Legislative update from Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-5th Dist.

Opinion column

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald

by Sen. Steve Fitzgerald

Thumbs down on property taxes

Small businesses rank property taxes among the most despised taxes because they pay the tax whether they are producing income or not. NFIB’s most recent Small Business Problems and Priorities, a publication with extensive research on the problems facing small businesses, property taxes were the 8th most concerning issue, which was just ahead of state income tax rates at 9th. https://www.nfib.com/content/news/kansas/nfib-small-businesses-cant-afford-higher-property-taxes/

I was privileged to have supper with former Congressman Barry Goldwater again this year during his visit to the Kansas Capitol. He represented California in better times and now lives in Arizona.

The big item in the Senate this week was the Convention of States resolution that ultimately failed to gain the constitutionally necessary two-thirds vote. Opposition to the resolution included very liberal Democrats and Republicans and a few very conservative Republicans. Two conservative senators made excellent statements about the potential problems with the resolution And, I hope those problems are adequately addressed before this resolution comes back, as I think it will.

The states’ rising demand for a convention to amend the Constitution is a healthy expression of the frustration of the people concerning the national debt and other issues. That concern should cause the election of candidates that will address the issues and address the frustrations. Who we elect is the most important part of self-government.

Quick facts
• 34 percent decrease in the total juvenile out-of-home population between July 2016 and July 2017 in Kansas, including reductions in detention facilities, group homes, and secure state-run juvenile correctional facilities (Pew Trusts)

• Mediware Health Care growing and moving to a new location in Johnson County; it is expected to grow the local workforce by 368 jobs within the next 10 years (Kansas City Star)

• Corporate tax receipts down $9.66 million below expectations for this fiscal year, but are $14.92 million over this time last year (Department of Revenue)

• Jobs spiked 313,000 in February. The Trump economy continues to boom, adding 313,000 jobs in February, easily beating expectations. The unemployment rate remained at 4.1 percent. (Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/03/09/nonfarm-payrolls-february.html)

• Midwest Business Conditions Index rose in February, pointing to continued improvement in regional economic conditions. The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota. (Source: https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/midwest/2018/03/02/482258.html)

• The 2018 National Right to Life Convention will be in Overland Park, Kansas, from June 28 to 30. For more information, visit http://nrlconvention.com/.

Floor action

Microbrewery contracting (HB 2470): House Bill 2470 allows Kansas microbreweries to contract with other microbreweries to sell and package beer and hard cider. The legislation regulates the amount of beer and hard cider that can be transported between facilities. This bill passed the Senate 39-0.

Cereal malt beverage sale regulations (HB 2502): House Bill 2502 allows cereal malt beverage (no more than 6.0 percent alcohol volume) licenses to be subject to state and local taxes instead of the state liquor tax. This bill passed the Senate 39-0.

Convention of States (SCR 1611): Senate Concurrent Resolution 1611 makes the application to the Congress of the United States to call a convention for the purpose of proposing amendments to the Constitution of the United States that impose limits on the federal government. This bill failed 22-16 (The resolution needed 27 votes or two-thirds in favor to pass). I voted for this bill.

Republican senator goes independent

Sen. John Doll (I- Garden City) changed his party affiliation from Republican to independent to join Greg Orman’s independent ticket for governor. In 2006, Doll ran as a Democrat for U.S. Congress against Jerry Moran in District 1. From 2010 to 2011 Doll served as the mayor of Garden City and then in the Kansas House of Representatives as a Republican from 2013 to 2016. Doll has been in the Kansas Senate since 2016.

In accordance to Senate Rule 22, the following senators have replaced Sen. Doll in his committees:
• Education Committee: Sen. Larry Alley – Vice Chair
Sen. Bruce Givens
• Ethics, Elections, and Local Government Committee: Sen. Susan Wagle
• Transportation Committee: Sen. Dan Goddard – Vice Chair
Sen. Ty Masterson
• Ways and Means Committee: Sen. Susan Wagle

Qualifications for certain statewide offices

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Ethics, Elections and Local Government held a hearing on HB 2539 concerning qualifications for candidates seeking certain statewide offices. The bill provides for a minimum age to run for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, and insurance commissioner. Currently, there is no age requirement.

