long as we cannot fund disabled children’s required programs I cannot support spending money on “arts”
SB 114 County Waste Management (JOCO county government disliked this bill)
Finally, I opposed HB 2730 Revision of the food service and lodging act which was defeated and re-referred to committee.
COMING UP (BESIDES BUDGET, TAXATION AND REDISTRICTING)
SB 313 No tax payer funds for abortion, I will support.
SB 314 Hunting, fishing license fees. NOTE: I had intended to oppose this bill which increases the age of exemption from paying for the license from 65 to 75 and told several constituents, before becoming aware that by rejecting this bill we lose $873,000 in federal funds for wildlife and fishery programs. All commitments I make are made on then existing facts and subject to change when new information becomes available. I will now support this bill.
SB 356 Home owned amusement rides
HB 2793 Credit services organization act
I SUCCEEDED IN MAKING EVERYONE MAD…
…over my vote on two tobacco bills. We voted for a resolution in committee to gather data on whether smokeless tobacco is less harmful than smoking. KDHE was to be asked to report to the legislature next year and they insisted they could do so without requiring additional funds. There is evidence that the disgusting habit of “snus”, a small tobacco pouch held in the mouth, is much less harmful than smoking. Opponents argued that the tobacco companies wanted only to increase sales. This would be true if smokers take up the habit and also continue smoking, false if they substitute one for the other. Anyway I felt “why not gather the information” since it doesn’t cost anything and make it available to smokers. Turns out the bill will not come to a vote.
The second bill HB 2690 was intended to relax some of the anti-smoking provisions of the Kansas clean air act. I thought we went too far in our attempt to restrict smoking, still a legal activity, and offered an amendment allowing smoking in bars and restaurants with separate smoking sections and separate exhaust systems. After spirited debate my amendment failed 11-13, thereupon I did not feel it necessary to make any changes in the current law. Predictably I was beaten up by both sides. Sometimes it seems you cannot please anyone.
THE LAST WORD
“The oversight provided by medical malpractice insurance is more comprehensive than that provided by direct government regulation.”
- Conclusion of a study by the Cato Institute