March 24, 2014 Newsletter
The last three weeks in the Kansas House have been extremely busy, starting with the release of the Gannon decision in the school finance lawsuit and then a great deal of work – first in committee and then with votes on the House floor. As we roll towards “first adjournment” on April 4th, here is a rundown of what has been occurring in Topeka:
For the last 14 months, the Kansas Legislature, schools across Kansas and citizens in general had been awaiting the ruling of the Kansas Supreme Court in the Gannon case. The case was originally decided upon by a 3-judge panel last January. That ruling said that funding for public schools was unconstitutionally inadequate and called for the legislature to raise the Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP) from $3,838 to $4,492. That increase would result in a cost of about $437 million dollars for state taxpayers. However, the district court’s ruling was stayed by the Kansas Supreme Court in February of last year, officially indicating that they would hear the case themselves. Finally, a bit more than a year later, we have the decision from the Kansas Supreme Court.
Many thought the ruling would be similar to that of the Montoy decision from 2005, when the Supreme Court ordered the legislature to allocate a specific amount of funding. That set off a debate about the role of the court, and there was potential for that scenario to occur again this year.
In this particular ruling, however, the Court stopped far short of that. In fact, the Court recognized that dollars are not the sole focus in determining adequacy of funding nor suitability. It indicated that other factors must be taken into account. This is a contention many have had for years, and it was encouraging to see the Supreme Court move in that direction.
So, what did the Supreme Court rule, exactly? Analysis is still being performed, but here are the basics:
As the session progresses, the House is committed to seriously considering the areas where the Court says equity is lacking and to ensuring that the great potential of students in Kansas is being achieved.
Long term, it is still my goal as well as the goal of many of my colleagues, particularly within Johnson County, to fix the formula that is at the heart of the issue here. We cannot continue pouring funding into a system that inherently is flawed from the start. We must work to find a solution that allows local residents to support their schools to the level they wish, while still providing the equitable and suitable standards the court outlined and is part of our constitution.
- The Supreme Court’s decision emphasized that both equity of funding and the resulting outcomes of that funding are important in determining the adequacy of state education funding.
- In regards to the adequacy question, that has been remanded back to the district court with instructions for it to apply an outcome based test set forth in a 1989 Kentucky Supreme Court ruling, Rose v. Council for Better Educ., Inc. The Rose ruling outlined a specific set of standards that constitute an adequate education.
- With regard to equity, the Court identified two areas within the current funding formula where it believes the legislature has fallen short in its considerations. I do have concerns that the equity consideration will eventually greatly harm Johnson County schools, but I will reserve judgment until a conclusion is reached.
- The Court did indicate it had a right to order specific funding in the future, a contention I disagree with and many of my colleagues do as well. So, while for now, the court has chosen not to go down that path, it could in the future and this ruling could set up the possibility that occurs.
Week Ending March 14th
While only a handful of bills get attention in the media, many may not realize the amount of uncontroversial, yet meaningful, legislation we pass in Topeka each session. Last week, that was the case as we considered a few items on the floor which passed without opposition and will make a difference in the lives of Kansans. I was happy to support them:
Business Filing Simplification
The House passed HB 2721 which would modernize and streamline the filing process with the Kansas Secretary of State for businesses. This bill would centralize the various filing requirements that businesses must file with the Secretary of State into one location making them easier for businesses to understand and lowering their costs. The focus of this bill would be on the primary types of business entities organized in the state: corporations, limited liability companies, limited partnerships and limited liability partnerships.
HB 2721 would especially impact small businesses which often cannot afford to hire a lawyer to take care of their business filings. Because it would make all the business filings uniform, this bill would save businesses time by reducing the likelihood of filing errors that often force the Secretary of State to reject first time applications. By easing the administrative burden on Kansas businesses, this bill furthers the House’s agenda of making Kansas the most business friendly state in the nation.
The House passed Substitute for Substitute for HB 2721 on Friday, March 14th by a vote of 118-0.
Transfer of Firearms
This week the House debated and gave initial approval to legislation which would keep chief law enforcement officers from refusing to sign off on firearms transfers that are legal under federal and Kansas law because of their own personal beliefs. HB 2578 would require that applications for certification of firearms transfers by the chief law enforcement officer, as required by federal law, be granted within fifteen days, unless, according to federal regulation, a condition exists that prevents the chief law enforcement officer from certifying the transfer. If the request for certification is not granted, the chief law enforcement officer, or the officer’s designee, would be required to provide the applicant with written notification of the denial of certification and the reason for the denial.
This bill would also allow applicants to appeal denials of requests for certification of firearms transfers in the district court of the county where the applicant resides. After reviewing the denial of certification, if the district court found the applicant was not prohibited by state or federal law from receiving the firearm and there is no pending legal or administrative proceeding against the applicant that could result in such prohibition, the court would be required to order the chief law enforcement officer to issue the certification.
The House passed this legislation 123-0.
SB 248 would amend the requirement that the Secretary of Corrections provide written notice to victims or their families when the inmate committing the crime is released. Specifically, the Secretary would be required to provide such notice at least 14 working days prior to the inmate’s release, unless the release is due to court order, escape, or death. The bill would provide that this section shall be known and cited as “Adrian Olajuwon Crosby and Dominique Nathaniel Tyree Green’s Law.”
The bill also would transfer the responsibility for victim notification of a defendant’s commitment as incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, as well as related hearings, from the Secretary of Corrections to the district or county attorney.
This legislation passed the House 122-0.
Week Ending March 21st
Our work continued this past week where we ushered through a large array of bills, notable ones which I list below. We will continue to do so through Wednesday of this coming week, at which point we will take a break for conference committees to meet.
