Kansas legislators left Topeka late Thursday for the traditional three-week “spring break.” They need to make sure they are well rested when they return on Wednesday, April 29, because they left many issues unresolved, including the two major issues, budgets and taxes.
Besides budgets and taxes, there are dozens of bills currently in House/ Senate conference committees that must be dealt with during the “veto” session. While many bills were discussed last week, relatively few made their way through both houses.
There was reluctance on the part of legislative leaders to take any further budget or tax actions until the revenue projections for FY 2016 and FY 2017 are announced by the special panel of economists on April 20th and the actual revenue numbers for the month of April are revealed on the last day of the month. Unfortunately, State General Fund (SGF) revenues for March came in $11 million below official estimates, which only creates additional problems.
One thing legislators know for certain is that some kind of additional taxes will be necessary to fill the huge revenue shortfall before a balanced budget (as required by the state constitution) can be produced for the coming fiscal year.
What form those tax increases will take is still unknown. It could mean an increase in the current state sales tax rate or in the so-called “sin taxes” (alcohol and tobacco). An increase in the motor fuels tax (some of which could be siphoned off to the SGF) is being discussed. Or it may be a combination of all of these taxes. Governor Brownback stated publicly last week that he would veto any legislation involving an increase in income taxes. At least a half-dozen new tax proposals were introduced just last week, some of which would require property tax increases. Finding a majority vote for any type of a tax increase is going to be a major challenge in both houses.
Among the non-fiscal issues receiving a lot of press last week was the Governor’s signing of a bill (SB 45) to allow concealed gun carry by any person 21 years of age or older without a criminal record. The bill does not abolish the current training procedure for concealed carry and the Governor encouraged Kansans to access that training even though it is not required under the new law which becomes effective on July 1, 2015.
The new block grant program for K-12 school districts which replaces the long-standing school finance formula became official last week with publication of the Act in the State Register. The focus on that issue now shifts to the courts where an action against the new program has already been filed and a court hearing on legislative actions under the old formula is scheduled for early May.
A bill revamping key welfare programs engendered heated debate in both houses last week, but HB 2258 (see below under State Government) still cleared both houses by wide margins. Programs which had been basically operating by rules and regulations are now more restrictive and have been placed in statute form thus making future changes more challenging.
A major reform bill involving the state unemployment insurance plan (SB 154) was close to clearing its last legislative hurdle on Thursday, but the Senate adjourned before senators could adopt the conference committee report. It is expected to receive quick approval when the Legislature returns. If enacted, the bill should significantly reduce unemployment insurance costs for many Kansas businesses.
As noted above, legislators will return the last week of April for the so-called “veto session” which has become much more than a brief period to consider gubernatorial vetoes. This year the session might be more appropriately called the “heavy lifting session,” since legislators still have many bills to consider, as well as major budget and tax problems to solve.
Listed below are selected bills that received legislative approval last week. Additional information on any bill can be accessed by clicking on the bill number.
BUSINESS AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
House Sub for SB 117 – Creates the Kansas Transportation Network Company Services Act which governs the rights of parties, responsibilities of pre-arranged rides companies, and insurance coverage for such companies. Insurance requirements specified in the Act become effective on 1/1/2016. Allows for certain insurance exclusions, provides for driver background checks and protects lienholder interests. (Passed by the House on a vote of 107-16 and by the Senate on a vote of 35-2. Awaiting action by the Governor)
ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES
House Sub for SB 36 – Creates the Local Conservation Lending Program which allows the Secretary of Health and Environment (KDHE) to enter into “linked deposit agreements” with eligible financial institutions to fund various types of conservation projects that have been approved by the Secretary. Specifies what entities would be eligible borrowers. (Passed by the Senate on a vote of 39-1. Awaiting action by the Governor)
SB 124 – Authorizes the Secretary of Health and Environment (KDHE) to adopt rules and regulations relating to the “land spreading” of wastes created by the drilling of oil and gas wells. Requires the land owner to give notice of the land spreading if and when the real estate involved is offered for sale. Lifts the current prohibition on the disposal of low-level radioactive waste in underground burials. Grants the Secretary of KDHE authority to develop regulations on allowable amounts of low- level radioactive waste. Also grants the Secretary of KDHE authority to establish variances to water quality standards. (Passed by the Senate on a vote of 39-1. Awaiting action by the Governor)
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. Also contains the provisions of HB 2177 which 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. Requires clean up plans to be posted on the KDHE web site. (Passed by the House on a vote of 116-0. Awaiting action by the Governor)
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. Awaiting action by the Governor)
HB 2216 – 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). Excludes contractor liens from the definition of “mortgage loan” in the Kansas Mortgage Business Act. Makes several amendments to the Kansas Money Transmitter Act relating to definitions, surety and license requirements, and exempts certain service providers from the Transmitter Act. (Passed by the House on a vote of 116-4. Awaiting action by the Governor)
HB 2064 – Authorizes insurance companies to insure against the cost of legal services. Also makes changes to the definition of health care providers in the Kansas Health Care Insurance Availability Act to exclude nurse anesthetists who are on active duty or employed by the federal government, or who hold exempt licenses, and to include nursing facilities, assisted living facilities. Also changes the definition of health care systems. (Passed by the Senate on a vote of 40-0. Awaiting further action by the House)
Senate Sub for HB 2258 – Modifies various eligibility requirements and places limits on TANF, food assistance, and child care assistance programs. Makes eligibility requirements for TANF statutory, requires electronic checks for false application information, includes cohabiting partners in eligibility determinations, requires work assessments, registration and work participation, requires consideration of equity in certain property in eligibility determinations, creates a 36-month lifetime limit on receipt of TANF benefits, and limits certain purchases with TANF benefits. Also requires the Department of Children and Families (DCF) to adopt child care assistance rules and sets maximum limits on child care assistance; establishes changes to the food assistance program, disqualifying persons guilty of drug felonies from assistance. (Passed by the Senate on a vote of 30-10 and by the House on a vote of 87-35. Awaiting action by the Governor)