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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • At the Statehouse

  • The main focus of this past week was on conference committee reports,which are generated by small groups of negotiating teams representing both chambers.
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    Nearing The End
     
    The main focus of this past week was on conference committee reports,which are generated by small groups of negotiating teams representing both chambers. These committees discuss differences in bills that were previously passed by one chamber or another. (When a bill is passed from one chamber to another and amendments are made they are reconciled "in conference" where three members of each chamber negotiate the differences.)
     
    The conference committees can bundle a number of bills under one title. Once the final language is agreed to by the six members of the committee the bill is then sent to both chambers for a yes or no vote. However, the Senate and the House may discuss the conference committee report and can vote to "send it back to conference" if they don't agree with the final compromise.
    The Senate debated almost 200 pieces of legislation, passed a tax plan with overwhelming support, and crafted a budget that maintains funding for the state's vital services. When we return at the beginning of May for veto session our focus will be an agreement with the House on our budget and lower income tax rates.
     
    Budget and Tax Update
     
    The legislature's only constitutional duty each session is passage of a balanced budget. Unlike Washington, D.C., Kansas must have a balanced budget every session. . While this forces some decisions we might not be excited about, it's an important part of the process.
     
    Tax and budget negotiators work in tandem along with legislative leadership to develop a package that balances. These are really the only two issues we must resolve before wrapping up the 2013 session: Taxes and Budget.
     
    In an effort to better address budget challenges up front, the House and the Senate both passed two-year budgets, which include recommendations for FY 2014 and FY 2015, each leaving the state "in the black." In terms of spending. The House budget contains an additional $211.4 million in cuts from the governor's recommendation and the Senate plan contains an additional $48.7 million. While the House budget saves more money than the Senate, its ending balances are lower.
     
    The significant difference between House and Senate tax plans revolve around income and sales tax rates. The House plan contains a "trigger" so that if revenues grow above 2 percent from the previous year, the excess funds would be used to continue to buy down income tax rates. The House plan would also allow the state sales tax to drop from 6.3 percent to 5.7 percent on July 1, 2013 as under current law. The Senate plan, however, would leave the sales tax rate at the current 6.3 percent and use the additional revenue to continue buying down income tax rates. This accounts for the higher ending balances in the Senate budget.  Reminder: I am serving on the following committees: Chair Subcommittee on Judiciary and Gaming, Chair Subcommittee on Corrections & Juvenile Justice, Vice Chair Subcommittee on Legislative and Elected Officials,
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    TransportationEthics, Elections, and Local Government Ways and Means Joint Committee on Corrections & Juvenile Justice In This Newsletter:  Pro-Life Legislation - Affirming the state's responsibility to defend life.  Prevailing Wage - Backing government out Expansion of Homestead Tax Refund - Reduced property taxes for lower incomePersonal and Family Protection Act - Real security in public buildings Second Amendment Protection Act - The limits of federal power
     
    Human Trafficking - Protecting kids
     
    Increased Penalties for Rape - Longer statute of limitations
     
    Kansas RICO Act - Gangs are the target
     
    Pro-Life Legislation - HB 2253 No taxpayer money for abortions.
     
    HB 225 ensures that no taxpayer dollars are used to subsidize abortions, and revises a number of other abortion statutes. Through passage of the bill, the Senate looks to continue developing a culture of life in Kansas by defending the right to life, including that of the most vulnerable Kansans. The solemn duty of the state to defend this fundamental right is affirmed in HB 2253.The bill adds a statutory provision which declares that the life of each human being begins at fertilization. Under these provisions, all state laws will be interpreted and construed to protect the rights, privileges, and immunities of the unborn child, only subject to the U.S. Constitution and interpretations by the U.S. Supreme Court. New language will be required in certain printed materials to inform pregnant women about the development of the unborn child, legal responsibilities for the unborn child, and of organizations to assist the pregnant woman.The bill prohibits the use of public funding, tax credits, tax preferences, and state-provided public health care services from being used in any manner for abortions or facilities where abortions are performed. It also prohibits any school district, its employees, agents, and education service providers from offering abortion services and abortion providers will be restricted from sponsoring, offering, or furnishing any course materials or instruction related to human sexuality or sexually transmitted diseases in public schools.HB 2253 passed 29 to 11. I co-sponsored and voted for this bill. Prevailing Wage HB 2069 Prohibiting government mandates on labor rates.
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    HB 2069 prohibits local units of government from mandating that private employers working on public projects pay "prevailing wage rates". This encompasses paid time off for employees, provisions for specific employee benefits, or compensation at a rate higher than set by federal or state law for minimum wage.
     
    HB 2069 passed 31 to 9. I voted for this bill.Expansion of Homestead Tax Refund - HB 2060 Multiple tax items rolled into one bill.
     
    HB 2060 contains a number of smaller tax provisions which have been wrapped into one package. First, the bill prohibits prisoners who claim the prison as their household from receiving food sales tax refunds or homestead property tax refunds. Currently, only three prisoners have filed for a sales tax refund but the Department of Revenue requested the practice be prohibited before other prisoners follow suit.The second major component is the reduction to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) from 17 percent to 9 percent and expansion of the state's Homestead Property Tax Refund program. In 2010, Kansas had the 15th highest property tax rate in the nation. The state collected $1,323 per capita in property taxes, compared to $924 in Missouri and $582 in Oklahoma. In Kansas, a taxpayer pays $705 more per person on average than if living across the border in Oklahoma. HB 2060 lowers that burden on fixed-income seniors and working families with kids who make under $34,000. The bill provides about $40 million in new Homestead property-tax relief. The bill also expands the eligibility levels for the property tax program, allowing Kansans making up to $34,400 a year to qualify for property-tax relief. HB 2060 passed by a vote of 25 to 15. I voted for this bill
     
    Personal and Family Protection Act - HB 2052 Real security in public buildings
     
    Also known as the Concealed Carry Act, it ensures Kansans have the right to protect themselves in unsecured facilities. If a public building is not able to guarantee the safety and security of the public, then individuals will have the right to protect themselves by carrying a concealed weapon.
    For example, if a city does not want guns in a building, they must be able to guarantee adequate security measures such as armed guards and metal detectors. While opponents argue it will place an unfunded mandate on local units of government which do not wish to have guns in their buildings, the reality is signs alone do not truly prevent guns on the premises.
     