Reorganization of Court of Tax Appeals
In the past, there has been a great deal concern expressed about the Court of Tax Appeals – in fairness, in speed, and in scope of powers. To address those concerns, the House adopted House Substitute for SB 231 which would rename the Kansas Court of Tax Appeals to the Kansas Board of Tax Appeals (BOTA), and make the following reforms:
This bill aims to create a fairer and more efficient tax appeals process which would help to achieve an even healthier business climate across Kansas. The changes contained in this bill would make doing business in Kansas more affordable and therefore fits the House’s agenda of sending a clear message across the nation that Kansas is open for business.
- The change to the name “Board of Tax Appeals” will give a more accurate representation of an administrative agency and not a court that possesses judicial authority.
- This bill would mandate that members of BOTA complete education and training requirements and until completion, board members’ compensation would be equal to that of an administrative law judge. After completing the training, their salaries would be slightly less than the salary paid to the chief judge of a district court.
- It would speed up decisions made by BOTA from its current 120 days, requiring a summary decision to be made within 14 days and a full decision to be made within 90 days. Filing fees would be refunded if the board were to fail in delivering a summary or full decision within in their respective windows of time.
- Additionally, this bill would provide increased appeals options for taxpayers; most significantly, by allowing them to take the case de novo to the district court.
- If the taxpayer wins an appeal, the property valuation will remain in effect for two years.
- The bill authorizes the taxpayer and the county to come to a settlement agreement if they choose, something that the current Court of Tax Appeals does not allow.
The House passed Substitute for SB 231 on Thursday, March 20th by a vote of 123-0.
Insurance Coverage for Autism
On Friday, the House passed legislation which would require any health insurance company that provides coverage in the State of Kansas to include coverage for autism spectrum disorder, specifically coverage for Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy. HB 2744 would establish the criteria for the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder as well as the licensure requirement for those who administer ABA therapy.
ABA therapy is a growing and effective treatment prescribed for children diagnosed with autism. If provided at an early age at an intensive level, it has shown to greatly reduce the effects of autism. This bill would allow for 1300 hours per year of intensive ABA therapy to be provided for the first 4 years after diagnosis, up to age 5. After the initial 4 years of intensive therapy, the bill provides for 520 hours per year, up to the age of 12.
ABA therapy has allowed children with autism to become more successful in the classroom and ultimately helps them to become active members of society. HB 2744 is fiscally responsible legislation because it would help to keep these children from being reliant upon state services for potentially their whole lives. The fact that 36 states currently require insurance coverage for autism is an indication of the success of the therapy in treating autism. Requiring insurance coverage for autism therapy would afford children with autism in Kansas the opportunity to one day have a successful career and be essential contributors to the state’s economy.
The House passed HB 2744 on Friday, March 21st by a vote of 114-3. I voted YES.
Non-Economic Damages Cap
It has been a long period of time since the last time Kansas raised its non-economic damages cap, and that is what spurred legislation this week to raise it over the next several years. SB 311 raises the current cap from $250,000 to $350,000. In 2012, the Kansas Supreme Court issued a ruling which upheld the constitutionality of the state’s non-economic damages cap, currently at $250,000. However, in upholding the law, the court noted their concern that the cap’s value had not been raised in the 20 plus years since its enactment. This was a clear way of saying that if the cap is not adjusted, it could in the future be ruled unconstitutional. If the cap were to be ruled unconstitutional, it would cause medical malpractice premiums to rise, if not double.
The House passed SB 311 this morning by a vote of 119-3. I voted in favor of the bill.
Health Care Compact
For those concerned with the impact of ObamaCare, one of the more important bills you’ll see considered this session is the Health Care Compact bill. The Health Care Compact bill would allow Kansas to join eight other states in petitioning the U.S. Congress for full control and authority over federal healthcare dollars.
Before becoming effective, the Compact requires the approval of the Compact by both houses of Congress – but not the President. This sets up the prospect that if Republicans, as expected, win the U.S. Senate in 2014, this compact – allowed under the Constitution - could be a road for states joining it to seek certain exemptions from ObamaCare.
This is not a nullification bill, nor is it a simple resolution that we dislike ObamaCare. It’s a concrete, realistic, and Constitutional way to directly deal with the federal health care law. If approved by the U.S. Congress, the Compact would:
This is a Kansas solution, not an Obama solution, to the healthcare concerns facing Kansans.
- Give Kansas the ability to control the healthcare funding provided by taxpayers to meet the needs of its citizens.
- Allow Kansans to set their own rules for Medicare, Medicaid and other government health care programs and circumvent the highly unpopular and ineffective Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
- Mandate that all federal healthcare money MUST be designated for healthcare. It cannot be siphoned off for other state spending.
- Allow Kansas to continue to receive its proportional share of healthcare dollars. This proportion would be adjusted for population growth.
- Allow Kansas to have autonomy over its own healthcare needs and spending, not be subject to federal bureaucracy and control.
- Protect Medicare and other health programs from future money grabs from Obamacare. More than $700 billion has already been cut from Medicare to pay for Medicaid expansion and other provisions of Obamacare.
- Allow Kansas and other states to shed the “one size fits all” healthcare model promulgated by the Obama administration.
- Ensure that Kansas seniors continue to receive guaranteed benefits and protections that they have earned by paying taxes.
The House passed HB 2553 on Friday, March 21st by a vote of 74-48. I voted in favor of the bill.
We will be meeting through Wednesday this week to consider any remaining legislation this session prior to the conference committee process. Appropriations committee, on which I serve, will be meeting this week as well to develop the funding response to the Gannon school finance decision. I look forward to reporting back to you with the conclusion of this topic as well as others still under discussion!
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