Legislative News

SCHOOLS FOR QUALITY EDUCATION

Legislative Report – January 31st, 2014

Dave Heinemann

 

            Kansas Day, January 29, 2014, was the highlight of the week as dignitaries consisting of the Governor, other state elected officials, former House Speakers and Senate Presidents who were part of the 14-year Statehouse renovation process, and many others, assembled to celebrate the completion of the project.  Yes, the crane is down and only the landscaping needs to be completed this Spring.  All Kansans should be proud of their Statehouse and its new refurbished copper dome (in 35 years it will be green again).  The renovation, at a cost of $327 million, was a complete rebuild and expansion, not only to make the facility functional for those who work in it, but, more important, to make it accessible to the public, particularly those who come to attend committee meetings.  Perhaps the best new part is the spacious visitor center that appears to have been designed with our school children in mind.  Buses can now unload students in a protected area right at the front doors to the visitor center that is also equipped with classrooms filled with audio-visual equipment to help aid in the Statehouse visit. The Kansas State Historical Society has provided numerous exhibits along the hallways, that include John Brown’s sword and a copper portal from the former dome, to name a few of the items of historic significance.  One of the other exhibits contains the sledge hammer that Republican House Speaker Douglas used during the legislative war of 1893 to break down the entrance to the House chamber that was being held by the Populist representatives.   Paul Davis, the House Minority Leader, noted in his remarks that  the state militia was also at the capital until the Kansas Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the Republicans were the legally constituted majority of the body.  He jokingly alluded to the fact that we all hope things can end as peacefully when this year’s anticipated Gannon case is decided.

            Outside of the Kansas Day festivities, this week seemed to be one of little major activity.  The House and Senate Education committees continued to meet in joint session to gather more background information.  The same seems to be true of most other legislative committees and a few hardly meet at all.   It appears to some that the legislative leadership is anxiously waiting to see what the Supreme Court hands down in the Gannon case before any major moves are taken.  Obviously, with the state’s extraordinarily tight budget situation related to the income tax cuts (the ending balances are only 4.0% in the Governor’s revised budget recommendations for FY 15′, not the statutory 7.5%), any decision that comes close to upholding the three judge district court’s order to provide an additional $440 million in school funding creates a major problem and a potential constitutional crisis depending upon the legislative response.  The budget committees are on a fast track to work the agency budgets.  Since the fiscal year 2015 budget was passed last year as part of the Governor’s initiative to provide a two-year budget cycle, the budget committees are primarily looking at just the adjustments made by the Governor to the previously adopted budget. Parties interested in specific budgets may only receive a one-days notice of the budget hearing.  This has made it very difficult for those residing outside of Topeka who may need a little time to prepare to attend a hearing and also to be able to provide testimony.  

 

Bills of Interest

            Senate Bill 264 – On and after January 1, 2015, no school district may undertake any building project  unless the project plans include a community storm shelter that meets the design and construction requirements promulgated by the adjutant general. Certain small remodeling projects and facilities related to extracurricular activities are exempt.

            Senate Bill 304 –  This bill would restrict municipalities, including school districts, in their ability to offer or provide video, telecommunications or broadband services to certain subscribers, particularly when dealing with excess capacity.  While the bill states that its intent is to ensure fair competition, there may be unintended consequences, particularly in rural areas, where there are fewer providers of high-speed broadband services.  The hearing on this billnext Monday in the Senate Commerce Committee will be closely followed.

            Senate Bill 305 – Payments would end from the school district capital improvements fund to those school districts that issue general obligation bonds upon approval of the voters after June 30, 2014. Recent fears of the passage of this type of legislation is said to have intensified the efforts of some school districts to address their infrastructure needs now, rather than risk the loss of state aid in any future project.  In fact, USD 501 is considering a mail ballot to speed up the process in the event a bond election held during this year’s general election would occur too late to qualify for state assistance.  The bill also attempts to divert funds that would have been otherwise used for general bond aid on issues approved after June 30, 2014, to help fund the shortfall in the state’s LOB obligation.

            House Bill 2432 – Under this proposal, known as “Erin’s Law”, every school district will be mandated to adopt and implement a plan to address child sexual abuse for each of its schools offering any of the grades kindergarten through six.  Training of teachers is required in order to provide age-appropriate instruction subject to parental notification with a right to opt out.  The state board of education is mandated to develop materials and guidelines for local boards to use in implementing their plans.

            House Bill 2475 – All accredited Kansas high schools would be mandated to provide a course on personal financial literacy for grades 11 and 12.  The bill spells out areas that are to be covered: saving and investing; credit and debt; financial responsibility and money management; and, insurance, risk management and income, together with various subsets of these categories.  No student shall be allowed to graduate without having taken and satisfactorily passed this course. Adoption of this proposal will no doubt cause problems for low enrollment districts.

All-day Kindergarten Committee Appointed

            At the close of business last Friday House Speaker Ray Merrick named the nine house members who he wants to study the Governor’s all-day kindergarten proposal.  They are: Jerry Lunn, R-Overland Park (Chair); Ron Highland, R-Wamego (Vice-Chair); Ron Ryckman, Sr., R-Meade; Charles Macheers, R-Shawnee; Mark Kahrs, R- Wichita; Sue Boldra, R-Hays; Steve Huebert, R-Wichita; Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield; and Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City.  The committee will study the policy and budgetary concerns of the proposal and issue a report to both the House Appropriations and House Education committees.