Listen in and look it up

Below are links to make it easy to follow the Kansas Legislature:

Website – www.kslegislature.org.
Great for looking up bills, calendars, journals, as well as the Roster in each Chamber. And – you can check rosters, bills, etc. in previous years as well.
YouTube of Legislature – http://bit.ly/2CZj9O0 The YouTube page has an archive of the sessions thus far – including the State of the State and the State of the Judiciary.
Committee Streaming – http://sg001harmony.sliq.net/00287/Harmony/en/View/Calendar/
The Kansas Legislature is also streaming committees, with every committee room equipped with audio streaming technology.

This week

• Hearing on: SCR 1612, urging the state corporation commission to lower retail electric rates to regionally competitive levels – [Senate Commerce Committee, March 12 at 8:30 a.m.]
• Hearing on: HB 2441, audits of state agencies; financial-compliance audits; Kansas lottery security audit; selection of auditors, contracts with – [Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, March 12 at 10:30 a.m.]
• Hearing and staff briefing on (written testimony only): HB 2579, providing compensation for a person who was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned – [Senate Judiciary Committee, March 12 at 10:30 a.m.]
• Hearing and staff briefing on (written testimony only): HB 2571, regulating access to certain law enforcement audio and video recordings – [Senate Judiciary Committee, March 12 at 10:30 a.m.]
• Discussion on: Higher education budget – [Senate Ways and Means Committee, March 12 at 10:30 a.m.]
• Hearing on: SB 423, amending the Kansas school equity and enhancement act by eliminating the 10% at-risk floor and expanded uses of capital outlay – [Senate Select Committee on Education Finance, March 12 at 3:30 p.m.]

Tuesday –
• Hearing on: HB 2691, modifying notification requirements for the division of water resources regarding multi-year flex accounts and water right applications – [Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, March 13 at 8:30 a.m.]
• Hearing on: Sub HB 2040, increasing the penalties for subsequent violations of traffic regulations prohibiting improper passing of school buses – [Senate Transportation Committee, March 13 at 8:30 a.m.]
• Pending referral, hearing on: SB 437, concerning sales and compensating use tax; relating to exemptions, sales of currency, certain coins or bullion -[Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee, March 13 at 9:30 a.m.]
• Hearing on: (proponents) HB 2506, rehabilitation of abandoned property by cities – [Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee, March 13 at 9:30am]
• Hearing on: HB 2639, allowing KDHE to collect a fee for fingerprinting individuals maintain or residing, working or regularly volunteering at a child care facility – [Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, March 13 at 9:30 a.m.]
• Hearing on: SB 436, providing Medicaid coverage for cessation treatments – [Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, March 13 at 9:30 a.m.]
• Hearing on: HB 2581, increasing criminal penalties for the crime of giving a false alarm in certain circumstance – [Senate Judiciary Committee, March 13 at 10:30 a.m.]
• Hearing on: Sub HB 2359, enacting the Kansas cybersecurity act for executive branch agencies – [Senate Ways and Means Committee, March 13 at 10:30 a.m.]

Wednesday –
• Hearing on: SB 362, exempting labor from depreciation in certain property and casualty insurance claims – [Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee, March 14 at 9:30 a.m.]
• Hearing on: HB 2465, designating Kansas commission on veteran’s affairs office employees as safety sensate positions subject to drug screening – [Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, March 14 at 10:30 a.m.]
• Hearing on: HB 2459, amending the Kansas standard asset seizure and forfeiture act and establishing the Kansas asset seizure and forfeiture repository – [Senate Judiciary Committee, March 14 at 10:30 a.m.]
• Hearing on: HB 2419, state finances; transfers to and expenditures from the budget stabilization fund; transfers to the Kansas public employees retirement fund – [Senate Ways and Means Committee, March 14 at 10:30 a.m.]
• Hearing on: HB 2602, creating the legislative task force on dyslexia – [Senate Education Committee, March 14 at 1:30 p.m.]

