In a few short weeks the legislature will have reached the official halfway point of the 2012 session, known as “turnaround.” After turnaround, each chamber may only consider the other chamber’s proposals. As a result, there has been and will continue to be a noticeable uptick in the pace of business as we quickly approach the deadline. This week alone, the House debated 17 pieces of legislation and we are likely to debate a higher number next week.
As always, I’ll keep you updated and encourage you to stay informed of the issues under consideration by the Kansas Legislature. Committee schedules, bills, and other helpful information can be easily accessed through the legislature’s website at www.kslegislature.org. Please do not hesitate to contact me with your thoughts, concerns, and suggestions. I always enjoy hearing from my constituents on the topics under consideration and appreciate the perspective from those outside the Statehouse.
Kansas Redistricting 2012 (HB 2606)
The House made a significant step forward this week in the redistricting process by passing the new House district map, known as “Cottonwood 1”, contained in HB 2606. The bi-partisan bill was approved by the House on Thursday by a vote of 109 to 14 and is now in the Senate awaiting further action. Traditionally, the House and Senate abide by the wishes of the other chamber and simply approve the new map for their respective maps. I am hopeful this tradition of respecting the diligent work and compromise of each chamber’s map will continue and the Senate will approve HB 2606, then send it to Governor Brownback for his approval and signature.
With the passage of the House district map, our focus will now turn on drawing the congressional and State Board of Education district maps. As with drawing the House district map, the main sticking point is to make the population deviation for each district as close to zero as possible to ensure one person equals one vote. The goal is to have 713,280 persons in each congressional district. However, this is easier said than done because the first congressional district is under the target by 57,970 persons and the other three congressional districts exceed the figure by 3,233 (second), 54,289 (third), and 6,912 (fourth), respectively.
The first congressional district already takes up two-thirds of Kansas and to get the 57,000 additional voters it needs the district must expand to the east. As the House draws its proposed congressional map, our issue will likely center around how far east to take the first district while also being mindful of how it, and other changes, will affect our other three congressional districts.
Keeping this in mind, I would appreciate your thoughts on what you would like to see with the new congressional district map. To access the maps under consideration by the House and Senate, please visit http://redistricting.ks.gov. There you can view all House, Senate, Congressional, and State Board of Education district maps under consideration by the House and Senate.
Kansas Participates in Landmark Mortgage Settlement
This week, Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced over 4,000 Kansas homeowners who lost their homes to foreclosure and others who are struggling to avoid foreclosure may be eligible for relief under a landmark legal settlement with the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers. Negotiated over 16 months, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, Wells Fargo, and Ally Financial (GMAC) have entered into an agreement with 49 states, the District of Columbia and federal government on a settlement that resolves allegations of robo-signing foreclosure affidavits and other areas of misconduct.
The settlement is a major development, expected to bring over $50 million to Kansas in the form of direct payments to certain homeowners who lost homes to foreclosure, refinancing, and other relief for homeowners struggling to remain in their homes. Eligible Kansans will be contacted by the Attorney General’s office and offered the opportunity to file a claim. The agreement does not prevent homeowners or investors from pursing individual, institutional or class action civil cases against the five mortgage servicers.
For more information, please visit www.ksag.org/mortgage or call the Attorney General’s consumer protection hotline at (800) 432-2310.
Competitive Bid Protection Act (HB 2515)
HB 2515 establishes the Competitive Bid Protection Act to prevent the requirement that potential bidders enter into any kind of project labor agreement with labor organizations. Governmental entities and government agents are also prohibited by the measure from discriminating based on the presence or absence of project labor agreements. The bill does not supersede other provisions of state law or the National Labor Relations Act which may allow or project labor agreements nor does it prevent bidders from entering into voluntary project labor agreements with labor organizations.
Debated and initially passed by the full House on Friday, February 10, the bill ensures that contracts are awarded on a fair and competitive basis. The House will take its final action vote on HB 2515 on Tuesday.
KPERS Legislation (HB 2460 and HB 2461)
Two pieces of legislation were passed by the House this week concerning KPERS. The first, HB 2460, makes several technical amendments to the pension system in order to maintain compliance with IRS requirements for public pension plans. Among the changes is an additional option for public employers to affiliate for future service only, the deletion of the requirement that sets a 7 percent contribution rate for first year employers, and the addition of a “good faith interpretation” reference with new federal regulations for required minimum distributions.
The second bill, HB 2461, makes changes to the investment portfolio by allowing KPERS investors to participate in alternative investments to a greater degree than what is allowed under current law. The bill allows five percent of the total market value of the KPERS fund investments to be utilized with the alternative investment option. The current percentage allowed under law is one percent.
At the end of the 2010 fiscal year, the total KPERS investment fund value was $12.9 billion with an alternative investment cap of $128.6 million. HB 2461 would raise the limit to $643 million this year alone. This is a valuable piece of legislation that allows the KPERS investment board to increase target allocations resulting in a more efficient investment portfolio.
On Wednesday, February 8, the House passed HB 2460 by a vote of 122 to 3 and HB 2461 by a vote of 118 to 7. Both bills are now in the Senate awaiting further action.
Drug Testing for Assistance Recipients (HB 2686)
This week legislation (HB 2686) was introduced in the House that would require individuals who receive or who apply to receive government cash assistance to participate in a drug screening program beginning January 1, 2013. Each year, one-third of those receiving cash assistance would be randomly screened by the state for illegal substances.
