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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Statehouse news

  • The pace is picking up in Topeka. Several issues are coming to the forefront: judicial appointments, education funding, taxes, medicaid expansion, gun control, budget cuts, KPERS, and several others.
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  • The pace is picking up in Topeka. Several issues are coming to the forefront: judicial appointments, education funding, taxes, medicaid expansion, gun control, budget cuts, KPERS, and several others. It remains to be seen which issues will demand the most attention. I will try to give you some information on the issues as well as my positions as we go forward. Please let me know if you need more information or want to provide comments. 2013 Tax Policy: Governor's Proposal  This week the Governor released additional details regarding his tax plan which will be introduced in Assessment and Taxation early next week. In addition to tax relief of half-a-billion-dollars over five years, the Governor proposes using state revenue growth greater than 4 percent to ratchet rates down further until the state income tax is eliminated. In exchange for much lower income rates, the plan leaves the state sales tax flat at its current level and further simplifies the tax code by eliminating the mortgage interest and real estate deductions. With concerns growing over the elimination of these deductions, it should be noted an average of 70 percent of Kansans use the standard deduction and will not be impacted in any way by the elimination of itemized deductions. Changes to itemized deductions at the state level do not impact federal itemized deductions, which are much larger and still available to Kansans eligible to itemize. Furthermore, the value of itemized deductions at the state level is greatly reduced by the value of large reductions in overall tax rates and significant increases in standard deductions. - However, complete and immediate elimination of these deductions might not be the best path forward. The Senate is committed to providing further tax relief for Kansans and to creating a competitive business environment in our state. The private market is where true job creation is made and, in order for Kansas to be competitive, state government must leave more of Kansan's hard-earned money in their pockets. For too long Kansas' high taxes have driven businesses to other states where there is little or no state income tax -like Texas and Florida.
     
    School Efficiency Report  Last year the Governor appointed an 11-member task force to evaluate our state's finance and budgeting regarding education.
     
