Last week, the House finished up our work early by passing all the necessary non-exempt bills before the “turnaround” deadline. The House passed a total of 54 bills in the week, including several particularly important pieces of legislation.
These bills are currently on their way to the Senate for further consideration. The legislature was in recess Monday and today.
The recess period is to allow administrative time for realignment of completed bills between the two bodies. A few of the significant issues that the House passed are listed below.
On Thursday, the House passed legislation that would open arrest and search warrant affidavits to the public. The affidavits outline the reasons police give to judges to obtain either an arrest warrant or a search warrant.
Currently, Kansas law treats these affidavits as closed documents unless they can be obtained through a court order. House Bill 2555 would change the law to open these affidavits to the public unless the prosecutor successfully petitions the judge to seal the affidavits. Thus, the government would have the burden of proof to keep the affidavits secret rather than the public having the burden of proof to make the affidavits open.
This bill stems from a case in Johnson County where a family was subject to a SWAT-team style raid on their home by Johnson County sheriff deputies. Deputies raided the home on April 20, 2012, holding the couple and their children at gunpoint.
The couple testified in the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee about how the deputies were very aggressive and unprofessional in their conduct during the raid, which subsequently turned up a tomato garden in the basement, not drugs.
The deputies left with no explanation for why their house had been targeted and raided. The couple learned later state law does not require the statements made by law enforcement officers about probable cause in warrants to be made public, meaning they had no way to find out why their house was raided.
HB 2555 would make government — in particular, law enforcement activities — more transparent.
Research done of at least 40 other states’ laws indicates that Kansas may very well be the only state in the union whose warrant affidavits are closed documents.
Transparency is often an effective check against government abuse. In the cases of making arrests and searching private property, the added check this bill would provide is important to Kansans.
Promoting employment across Kansas
Economic development experts typically like the toolbox approach when examining and recruiting different types of businesses. Having the right incentive or workforce program can make the difference in landing new jobs in Kansas.
One of these tools has been the Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK) initiative first passed in 2009. As the program has evolved over the years, the Legislature routinely reexamines the program and makes updates to keep up with the changing economic environment.
This year’s update, HB 2430, clarified definitions for eligibility by adding that average wages for qualifying companies must be equal to or in excess of the county median wage. It also allowed companies who participated in the program before Jan. 1, 2013, to apply for a two-year extension. Some concern had arisen over the years of total benefits a company could receive; this bill places a cap on the total benefit to prevent abuse of the program.
Since the program’s inception, more than 9,900 jobs were relocated to Kansas, which brought with them $1.1 billion in outside capital investment. With 158 agreements so far, which include relocation, expansion and retention, the program has secured more than 18,000 jobs.
Rural Opportunity Zones
In 2011, Gov. Sam Brownback proposed a plan to stop the outward migration of our rural communities by providing tax cuts and school loan repayments to entice out of state people to move into rural communities.
When the plan passed, outward migration had been about 16 percent. But, after three years of the program, outward migration has slowed to 4 percent. The success of the program is being duplicated in many Midwestern states as an effective tool for growth.
HB 2417 identified three more counties that would benefit economically from such a designation. This included Montgomery, Labette, and Cherokee counties, which are home to many manufacturing facilities.
However, much of the workforce lives out of state. This program would help these companies recruit and retain a skilled workforce in Kansas into good middle class jobs.
Property tax reform
On Wednesday, the House passed legislation that would statutorily define for property tax purposes commercial and industrial machinery and equipment to include such property used directly in the manufacture of cement, lime or similar products. There are two cement companies headquartered in Kansas — one in Neosho County and one in Allen County.
HB 2456 would help protect these companies from being assessed excessively high property taxes.
One of these companies saw its plant’s commercial and industrial machinery and equipment unilaterally reclassified as real estate in 2012, doubling its tax bill.
This company, which operates in eight states, is now paying 60 percent of the total property taxes it pays in Neosho County. The aim of HB 2456 is to keep these two American-owned companies in Kansas and to ensure that their competiveness with out-of-state cement companies is not unduly hampered.
I encourage you to let me know your thoughts on the issues discussed by the legislature and others that might be affecting you. Please feel free to call me at (785) 296-7653/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.