Thursday –
• Hearing on: Sub HB 2147, providing an income tax refund for certain Native American veterans – [Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee, March 15 at 9:30 a.m.]
• Hearing on: HB 2505, cities; when mayor is considered part of the governing body for voting purposes – [Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee, March 15 at 9:30 a.m.]
• Hearing on: HB 2597, Sedgwick county designated an urban area – [Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee, March 15 at 9:30 a.m.]
• Hearing on: HB 2481, updating the Kansas adoption and relinquishment act – [Senate Judiciary Committee, March 15 at 10:30 a.m.]
• Hearing on: SB 424, establishing the office of education inspector general – [Senate Education Committee, March 15 at 1:30 p.m.]

Friday –
• Hearing on: SB 435, permitting real estate brokers and salespersons to give clients or customers rebates if disclosed in the purchase contract or listing agreement – [Senate Commerce Committee, March 16 at 8:30 a.m.]
• Hearing on: HB 2524, allowing petitions for a protection from abuse order to include a request for transfer of rights to a wireless telephone number –[Senate Utilities Committee, March 16 at 1:30 p.m.]
• Presentation on: Joint Senate Select Committee on Education Finance & House K-12 Education Budget Committee – [Senate Select Committee on Education and Finance, March 16 at 1 p.m.]

Session dates and deadlines

Friday, March 23 Last day for non-exempt committee consideration
March 26-28 On floor all day
Thursday, March 29 On floor all day; Last day to consider non-exempt bills not in originating chamber
Friday, March 30 No Session
Friday, April 6 Drop dead day; first adjournment
Thursday, April 26 Veto Session begins
Thursday, May 4 Day 90

The other house

On Tuesday, March 6, the House Taxation Committee held a hearing on HB 2740, a bill which increases the statewide property tax levy for K-12 education. Under the bill, the statewide mill levy, currently at 20.00 mills, increases in stages – to 26.76 mills in school year 2018-19, to 32.82 mills in school year 2019-20, and eventually increase to 38.43 mills in school year 2020-21.

Last year, Kansans were forced to accept a massive $1.2 billion retroactive tax increase, even affecting those with low incomes. On top of that, many Kansans are facing higher property taxes because of a controversial valuation process. To further burden hard-working taxpayers of Kansas by sharply hiking the statewide mill levy is unacceptable. If the House passes this bill I will speak and vote against it in the Senate. We are taxed enough already!

On Thursday, March 8, the Kansas House adopted HB 2757, repealing common sense reforms enacted in 2014 that enhanced local control by providing local school boards the authority to negotiate due process for teachers. HB 2757 reverses that, usurping local control and creating a statewide mandate on an issue best left up to school districts.

In the interest of transparency the House passed Sub for HB 2572, requiring the Department of Commerce to establish a database with information on economic development incentive programs, including certain income tax credits and locally-granted property tax exemptions in addition to various programs administered directly by the Department. The bill passed 114-7.

The House also passed HB 2416, which provides tax credits for companies that hire blind and disabled workers, or both. To qualify under the bill’s provisions, businesses must primarily do business in Kansas and have a workforce where 30 percent possess a disability. This would be certified by the Department of Commerce. The bill passed unanimously.

House leadership releases Kansas Safe and Secure Schools Act
HB 2773, the Kansas Safe and Secure Schools Act, was introduced in the House last week. It creates the school safety and security grant fund, requires the State Board of Education to develop statewide requirements for public school buildings and requires public school districts to adopt a comprehensive school safety plan, based on the SBOE requirements.

