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

  • The legislature hit the ground running upon its return from Turnaround.
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  • Melanie Meier's Adventures in the Statehouse
    Kansas House of Representatives
    Volume 2013, Issue 8: March 6 - 8, 2013
    In This Issue
    - Short but Busy Week
    - Combatting Human Trafficking in Kansas
    - The Modernization Fee on Your Vehicle Registration
    - The Merger of KDOT and KTA
    - Innovative School Districts
    - Keep in Touch
    Short but Busy Week
    The legislature hit the ground running upon its return from Turnaround.
    I testified in several Senate Committees on House Veteran Bills and the House Veteran Committee had a hearing on a Senate Bill already. Then next week there are at least two more House Veteran Bills being heard in the Senate and another Senate bill in the House Veteran Committee. At this rate, we should start seeing some of these bills hitting the Governor's desk soon for signature!
    Combatting Human Trafficking in Kansas
    In Corrections & Juvenile Justice Committee this week we heard
    informative and emotional testimony on SB61 which creates and amends statutes dealing with Human Trafficking. The bill is 98 pages long and
    creates 7 new sections of statute as well as amending current law. The new sections allow the Attorney General to train law enforcement, creates a Human Trafficking Advisory Board and establishes a fund for paying for that training and the support, care, treatment, and other services for victims of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of a child. The bill creates secure facilities for victims to stay in and a website for information on how to get help. The bill eliminates the word "prostitution" and replaces it with "the sale of sexual relations" throughout Kansas statutes and patronizing a prostitute would be called "buying sexual relations."
    Victims of Human Trafficking Organizations that support victims such as the Wichita State University Center for Combatting Human Trafficking and Veronica's Voice, and various law enforcement organizations and prosecutors all testified with the Attorney General on the need for the bill. When asked if this was really a big problem in Kansas and if other states around Kansas had such legislation and programs, a prosecutor from Sedgwick County stated he could think of at least 24 cases that he personally had worked and that they often entail the transport of young girls throughout the state and to and from other states. The Attorney General stated that Missouri currently has tougher statutes on Human Trafficking than Kansas, but Kansas has law enforcement and support organizations that are actually on the ground fighting this issue now and they are the ones who are asking for SB61 to give them the tools they need to stop Human Trafficking.
    The Modernization Fee on Your Vehicle Registration
    Did you ever notice the "Modernization Fee" when you registered your vehicles during the past four years? This is a fee that the 2008
    Page 2 of 4 - legislature decided to create in order to pay for the new vehicle
    registration computer system that we heard so much about last summer. I had been receiving inquiries from folks in the district recently, asking why the fee is still being charged now that the new system is in place.
    So I was happy when we had a hearing in Transportation & Public Safety Budget Committee this week on HB2137, which proposed deleting this $4 fee.
    It turns out though, that the 2010 T-Works Transportation Plan had a
    section in it making the fee permanent and sending the money to the
    State Highway Fund. This amounts to approximately $12 million a year. The proponent of the bill stated that the legislature had promised that the fee would be temporary and end when the computer system modernization program was complete. The opponents stated that the legislature promised the $12 million a year to the T-Works Program to be part of the funding stream for 10 years of contracting for Kansas creating 175,000 jobs and $81 million in projects to each county. I asked why the fee was still called the "Modernization Fee" if that is not what it was. The next day a Representative offered an amendment in committee to change the name of the fee to the "T-Works" fee and to have it expire in January 2021, when the current T-Works program would end. This way he said that the legislature would be keeping both promises. The Committee adopted the amendment and recommended the bill favorably to the House as a Whole.
    The Merger of KDOT and KTA
    This week the House debated HB2234, which would merge the Kansas Turnpike Authority (KTA) into the Kansas Department of Transportation.
    The debate went on for 2 hours on the House floor and the final vote is Monday morning. This bill is something that the Governor proposed in his State of the State Address last January and he counted $30 million of savings in the budget over the next 2 years as the expected result of the merger. However, after 3 days of hearings in the Transportation Committee and further testimony in the Transportation & Public Safety Committee, the Secretary of Transportation could not explain how the savings would be achieved. The two agencies already work closely together in accordance with a law that was passed in 1975, that requires close cooperation while keeping the organizations separate. The Transportation Committee amended the bill to remove many of the requirements it proposed and the carrier of the bill now says that
    pretty much nothing will change.
    The KTA will remain a quasi-governmental organization that operates on its own with its own funding and debt, and continue to cooperate with KDOT. The Secretary of Transportation will remain a member of its board, but will not be the Chair. The tolls can only be used for the
    Page 3 of 4 - turnpike and any connecting road within a 10 mile limit of the turnpike.
    A clause allowing KDOT use of KTA's "other resources" was struck
    from the bill to avoid any situations where, for example, the KTA would purchase vehicles or equipment and give it to KDOT as a way to fund projects outside the turnpike.
    After all the amendments, there are some who say that this bill is
    nothing but a restatement of current law and could have been a
    resolution just urging continued cooperation. But, the bill does repeal
    over 90 statutes, so something must be changing. As I read through the long list of statutes, some appear to be redundant and others seem to have expired – such as studies or projects to be done by a certain date. I counted at least 20 of the statutes being repealed that deal with budgeting issues. There are also some questionable repeals, including a provision that states KTA bonds are not a debt to the state and only payable by KTA revenues, and another that prohibits KTA members or employees from contracting with KTA to avoid ethical and conflict of interest issues – a basic ethics requirement for most contracting authorities. Of the 31 statutes being retained, I found some that needed to join the list of repealed statutes like one that directs a feasibility study to be done by December 1981, and one that gives law enforcement duties to the KS Highway Patrol on the turnpike but refers to the duties described in KSA 74-20a03 that was repealed in 1972.
    So what I am trying to say is: that despite days of testimony and
    discussion, it is still not clear what this bill exactly does and no one
    can fully explain its consequences. There was no organized study of the impacts and there was no fiscal assessment - a fiscal note is normally prepared for every bill that explains the bill's budgetary impact on the State.
    Innovative School Districts
    This week we debated and voted on HB2319. This bill was named "The Innovative School Districts" bill. The Senate also debated and voted on their version of the bill, which was virtually identical. These
    bills would exempt some school districts (10 in the House version and 28 in the Senate version) from almost every Kansas statute except for special education, issuing of bonds, and election of the school board, KPERS, and the school funding formula.
    The Kansas City Kansas School District testified in favor of the bill,
    but later submitted a statement that they did not necessarily want to be exempt from ALL other statutes. The KCK School District is one of two districts in Kansas that currently are already exempt from the normal Kansas Assessment process. They previously requested and were granted the exception because they wanted to use the ACT, and its family of tests that build up to the ACT, as its method to assess student progress. Proponents said "HB2319 cuts all the red tape and lets teachers be free to innovate." Opponents of HB2319 stated that with such a sweeping exemption, these districts would not have to do a long list of things, such as: hire certified teachers and staff, fund the gifted or financial literacy programs, and use competitive bidding.
    Page 4 of 4 - There would be no attendance rules or open meeting rules, the districts could drive their buses into other districts to take the best athletes and/or academic achievers, and there would be no collective bargaining or due process rights for teachers and other employees.
    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.
    If you need to directly contact a particular agency in state government, you can find useful telephone numbers online at
    http://da.state.ks.us/phonebook.
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