Capitol Briefing

News from the Kansas Statehouse

Jessica’s Law costs

State officials told lawmakers they will need $2.7 million in the coming year to handle the defense of indigents charged with sex crimes under the new “Jessica’s Law.”

Because the law requires increased, mandatory punishments for those convicted of crimes against children, “each and every one of these cases will proceed to trial,” said Patricia Scalia, executive director of the State Board of Indigents’ Defense Services.

“Those trials will be difficult to defend,” Scalia said. “Expert witnesses must be hired to examine the child or child’s records and to examine the accused.

“Few public defenders have the necessary training and few have the requisite experience to try this level of case,” she said.

The law was passed last year.

Property tax deferral

A measure being drawn up by state Rep. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, would freeze property taxes for senior citizens making less than $30,000 per year.

Under the proposal, the state would pay the difference in the frozen amount and any increase in property taxes. When the person dies, the spouse would benefit from the frozen amount. The deferred taxes eventually would be paid off by the next property owner.

Sexual orientation

A bill that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations has been filed in the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee.

Thomas Witt, chairman of the Kansas Equality Coalition, said the measure is needed because “there is a history of gay and lesbian and transgender people being discriminated against.”

Witt said he hoped to get a hearing and a vote in the committee.

The Kansas Equality Commission has more than 500 members in seven chapters statewide, including Lawrence.

In 1995, Lawrence became the first Kansas town to adopt such a measure.

Prison projections

At a recent meeting on state prisons, lawmakers discussed how the state makes projections about the prison population. These numbers are critical in determining whether to commit tens of millions of dollars to building new lockups.

“There’s a little bit of science involved, a little bit of art and a little bit of luck,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman John Vratil, R-Leawood.

Commissioner search

State Board of Education Chairman Bill Wagnon said that when the board picks finalists for education commissioner, he will release their names.

Wagnon and the board’s consultant, Brenda Welburn, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education, said they don’t want to release the names of all applicants because some may not want it to be known that they are applying for the job. But when it gets down to the finalists, Wagnon said, the public has a right to know who they are and provide input.

The board is expected to choose its top candidates at the end of March and pick a new commissioner by April.

Quote of the week

“The erosion is fairly dramatic and we need to turn it around.”

– Tom Thornton, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, on Kansas’ drop in getting federal research and development funds.

What’s next

9 a.m. Tuesday: Hearing on HB 2038, which provides a property tax exemption for a nuclear power plant if built near the Wolf Creek nuclear plant, in House Energy and Utilities, Room 241-North, Capitol building.

10 a.m. Tuesday: Advocates for immigrants will lobby lawmakers about legislative proposals directed at immigrants. Capitol building.

10:30 a.m. Tuesday: Vote on SB29, which excludes Social Security benefits from state tax liability, in Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee, Room 519-South, Capitol.

9:30 a.m. Wednesday: Vote on SB27, banning smoking indoors in public places, in Senate Judiciary Committee, Room 123-South, Capitol.