    HB 2052 passed by a vote of 32-7. I voted for this bill.
     
    Second Amendment Protection Act - SB 102 Limits on federal regulations in Kansas.
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    SB 102 excludes from federal regulation any personal firearm, firearm accessory, or ammunition manufactured commercially or privately and owned in Kansas. As long as any such firearm, firearm accessory, or ammunition remains in Kansas, it is not subject to any federal law, regulation, or authority. Also, the bill prohibits any federal agent or contract employee, any state employee, or any local authority from enforcing any federal regulation or law governing a personal firearm, firearm accessory, or ammunition manufactured and owned in Kansas, provided it remains within the borders of Kansas.
    The bill also states that because the Constitution does not grant the federal government authority in this area, any leeway to determine how the Second Amendment right is exercised is the prerogative of the state. Any attempt by the federal government to regulate the use of firearms manufactured and owned in Kansas would be considered unenforceable in the state of Kansas.
    Federal criminal statutes prohibiting the use of a firearm in (or the possession of a firearm during) the commission of a felony or the possession of firearms by felons are not affected or prohibited by this act. SB 102 passed 35 - 4. I voted for this bill.
     
    Human Trafficking - S Sub HB 2034 Protecting children from sexual exploitation. Early this session, Governor Sam Brownback and Attorney General Derek Schmidt introduced legislation aimed at strengthening the state's human trafficking laws with the specific focus on protecting children from commercial sexual exploitation.
    S. Sub. HB2034 establishes a Human Trafficking Victim Assistance Fund to help provide assistance to victims of human trafficking and other sex related crimes. The bill also establishes special child in need of care procedures for children who have been subjected to human trafficking. A new crime of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of a child is established under the provisions of the bill to increase the penalties for patronizing a prostitute and promoting prostitution of a person under the age of 18.
     
    S Sub HB 2034 passed by a vote of 40 to 0. I voted for this bill. Increased Penalties for Rape - HB 2252 Extending or eliminating statute of limitations.
     
    Last week, Governor Brownback signed into law HB 2252 eliminating the statute of limitations for the crimes of rape or aggravated criminal sodomy. HB 2252 allows for the prosecution of extremely violent sex offenders with no statute of limitations.
    Page 5 of 6 - The bill also extends the reportable time period for underage victims of sexual assault that do not rise to the level of rape until the victim turns 28. HB 2252 increases the statute of limitations for such sexual assault on adult victims from five to ten years. This bill preserves current law that enables the prosecution of sex offenders any time law enforcement uncovers new DNA evidence linking a suspect to the sexual assault.
    This legislation is long overdue and is a valuable tool for law enforcement to prosecute those who commit such heinous crimes. Rapists and sex offenders should not avoid punishment for their crimes because the wheels of justice are slow.
     
    HB 2252 has been signed by the Governor. I voted for this bill.Kansas RICO Act - SB 16 Getting tough on street crime. SB16 makes it a crime for any person with criminal intent to receive proceeds from racketeering activity or from collecting unlawful debt to use or invest the proceeds to get a title, right, interest or equity in property. Violation of this law is a felony. In addition, the court may impose fines up to three times the gross value gained or lost, whichever is greater, if the defendant made money or caused personal injury, property damage, or other loss while committing the crime.
    The bill changes the definition of criminal street gangs to adjust the criteria used to identify a person as a criminal street gang member. Under current law, one of the criteria used to identify a person as a gang member is the person frequents a particular gang area; adopts a gang's style of dress, color, use of hand signs or tattoos, and associates with known gang members.   SB 16 passed 38-2. I voted for this bill.
    February labor report Last Thursday, the Kansas Department of Labor released their report detailing the changes in the Kansas labor market since January as well as compared to February 2012. The report indicates the Kansas economy added 2,000 seasonally adjusted jobs statewide. For the past four months the state has continued to show job growth with a total increase of 12,000 new jobs since October. Kansas saw gains in 7 of the 10 major sectors of the Kansas economy. This includes manufacturing and professional services industries. Currently, seasonally adjusted unemployment stands at 5.5 percent. The March Department of Labor employment report will be released the third week of April.
    This is obviously good news, and an indication that as the country as a whole begins to see minor growth, Kansas is well positioned to be at the forefront. This is why it's so critical to remain focused on positioning our state as a regional leader.  March revenue updateOn Friday, the Kansas Department of Revenue announced corporate and income tax receipts for March. Total estimates from July to March are above projections for FY 2013 by $9 million. Individual income taxes for March were $32.3 million below the estimated totals but for the year we are still above original predictions. The totals for individual income tax are still above estimates for the year by $41.6 million. Corporate income taxes were $7.9 million below the estimate for the month but remain slightly ahead of the fiscal-year-to-date estimate.2013 Session Dates and Deadlines
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    Below is the remaining deadline for the 2013 legislative session.
    • Wed. May 8 Veto session begins
    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 me know you are coming so I can work the schedule - call (800) 432-3924 and leave a message, I'll get back to you. Previous newsletters at: http://www.vote4fitzgerald.com/newsroom.html
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