Archive for Monday, May 30, 2016

School finance, transgender bathroom issues could lead to busy ‘sine die’ session for Kansas lawmakers

The Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

The Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.

May 30, 2016


TOPEKA — The Kansas Statehouse will be busier than normal on Wednesday when the House and Senate reconvene for what is normally just a brief ceremony known as "sine die."

The Latin phrase, which loosely translates as "without another day being designated," marks the official end of the legislative session, when lawmakers declare there is no more business to be done this year.

But this year, lawmakers intend to take care of a little more business before making that declaration, including a Senate resolution regarding transgender bathrooms and a possible override of Gov. Sam Brownback's veto of a tax bill.

Wednesday is also the deadline for candidates to file for office in the upcoming legislative and congressional elections.

But the one thing that wasn't known by the end of the week is whether lawmakers will respond to the Kansas Supreme Court's ruling late Friday striking down a major part of next year's school funding plan as unconstitutional.

Late last week, leaders in both chambers of the Legislature were encouraging all of their members to come back for sine die.

Most notably, Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, sent an email to the Senate Republican caucus announcing that she would introduce a resolution challenging the Obama administration's recent guidelines on the rights of transgender students in pubic schools, including their right to use restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity.

"I wanted to inform you that I will be sponsoring a resolution that will run on sine die supporting student privacy and urging Attorney General (Derek) Schmidt to join the multi-state lawsuit," Wagle wrote.

That suit was filed by the state of Texas in federal district court, and at least 10 other states have joined as plaintiffs.

House leaders do not plan to consider that resolution, but Republican Speaker Ray Merrick of Stilwell has been circulating a letter among his caucus that effectively says the same thing.

However, depending on how the resolution is worded, passage of it by only one chamber could trigger a state law that would require the attorney general to join that lawsuit.

Schmidt earlier filed a "friend of the court" brief with the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pennsylvania, supporting a local school district there that is being sued by the family of a transgender student because that district would only provide the student access to a one-person unisex restroom.

Abbie Hodgson, spokeswoman for House Democratic Leader Tom Burroughs of Kansas City, said her office is encouraging Democrats to be present as well.

"We should have a good portion of our Democrats there," she said.

School finance

On Friday, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled lawmakers failed to cure constitutional problems it had found earlier in the way the state equalizes school funding among its 286 school districts so that property-poor districts don't have to levy higher taxes than wealthier districts to achieve similar levels of funding.

The court gave lawmakers until June 30, the last day of the current state fiscal year, to correct the problems, or else it will order the school system closed, locking the doors to more than 480,000 public school students, until the system is fixed.

Specifically, the court struck down the portion known as local option budgets, or LOBs, which is the additional money districts can raise on their own, above and beyond what the state provides in base funding.

Some districts receive additional aid to subsidize those LOBs, and the combination of local taxes and state aid in that area add up to roughly $1 billion, or about 25 percent of all K-12 education funding in Kansas.

Republicans were quick to criticize the ruling, arguing that it violates the concept of separation of powers. But there was no indication about whether they would try to respond to the ruling this week, which would probably extend the sine die session by several days, or wait and call a special session later.

"I will be talking with my colleagues in the Senate about the best course forward dealing with the Court's ruling — a ruling which tramples the checks and balances enshrined in the state constitution," Wagle said Friday.

Meanwhile, Democrats issued statements putting the onus squarely on the shoulders of Republicans to come up with a constitutional funding mechanism, giving no indication that they would offer one of their own.

“Republican legislators have once again failed to comply with their constitutional duty to fairly fund our schools," Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said.

Kerry Gooch, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, also put the blame on Republican lawmakers.

“They are jeopardizing our students’ education and future," he said. "Kansas used to be renowned for its excellent education system. However, because of Brownback and his conservative allies in the Legislature, our schools are on the verge of closing.”

Veto overrides

The other major items lawmakers will have to take up are Brownback's vetoes of a tax bill and two line items in the recently-passed budget.

Procedurally, the governor's veto message must be read into the record. Then, whoever chairs the meeting of the chamber where those bills originated must open the floor for a motion to pass the bill, "notwithstanding the governor's veto."

In the case of the two line-item vetoes, it's unlikely that anyone will make such a motion.

But Wagle specifically mentioned an override of Brownback's veto of Senate Bill 280 in her email to Republican senators.

That bill, which passed both chambers by unanimous votes, included a provision clarifying that when a taxpayer loses their appeal of a tax dispute at the Board of Tax Appeals, they are entitled to appeal further to a district court and receive a "de novo" trial, meaning it would receive a new review, as if the dispute had not been heard before by any other tribunal.

In his veto message, Brownback suggested it was special legislation to favor one individual. But he did not specifically mention retired businessman and longtime GOP activist Gene Bicknell, who is embroiled in a $50 million income tax dispute with the Kansas Department of Revenue.

However, that bill came out as a conference committee report that also had the contents of several other tax-related bills packaged together, and those portions were also considered important to some lawmakers, most of which deal with property taxes.

Those include provisions that limit the ability of county appraisers to increase the valuation on property for two years after the valuation has been reduced through the appeals process.

Another empowers the state's property valuation director to remove county appraisers from office if they fail to meet continuing education requirements, have been convicted of certain crimes, or have been the subject of a final civil judgment finding fraud, misrepresentation, or deceit in appraising property.

Other provisions deal with how oil and gas leases are appraised, and one spells out the standard for determining when a home that is occasionally used as a bed and breakfast is assessed for tax purposes at the residential rate of 11.5 percent of its appraised value or the higher 25 percent commercial rate.


Paul R Getto 1 year, 8 months ago

Should be "fun" to watch them eat their young (and the Constitution.) Weep for Kansas.

Barb Gordon 1 year, 8 months ago

School funding crisis? Quick. Make it worse by finding a distracting social issue that also serves as another way to lose federal funding!

Fred Whitehead Jr. 1 year, 8 months ago

Solution.......One "hole" bathrooms (toilets) Door on bathroom.......lock on door, As many as you need.

Showers...............Private one user showers with door with latch controlled from the inside only.

Problem solved. Except ........who is going to pay for this?? Money from the Federal Government who started this issue?? Of course this will not work in Kansas, the idiot governor would send the money back.

Ralph Reed 1 year, 8 months ago

Fred, the Feds did not start this. The RWNJs who are more concerned with where someone goes to the bathroom than with the economy, education, voter rights, women's health, etc, etc, etc, started this.

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