Melanie Meier's Adventures in the Statehouse
Kansas House of Representatives
Melanie Meier's Adventures in the StatehouseKansas House of RepresentativesVolume 2013, Issue 6: February 18 - 22, 2013 In This Issue - Snowy Week- Veterans, Military & Homeland Security- Repealing Bills Passed Last Year?- Transportation and Highway Patrol Budgets- More Interesting Bills in the House- Keep in Touch Snowy Week As we near "turn around" day in the Statehouse, the House ofRepresentatives has only passed 38 bills out favorably to the Senate so far. To date there have been 377 bills introduced in the House. The snow on Thursday cancelled two days of hearings and working bills so we have to finish the remainder by Wed at noon this coming week. The Speaker of the House is maintaining his goal to have the session done in 80 days this year so we will have some long days this week to catch back up. Veterans, Military & Homeland Security Tuesday morning I testified in the Senate Transportation Committee on SB136 that would allow a veteran to place the designation of VETERAN on their driver's license. The original version of the bill would have put VETERAN into a hologram on the back and would have cost in excess of a million dollars to design. After testimony by my Chairman of the House Veterans Committee, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs and several Veteran organizations, the Senate worked the bill and passed it out favorably for debate in the full Senate. Tuesday, we have the hearing for HB2309 which is the House version of the bill in the Veterans Committee. Everyone seems to be on board that similar to the other 42 states that offer this to their veterans, it should be voluntary to place VETERAN on the front of the driver's license for verification of status for veterans who have not retired nor receive benefits from the VA. The bill also allows the DMVto share the list of veterans with the KCVA so that they can build their database of Kansas Veterans that they use to contact veterans about earned benefits and programs available to them. Veterans Committee also held a hearing on the grant funding for theVeteran Service Representatives that are located throughout the Kansas VA hospitals. The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars spokespersons did a great job explaining the history of the program and its importance to the committee, which is made up of many freshmen legislators this year who did not know about the KCVA or Veteran Representatives. This program saves the state money by providing American Legion and VFW employees and their office space to process veteran claims and education assistance applications to the federal system with over a 90% success rate of first time submissions. For a small investment in the grant, the state pulls in hundreds of millions of dollars to veterans in Kansas, our post secondary education, and our economy. Repealing Bills Passed Last Year? This week in Corrections & Juvenile Justice Committee we had a hearing on HB2277 that would repeal a bill we just passed last year. The bill last year gave the Juvenile Justice Authority the ability to have their own special investigators with law enforcement training and authority to conduct searches, handle evidence, and make arrests. Last year the JJA convinced the legislature that they needed this ability but now they are saying it is too expensive to send the investigators to the training.When questioned on the cost of the training, the answer was that theactual training is free but the JJA has to pay the person for the 14weeks while they are gone. The current statute states that it is up tothe JJA Commissioner's discretion if he or she even wants to have aninvestigator. Transportation and Highway Patrol Budgets This week we worked on the budgets for the Kansas Department ofTransportation (KDOT) and the State Highway Patrol in the Transportation & Public Safety Budget Committee. As usual, we started with the Governor's proposed budget and made changes. The Committee did not make much change to the proposed State Highway Patrol budget, but the Committee Chair had the agency compile a list of all their funds to figure out if they had enough already there to give the troopers a raise. During the Highway Patrol's earlier testimony they had stressed the difficulties they have faced with low recruitment due to low pay and their inability to pay for overtime and holiday pay. The committee determined that there was enough that could be pieced together from the various funds to give the troopers a 5% raise in 2014. Now the recommendation is at the House Appropriations Committee to see if they accept it or possibly sweep the funds for something else! When we started with KDOT our Committee Chair informed us and the Secretary of Transportation that he introduced a bill to keep the four tenths of a percent of sales tax that is supposed to go to KDOT'sT-WORKS plan in the State General Budget. The Secretary ofTransportation testified that if that bill were to pass, it may affectour current bond rate because a dedicated funding source is important in determining the ratings. The Secretary has requested an estimate of how much money the state would lose if the ratings went down. The Secretary also stated that he saved $13.5 million in salaries last year by laying off 36 employees in August 2012 and then placing the agency under a hiring freeze - Now when employees retire or quit, there is no replacement. As the Committee worked the budget, the list of transfers from the State Highway Fund to other agencies was pared down from the Governor's proposal and 100 full time positions were cut. Some of the transfers eliminated were: $3.5 million to the KBI for the initial planning and engineering for their new DNA laboratory; a several hundred thousand dollar transfer to The Adjutant General's Office of Emergency Communication Fund; $5 million to the Affordable Airfare fund for Wichita's airport; $9.75 million to mental health organizations; $15 million that the Governor says KDOT will save by absorbing the Kansas Turnpike Authority; and a couple million dollars from KS Dept of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism. These are recommendations to the full House Appropriations Committee to accept or not and if they do accept them, then they will either have to find the money in another part of the budget or recommend eliminating the program. More Interesting Bills in the House As I make my daily review of the House calendar, some of the bills that had hearings last week and some that are scheduled for the next couple of days caught my attention as bills you may want to watch. HB2244 is the follow up bill on the taxation of boats that Kansas amended its Constitution for last November. HB2185 deals with the consolidation of cities and counties. HB2271 changes municipal elections, makes them partisan and moves them to even number years. HB2371 eliminates the post secondary savings account incentive program that encourages low income families to save for their children's college/technical school tuition. HB2296 would raise the amount of money that lobbyists can spend on elected officials and what they have to report. HB2210 deals with changing your political party affiliation. Remember, you can watch them all at kslegislature.org. Keep in Touch You can track my activities on my website www.meier4kansas.com, my FaceBook page www.facebook.com/Meier4Kansas, and Twitterwww.twitter.com/melaniemeier. I am privileged and honored to be your voice in the Kansas Capitol. If I can ever be of assistance to you, please feel free to contact me at home or in Topeka. My office is on the 4th floor of the Capitol, Room 451-S. To write to me, my office address is Kansas State Capitol, Topeka, KS 66612. You can also reach me at the legislative hotline, 1-800-432-3924. Additionally, you can e-mail me firstname.lastname@example.org. And do not forget to follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org. If you need to directly contact a particular agency in state government, you can find useful telephone numbers online athttp://da.state.ks.us/phonebook.