The first and second time a recipient fails or refuses to participate in the drug screening they would be subject to education or drug treatment programs and would be ineligible for cash assistance for 12 months. If a recipient fails or refuses to participate in the drug screening for a third time, they would be permanently prohibited from receiving cash assistance. Households with residents who have been terminated from cash assistance would have to get future cash assistance from an SRS approved third-party payee.
Finally, persons found guilty of a crime with an element of possession, use or distribution of a controlled substance on or after July 1, 2000 are forever ineligible to receive cash assistance. Persons convicted of misdemeanors would be ineligible for cash assistance for 24 months from the date of their conviction and those convicted of felonies would be ineligible for five years from the date of their conviction.
An increasing number of states are looking at measures similar to this to ensure government assistance is being used for its intended purposes. I anticipate healthy debate regarding this measure, and would be interested to learn where you stands as HB 2686 is currently in the House Appropriations Committee awaiting further action.
Expanded Liquor Sales (HB 2532)
For several years Kansas has entertained serious debate on substantially expanding liquor sales in Kansas. This week, the debate continued in the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee as two days of hearings were held on HB 2532. If passed, the bill would immediately allow grocery and convenience stores to sell full strength beer and wine if they have a Class A or B license. However, those stores would be prevented from selling spirits until January 1, 2016 unless they purchase an existing Class C license from an individual or retailer in their county
Supporters of HB 2532 believe the bill would level the playing field and modernize the state’s current liquor policy. Pointing out that nearly 40 percent of small town grocery stores have closed in the past three years, proponents believe the change would allow small grocery and retail stores to stay in business and continue serving their communities. Opponents believe the change would unfairly pit small mom-and-pop stores against big box retailers like Dillons and Wal-Mart who may have already received substantial tax incentives and are concerned about making it easier for minors to have access to alcohol. They also note the legislation would create thousands of new outlets for these sales, costing the state more in enforcement and social services.
As I indicated earlier, this is not the first time this legislation has been introduced, and there are many more arguments than these. Like any issue, there are two sides to this story and both have valid viewpoints. I would appreciate your opinion on this bill and how it could affect you and your community. A topic like this will usually have many layers, so it’s important to research all of our opinions thoroughly before reaching a conclusion. Your feedback always assists me in this regard.
Health Care Reform Update
During the 2011 session, the House passed, HCR 5007, the Health Care Freedom Amendment, and sent it to the Senate for further consideration. After a significant wait, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the resolution and sent it to the full Senate for further debate and, hopefully, final approval. Specifically, HCR 5007, proposes to amend the Kansas Constitution by inserting a new Article 16 regarding health care. The resolution protests the Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress in March 2010, which implemented a federal mandate requiring all individuals to have a minimum level of health insurance.
The new article would prohibit any law or rule from compelling a person, employer or health care provider to participate in any heath care system or to purchase health insurance and allows a person or employer to directly pay for any health care service and not be subject to a penalty or fine. The amendment allows health care providers to accept direct payment for health care services from a person or employer and prohibits any laws or rules from disallowing the purchase or sale of private health insurance or participation in private health care systems.
In addition, Attorney General Derek Schmidt announced Kansas joined 25 other states in filing their initial briefs in the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care mandate. Two briefs, filed this week, outlined objections to the individual mandate provision and disputed the applicability of the anti-injunction act to the states’ legal challenge. Two other briefs were filed in January outlining the states’ objection to the new federal law’s mandatory expansion of state Medicaid programs and the issue of severability if part, but not all, of the federal law is deemed unconstitutional.
The United States Supreme Court has agreed to decide the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act and has scheduled an unprecedented 5.5 hours of oral arguments on the case beginning March 26. A final decision by the court is expected by the end of June.
This is the first time in American history that a majority of the states have joined together in filing suit against the federal government challenging the constitutionality of a federal law. Like many of my constituents, I believe the federal health reform mandate represents an unprecedented overreach of power by the federal government and if not challenged government intrusion into the life of its citizens will only continue.
This session Secretary Taylor with the Office of the Repealer has introduced 20 pieces of legislation in the House alone to do away with outdated rules and regulations, expired commissions, and other aspects of state law viewed as unnecessary. Each bill introduced in the House has been referred to the House Government Efficiency Committee for further action.
The Office of the Repealer was established in January 2011 by Governor Brownback and tasked with finding policies, regulations, and areas of government for possible repeal. In 2011 alone, the Office received 506 suggestions and has submitted many to the legislature and Governor for repeal.
If you believe that an unreasonable, unduly burdensome, duplicative, onerous or conflicting law, regulation or other governing instrument, detrimental to the economic well-being of Kansas, exists, please visit http://repealer.ks.gov. You may also send your suggestion to: Office of the Repealer, 1000 S.W. Jackson, Ste. 500, Topeka, KS 66612
A Note From Arlen…
I hope you take the time to track the Legislature’s work in Topeka over the course of the 2012 session. Although early, policy proposals on the above issues, and many others, are quickly forming and I believe it is an important part of the process to keep my constituents updated. As you know, the devil is in the details and many components of these policies are subject to change. I encourage you to let me know your thoughts on the issues discussed by the legislature and others which might be affecting you. Please feel free to call (785) 296-7662 or e-mail Arlen.Siegfreid@house.ks.gov and I’d be happy to discuss any topic you are interested in. Thank you for the honor of serving you!