The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Adventures int the Statehouse

  • The legislature reached turnaround day last Friday.
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  • Turnaround
    The legislature reached turnaround day last Friday. Turnaround is the last day to debate and pass bills in each chamber before sending them to the other. Next week we will start hearings on the Senate bills we received over the weekend. With a couple of snowy days recently, the House had to work overtime to get as many of the bills completed as
    I counted 92 bills that passed the House and headed to the Senate this past week! We debated a few more than that, but occasionally a bill that makes it to the House floor for debate does not survive to a final action vote. The Speaker did "bless" a few bills that we did not
    finish, so those bills will remain on the House calendar for possible
    debate despite it being past the deadline.
    Military Student Second Count
    One bill that made it through the House and is on its way to the Senate is HB2109. You probably won't read about it in the headlines but it is a very important bill to our community and other communities near military installations. It passed 109 to 14 and had the full support of our local Representatives. All HB2109 does is extend for 5 years, the practice of counting the children of active duty military in grades K-12 a second time in the spring. The purpose is to provide extra funding to local schools if there is a large increase of students since the fall due to military transfers. This practice started about 8 years ago when the nation's conflicts caused tremendous turnover of military families and the added stress of multiple deployments. Now it is important that the Senators from areas without a military installation understand the bill and vote to continue the second count.
    Some background information: the federal government actually provides federal impact aid to the state to help pay for the education of the children of active duty service members. This is because the vast majority of active duty service members are not residents of the state and do not pay income tax here (and for those who live on the
    installation - no property tax). In Kansas, the state keeps 70% of that money and spreads it out to all schools in the state as part of its
    equalization process. The schools with the military children actually
    only get their share of the remaining 30%. This 30% share is extremely important to our Fort Leavenworth school district, because they have no way to raise local money or issue bonds. There are no property tax payers on the installation. In fact, when the state raises its portion of the state Local Option Budget, the Fort Leavenworth school district has to pay its share of the state LOB out of its portion of the 30% of federal impact aid. So when you hear about any raise in the state portion of LOB, it is actually a cut in funding for Fort Leavenworth schools!
    Page 2 of 4 - There were opponents to HB2109. They feel it is not fair that the
    military students are counted a second time in order to adjust the
    funding. Opponents say they understand and appreciate the military and the extra stresses their children go through by moving so often, having one or more parents gone and in harm's way for long periods of time, and others living with a parent that never returns or returns severely wounded; but these opponents feel the military already has too much special treatment and are opposed to the second count.
    The supporters of HB2109 pointed out the fact that all schools in Kansas benefit from the mere presence of military students in just a few districts by getting 70% of the money sent to the state just for them.
    They also stated that there is a Base Realignment and Closure process coming in the next couple of years and Kansas needs to prove its support of the military to ensure we do not lose any of our military installations. The biggest argument for HB2109 was that is it just the right thing to do to support our military families and uphold our military student compact with other states – to provide a stable environment and consistent educational experience for all children even if they are moving in and out of the state throughout the school year.
    Just think about it, if 20 students leave the school due to transfers,
    it is highly unlikely that the exact same mix of students will transfer
    in.. They will be a variety of grades and educational levels and the
    schools never know the number enrolling until the first day of school
    and it continually changes after that! They have to remain flexible in
    classrooms, text books, teachers, counselors, etc.
    Lobbyist Bill Failed
    Occasionally, a bill will make it out of the Committee process but not
    survive the debate in the House chamber. One such bill was HB2314 that proposed raising the monetary value limit of gifts that lobbyists can give to government officials from $100 to $500 and raise the lower limit of gifts that do not have to be reported from $2 to $15. Lobbyists had requested the bill because they said that inflation causes them to keep burdensome records of every bit of money they spend on legislators and other government officials. One Representative attempted to save the bill by proposing an amendment to make the limit on gifts $250 instead of the proposed $500. Most legislators felt this bill was not a good idea, it failed on a vote of 4 to 118!
    Longevity Pay Bill Failed
    Another bill that made it out of Committee but did not survive the House Chamber was HB2178. It was defeated by a vote of 42 yea to 78 nay.
    Page 3 of 4 - This bill proposed removing the requirement for the State to pay for
    employee longevity bonuses. The State agencies testified that longevity pay is a very important incentive to try and keep state employees, to cut down turnover, and is much more affordable than the high cost of constantly training new personnel. Kansas State employees have not had a raise in many years, even a cost of living increase, so there is a tendency to leave for anything better that shows up. Some Legislators see the word "bonus" and feel that bonuses are not essential so they should be cut. These are bonuses of $40 per year over 10 years and have a limit of 25 years. While they are not huge, they do make a big difference for state employees that earn wages often less than $10 an hour.
    The real issue is that the agencies have been told that there will be no money in the budget for longevity pay, so they have to come up with the money from other areas of their budget. They are put "between a rock and a hard place" by the Legislature. Most agencies find the money by holding positions open and not hiring new people when someone leaves, or postponing hiring a replacement for months in order to use that salary to fund the longevity pay or other areas of their budget that they are short. But this results in compounding the issue by what I have learned in my Budget Committee, that when the State cuts these "open positions" that were not filled, the legislature is actually cutting the agencies' budgets. It sounds inconsequential enough – "if the
    position wasn't filled then the agency didn't need it"- but the
    reality is that they needed to fill the positions but were forced to use
    the salary elsewhere.
    Keep in Touch
    You can track my activities on my website www.meier4kansas.com, my FaceBook page www.facebook.com/Meier4Kansas, and Twitter
    www.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 at
    melanie.meier@house.ks.gov. And do not forget to follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org.
    Page 4 of 4 - If you need to directly contact a particular agency in state government, you can find useful telephone numbers online at
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