The act also allows school districts to provide firearm safety programs and adds an additional 2 FTE to the Department of Education for the management of the Safe and Secure Schools Act.
Details of HB 2773
• Creates the School Safety and Security Grand Fund, which the State Board of Education will administer.
• Allows for $5.0 million to be used for infrastructure improvements and training.
• State Board of Education will develop statewide requirements for public school buildings, which shall include, but are not limited to; building infrastructure, technology and communication systems.
• School district will be required to adopt a comprehensive school safety plan based on the SBOE requirements, which should include:
o Staff training
o Emergency drills
o Communication procedures
o Lockdown procedures
o Evacuation procedures
o Evaluation of building infrastructure
o Review of existing emergency procedures
o Recovery procedures and distribution of safety plan

• HB 2773 authorizes school districts to provide firearm safety education programs, such as the Eddie Eagle program or any other evidence-based program.
• HB 2773 also adds 2 FTE to the Department of Education to manage the School Safety and Security Act, with a cost of $300,000 annually.

School safety and the protection of our children are of the utmost importance to us all. HB 2773 is a good first step in looking at ways to harden and protect our schools from those intent on doing evil.
Crime research statistics show us the 96.2 percent of school shootings from 1998 to 2015 have occurred in “gun-free zones.” “Gun-free zones” are soft targets, which allow those intent on doing harm the guarantee that they will not be met with armed resistance.
Nine states, including Kansas, already allow teachers the ability to carry a firearm to protect students. Kansas, Wyoming, Texas, Oregon, Utah, New Hampshire, Arizona, Alaska and Rhode Island have laws in place that allow teachers and other school district employees to carry concealed firearms. In Texas alone, over 170 school districts have implemented policies that allow for the increased protection of their students by teachers and district employees.
Florida, Kentucky, Colorado, North Carolina and Alabama are currently looking at joining Kansas as states that will allow teachers and school employees the ability to provide a last-line of defense to protect students.

Adoption protection bills await committee action

HB 2687 and SB 401 ensure that faith-based adoption providers are allowed to continue to operate in accordance to their sincerely held religious beliefs. Seven states have passed similar laws to protect faith-based adoption providers. The legislation is modeled after the Virginia law passed in 2012.
Neither HB 2687 nor SB 401 have been heard yet in committee.
From Kansas Catholic Conference: Protect Adoption Choice
Thousands of children in the U.S foster system are in desperate need of a safe place to call home, particularly minority children, older children, and those with disabilities. Faith-based adoption agencies in Kansas have been giving these children forever homes for over 60 years.

Sadly, other states have implemented policy changes that prevent faith-based providers from serving in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs. Catholic Charities’ adoption ministry was forced to shut down after 100 years of serving in Boston. Agencies in San Francisco, Illinois, and DC have also been forced to close because of their policy of only placing children in homes where they will have the lifetime benefit of a married mom and a dad.

Legislation being considered by the Kansas Legislature will ensure that faith-based agencies are free to serve the common good as they have for decades This bill does not change existing policy related to foster care or adoption, rather it protects against any future policies that might target faith-based providers for their religious beliefs.

* Groups like the ACLU want to use the full force of the U.S. Government to shut down agencies they disagree with.

* Faith-based adoption services are particularly effective in placing special needs and hard to place children.

* More providers means more children placed in forever homes.

* When a birth mother’s desire for her child is a faith-filled home with a forever mom and dad, hostile political activists should not be allowed to stand in her way.

* Shutting faith-based agencies down only limits birth mother choices and does not increase access for anyone.

* LGBT couples have the legal right to adopt in all 50 states. Nothing in this bill changes that.

* This bill simply allows faith-based providers to continue serving the common good by recruiting, training, and retaining families for children.

Find more information at http://www.protectadoptionchoice.org/

Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-5th Dist, represents part of Leavenworth County and part of western Wyandotte County.