This has been the shortest work week of the session to date as legislators did not return from the mid-session break until Wednesday and both houses held pro forma sessions on Friday. However, the two work days did produce what may be the most significant bill of the 2015 session.

On Thursday, the chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, Ty Masterson (R-Andover), and the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee,  (Ron Ryckman, Jr. (R-Olathe), rolled out the long-awaited school finance bill. It incorporates the block grant approach advocated by Governor Brownback and provides just over $3 billion of state support to school districts in each of the next two fiscal years. This accounts for more than 50% of all revenues expended from the State General Fund (SGF). In other words, as school finance goes, so goes the entire state budget.

The plan allows districts to retain their local option budgets (LOB) generated by property taxes and it places relatively few restrictions on how districts can expend their state block grants. Work on the bill has been closely guarded, so most legislators have not yet seen the all-important computer runs showing how much each school district would receive under the plan.

Even if there is broad support for the block grant funding plan, there are still many problems to be solved. The Legislature must first sunset the much-amended school finance formula which has been in place since the early 1990s. At the same time, there are lawsuits challenging the alleged under-funding of the current formula.

So, it will be a long and winding road for this new finance plan to finally reach the Governor’s desk for his signature. Hopefully, that can happen sometime in May. Otherwise we may be facing a special session of the Legislature stretching into June.

Listed below are selected bills that received floor action either last week or this week. Floor actions are shown in italics. Additional information on any bill is available by clicking on the bill number.

AGRIBUSINESS

SB 189 – Allows instructors to maintain an institutional license to practice veterinary medicine if it relates to the instructor’s regular functions within the School of Veterinary Medicine. (Passed by the Senate on a vote of 40-0. Referred to the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources)

HB 2364 – Allows for the continuation of the veterinary training program for rural Kansas by removing the 2016 sunset date for the program. (Passed by the House on a vote of 98-25. Referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture)

BUSINESS AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

SB  154  –  Makes  several  adjustments  in  the  unemployment  insurance  rates  for employers. Replaces the current rate system with one that emphasizes individual merit ratings  for  each  employer.  Creates  a  standard  contribution  rate  schedule  with  fixed reserve  ratio  limits  based  on  an  employer’s  experience  and  an  associated  standard contribution rate. Sets new contribution rates for new employers and caps the maximum weekly benefit at $474 and the minimum weekly benefit at $118 starting on 7/1/2015. That  maximum  rate  would  be  in  place  through  12/31/2017.  A  new  three-year  rate would then be determined by legislative action. (Passed by the Senate on a vote of 35-4. Referred to the House Committee on Commerce, Labor and Economic Development)

ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES

SB  91  –  Moves  from  7/1/2016  to  7/1/2020  the  sunset  date  for transferring   funds   from   the   Kansas   Corporation   Commission Conservation Fee Fund to the Abandoned Oil and Gas Well Fund. Such transfers are increased to $200,000 from $100,000 annually. Eliminates the prohibition on transfers from the State General Fund (SGF) to the Abandoned Well Fund. (Passed by the Senate on a vote of 40-0. Referred to the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources)

SB 227 – Amends the Kansas Water Appropriation Act to require the Chief Engineer of the Kansas Department of Agriculture (KDA) to take into account the past water conservation efforts of a water right holder when implementing further restrictions on a water right. (Passed by the Senate on a vote of 40-0. Referred to the House Committee on Energy and Environment)

HB 2059 – Requires the Chief Engineer of the Kansas Department of Agriculture (KDA) to use “augmentation” as one of the remedial actions the Chief Engineer must consider when a determination has been made that there has been an unlawful diversion of water. (Passed by the House on a vote of 120-3. Referred to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources)

HB 2061 – Grants the Division of Conservation in the Kansas Department of Agriculture (KDA) authority to “restore, establish, enhance and protect natural resources for the purpose of compensatory mitigation” as required by federal law. Creates a state conservation fund to be administered by the KDA. (Passed by the House on a vote of 121-2. Referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture)

HB 2131 – Same provisions as SB 91 (see above). (Passed by the House on a vote of 105-18. Referred to the Senate Committee on Utilities)

ENVIRONMENTAL

HB 2177 – Amends the Voluntary Cleanup and Property Redevelopment Act to make voluntary cleanup plans and associated documents available for public review “upon request.” Also gives the Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) authority to initiate and participate in public meetings to discuss such plans. Eliminates the requirement that KDHE  must  provide  written  notification  when  a  “no  further  action determination on a plan” has been made. (Passed by the House on a vote of 123-0. Referred to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources)

HB 2192 – Creates the Environmental Stewardship Fund and specifies how the Secretary of the Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) can expend such funds. Also amends the Kansas Storage Tank Act to grant the Secretary authority to reimburse eligible owners of underground storage tanks if moneys are available in the Underground Storage Tank Redevelopment Fund. No more than $3 million could be expended from the fund in any one fiscal year. Waives the “first costs of corrective action,” in certain circumstances, to owners of storage tanks where petroleum contamination is discovered. (Passed by the House on a vote of 97-26. Referred to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources)

HB 2193 – Creates the Risk Management Program Act relating to the contamination of the soils and waters of the state. Empowers the Secretary of the Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) to determine when a site is eligible for creation of a voluntary KDHE risk management plan. Sets a minimum fee of $2,500 for participation in such a plan. Empowers the Secretary to determine and take corrective action when a plan is not working and to also determine when a plan is no longer necessary. Requires notification of property owners within a plan site and sets up a hearing process to be used, if necessary. (Passed by the House on a vote of 123-0. Referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources)

FINANCIAL  SERVICES

SB 240 – A comprehensive re-codification of the Kansas Banking Code as contained in Chapter 9 of the Kansas Statutes Annotated. Repeals or incorporates in other parts of the Code more than 50 statutes and adds 18 Special Orders of the Bank Commissioner to the Code. (Passed by the Senate on a vote of 40-0. Referred to the House Committee on Financial Institutions)

HB 2352 – Amends the definitions of “remote service units” and “online” and “offline” in the Kansas Banking Code to reflect technological changes. Also allows state chartered banks to operate interactive teller machines (ITMs). (Passed by the House on a vote of 123-0. Referred to the Senate Committee on Financial Institutions and Insurance)

HEALTH  CARE

SB 117 – Amends the Health Care Provider Insurance Availability Act to include nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, and residential health  care  facilities  as  defined  health  care  facilities  making  them eligible  to  self-insure,  provided  the  other  statutory  requirements  are met.  (Passed  by  the  Senate  on  a  vote  of  40-0.  Referred  to  the  House Committee on Insurance)

STATE GOVERNMENT

SB  197  –  Makes  changes  in  the  process  for  selecting  the  lawyer members of the Supreme Court Nominating Commission (SCNC) and the  district  court  judicial  nominating  commissions.  Also  makes  the registration process for voting on candidates of the SCNC and district court nominees subject to the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) and requires  meetings  of  the  SCNC  and  the  district  judicial  nominating commissions to be subject to the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA). Grants the Governor, rather than the Chief Justice, the power to appoint a person to a vacancy in the chairmanship of the SCNC or a vacancy in any of the lawyer member positions on the SCNC. Also specifies information that applicants for admission to the bar must provide.  (Passed  by  the  Senate  on  a  vote  of  35-4.  Referred  to  the  House Committee on Judiciary)

TAXES

HB  2396  –  Sets  a  10-year  limitation  starting  after  12/31/14  on property  tax  exemptions  allowed  for  property  used  to  produce  and generate electricity. (Referred to the House Committee on Taxation)

Jim Maag