    This week the task force presented their final recommendations. These changes are geared toward putting more money in the classroom and less in administration and overhead costs.The group's 12 recommendations are:
    • Establish a statutorily-required two-year school funding cycle
    • Place a priority emphasis on the timely transfer of state payments to school districts in June and January
    • Conduct a study to reevaluate the state's open-ended obligation to equalization of school construction bond issues to provide the state with better visibility from a budgeting perspective
    • Conduct a study on implementing a state data management and accounting system that is integrated with K-12 school systems and post-secondary institutions for streamlined educational reporting of data flow/administrative processes
    • Restructure the operating parameters associated with the Capital Outlay Fund
    • Revise/narrow the Professional Negotiations Act to prevent it from hindering operational flexibility/resource assignment.
    • Legislatively eliminate, reduce and consolidate the statutory cash reserve accounts and separate fund accounts that currently exist, thereby ending the "use-it-or-lose-it" policy and allowing the funding contained in each fund category to be more broadly spent across the full variety of educational requirements. Accounts that remain, including the General Fund, should be allowed a modest amount of carryover from year to year
    • Authorize a study of school district administration personnel structures and positions. Develop a state plan for district-level administrative reorganization and alignment
    • Require that a university level finance/accounting/budget management course be included in district leadership licensing requirements, if not already included
    • Form a task force of education, finance, and legislative members to establish a commonly-accepted definition of "instruction" spending and review the 65 percent public policy goal figure
    • Place a limitation on duration of due process proceedings for special education hearings
    • Conduct an efficiency study/audit of the Kansas State Department of Education
    The legislature is currently reviewing a number of bills regarding education reform and will continue to work to ensure every child receives a good education. The recommendations are a resource for the legislature as we continue to review our state's education outcomes and support the best interest of the students. I will be filing a bill to outlaw the use of unreasonably restrictive specifications for the purpose of limiting competition in capital expenditures - which is costing the Kansas taxpayer millions in unnecessary expenditures. To review the full report, please visit: https://governor.ks.gov/docs/documents/school-efficiency-task-force-final-recommendations-01-21-13.pdf?sfvrsn=4Drug Testing for Government Assistance
    Page 2 of 3 - An increasing number of states have adopted, or are considering, measures to ensure government assistance is being used for its intended purposes. In 2012 alone, 28 states considered legislation regarding drug testing of welfare (TANF) and food stamp (SNAP) recipients. Kansas will be among those states considering similar policies this session. The bill, expected to be introduced early next week, would prohibit an individual who fails a drug test from receiving assistance until they have completed drug treatment and job training programs. A second failed drug test would result in the individual having their assistance suspended for a year. Long term suspension would be for recipients who fail a third, or subsequent, drug test. In instances where a parent fails a drug test, the portion of cash assistance allocated for their children could go to a third party to administer on the child's behalf. Last February, Congress approved a measure allowing states to drug-test individuals who receive unemployment benefits. Under this proposal, Kansas would require potential employers who have a job applicant fail or refuse to take a drug test report that outcome to the Kansas Department of Labor. Failure of or refusal to take the drug test would result in the individual losing their unemployment benefits until they complete drug treatment and job training programs. This provision is similar to laws already enacted in Mississippi, Georgia, Arizona and Indiana. The proposal is not intended to be punitive to those who rely on these programs but to identify those with substance abuse problems and assist them in getting the help and job skills needed to be productive members of the job market. I anticipate healthy debate on this matter and will do all I can to make certain the end result is a responsible, targeted approach that ensures assistance goes to individuals and families who truly need it. Anti-Human Trafficking Laws  This week, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and Attorney General Derek Schmidt introduced language strengthening the state's human trafficking statutes, with an emphasis on protecting children from commercial sexual exploitation. Senate Bill 61, if passed, would establish a Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Fund to provide support for those victimized by human trafficking. The fund will be paid for through mandatory fines by individuals convicted of human trafficking and related sex crimes. The bill also provides for special Child in Need of Care procedures for children who have been subjected to human trafficking and expedites expungement procedures for those convicted of selling sexual relations, if they were subject to coercion. A new crime of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of a Child is created in the bill, increasing the penalties of the existing crimes of patronizing a prostitute and promoting prostitution of person under the age of 18. Additionally, the bill includes training and tools for law enforcement to combat human trafficking. The bill is waiting on a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. I look forward to supporting this legislation as it is an essential tool for protecting children. Armed Forces Appreciation Day  On Wednesday, the Governor proclaimed Armed Forces Appreciation Day. The Senate was greeted by guest Chaplain Colonel Lawrence C. Dennis of the Kansas National Guard who delivered the invocation. With several thousand Kansans serving in active duty, reserve duty, and the National Guard, both Army and Air, the impact of our service personnel to our state cannot be overstated. The five military installations in Kansas: Forbes Field, Fort Leavenworth, Fort Riley, Great Planes Joint Training Center, and McConnell Air Force Base have an economic impact of more than $8 billion. I am working to help make sure that the real and the potential economic contributions of Fort Leavenworth, the Leavenworth VA Center, and related activities are fully appreciated in Topeka.
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    Mental Health.
     
    We need to get a better assessment of what is needed and the costs of not properly addressing the issue - we are only shifting the costs to other, and often inappropriate, parts of the budget. I will continue to pursue this issue. See the article in the Capitol Journal at http://cjonline.com/news/state/2013-01-26/mentally-ill-kansas-prisons-more-double-2006.Second Amendment Rights Protection
    There are number of bills at various stages of development and I have attended coordination meetings where it is clear that strong protection of Second Amendment rights will be put into effect this session. I will continue to support the strongest possible defense of our rights. Thank you for the honor of serving you!  I encourage you to contact me. It's always fun to have visitors in the building and you're welcome anytime we're in session. I am in Room 135 E. Please call ahead and let us know you are coming so we can work the schedule - call (800) 432-3924 and leave a message, we'll get back to you.
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