The Kansas Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that it is moving to Manhattan in summer 2014.
The plan is to house the agency in a new 50,000-square-foot facility built by the Kansas State University Foundation in the group's research park.
Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman said the decision was made to move so the agency could work closer with other agricultural and bioscience entities, including the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. "Manhattan is the value-added center for agriculture," Rodman said.
KDA will maintain its main administrative offices in Topeka, but will move the majority of its programs to Manhattan. In addition, the department will maintain current field offices in Stafford, Stockton, Parsons and Garden City.
Several Kansas officials on Tuesday called on Congress to approve immigration reform.
"We need a national solution and we need it soon," said Allie Devine, a former Kansas agriculture secretary.
In Washington, D.C., several Republican and Democratic senators are trying to craft a bill to secure the nation's borders, improve legal immigration and offer eventual citizenship to millions of people now in the country illegally.
Mike O'Neal, former Kansas House speaker and now chief executive officer of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, said, "A well-crafted and targeted worker program, coupled with an effective border protection policy, offers the best hope of a ‘win-win’ strategy.”
Others speaking in favor of a bi-partisan immigration measure were the Rev. Mark Mertes of Blessed Sacrament Church; the Rev. Jason Schoff of Mission Adelante; both of Kansas City, Kan.; and Bob Stephan, former Kansas attorney general.
"Hispanics and other undocumented workers contribute to our society and they deserve a solution to solve the dilemma that faces them and our nation. We must design a road to lawful status and citizenship that respects those who have been in line and awaiting naturalization," Stephan said.
The roundtable discussion featuring Kansas officials was held at the Savior Pastoral Center Retreat and Conference Center in Kansas City, Kan. The event was sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based National Immigration Forum.
Topeka — House and Senate budget writers on Tuesday remained at an impasse over funding of higher education.
The House has approved a 4 percent reduction to higher education while the Senate has proposed a 2 percent cut.
In addition, the House has proposed other cuts from job vacancies, salary caps and other changes for a grand total of $63.35 million in reductions, compared with the Senate's cut of $21.25 million.
On Monday, Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little met with House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, and other House leaders to talk about higher education funding.
Higher ed officials pointed out that a recent national report noted that recent cuts in higher education have led to steep tuition increases.
States are spending $2,353 or 28 percent less per student on higher education in the current fiscal year than they did in 2008, when the recession hit, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
During that period, tuition has increased $1,850, or 27 percent, the study said.
"Reversing these trends and reinvesting in higher education should be a high priority for state policymakers. A large and growing share of future jobs will require college-educated workers," the study said.
Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed keeping higher education funding at its current level.
Without comment, Gov. Sam Brownback on Monday signed into law a bill that bars public employee unions from taking voluntary deductions from members' paychecks to help finance political activities.
House Bill 2022 was sought by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and conservative legislators.
They argued that state and local government agencies processing payrolls shouldn't be involved in the transactions that divert money to political action committees. They also contended that people were being coerced into making this contributions.
Opponents, including the Kansas National Education Association and Kansas Organization of State Employees, said the paycheck deductions are voluntary and the bill was a thinly disguised attempt to weaken the political influence of public employee unions.
Topeka — A gay rights advocate said Thursday a compromise has been reached on a bill that could result in the quarantine of people with AIDS or HIV.
House Bill 2183 would remove a current provision that exempts those with HIV or AIDS from possible quarantine.
Kansas Department of Health and Environment officials said they wanted to remove the exemption because HIV and AIDS are infectious.
During a hearing on the bill, Paul Marx, an associate chief counsel with KDHE, said there would be no medical reason to isolate or quarantine a person infected with HIV or suffering from AIDS. But Marx added, "I can't say that would never happen, if the virus were to mutate." He added, however, "That is hugely speculative."
Tom Witt, executive director of the Kansas Equality Coalition, said he wanted the HIV/AIDS quarantine exemption restored.
During a House-Senate conference committee meeting, it was agreed to include the phrase "medically necessary and reasonable" when dealing with a quarantine issue.
"Since even KDHE publicly concedes there is never a `medically necessary' reason to quarantine someone with HIV, local health officials will not be able to get away with using the new law to justify harassment of people living with HIV/AIDS," Witt said.
Witt added of the compromise, "This is not perfect — no compromise ever is. We would rather see the specific HIV exemption preserved in law. However, given the extremely conservative tilt of our current state government, this is the closest we are going to get to ensuring people are treated fairly."
HB 2183 clarifies procedures on testing a patient for communicable diseases when a health care worker has been exposed to that patient's blood or bodily fluids.
Topeka — The House and Senate budget conference committee today started negotiations and the House stood by its proposal to cut higher education funding by 4 percent.
The reduction would mean a nearly $10 million cut to Kansas University.
The Senate has proposed a 2 percent cut.
While the Senate plan has a smaller cut, it also reduces the state's student financial assistance programs by $437,832. The House plan doesn't cut those programs.
The House and Senate also differ on proposals to fund a medical education building at KU Medical Center.
The House agrees with Gov. Sam Brownback's plan to provide $3 million in the next fiscal year to jump start construction of the building. The Senate plan would allow KU to use funds for the project that are generally allocated to take care of deferred maintenance and repairs on university buildings and facilities.
Appropriations chairman alleges that head of Kansas Turnpike offered $25 million to kill merger proposal
Topeka — House Appropriations Committee Chairman Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, said the head of the Kansas Turnpike Authority offered Gov. Sam Brownback $25 million to back off his proposal to merge the KTA with the Kansas Department of Transportation.
KTA President and Chief Exeuctive Officer Michael Johnston denied the allegation.
Rhoades made his comment Monday during committee discussion of a proposal to take $30 million in "savings" from KTA and KDOT to support general state operations.
State Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, said no one from the Brownback administration has explained how those savings would occur. The savings, he said, "seems to be a number plucked straight from the air."
Rhoades responded, "Maybe it would come from the $25 million that the director offered the governor."
Asked to respond to Rhoades' comment, the KTA's Johnston said, "There is no truth to it."
He said of revenue collected from tolls on the 236-mile turnpike, "This money doesn't belong to me, and I can't spend it without board approval."
Johnston said a House member called him recently and asked him whether he offered $25 million to kill the merger proposal. "I gave him the same answer I am giving you," Johnston said. He declined to identify the House member.
As far as the proposed savings that Brownback has said would be realized if KTA were brought under KDOT, Johnston said he has no idea what the governor is talking about. "I was never consulted about anything," he said.
Also on Monday, the House gave final approval to a bill that says the KTA and KDOT should work together to minimize duplication of effort in maintaining the turnpike and state highway system.
Topeka — A bill was introduced Thursday that would abolish the death penalty in Kansas.
State Rep. Steven Becker, R-Buhler, said the bill would replace capital punishment with a sentence of life without parole.
The measure would also establish a fund for anticipated savings from eliminating the death penalty, and use those savings to assist families of homicide victims.
The last time the Kansas Legislature debated repeal of the death penalty was in 2010 when the Senate voted 20-20 to abolish capital punishment. That was one vote less than the 21-vote majority needed to advance the measure.
Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994, but no executions have been carried out since then.
Supporters of abolishing the death penalty say it requires extra funding to litigate death penalty cases, which robs dollars from other budget needs.
Becker's bill was introduced before the House Federal and State Affairs Committee.
Advocates for undocumented immigrants on Wednesday urged the Legislature to reject a bill that would establish an Arizona-like "proof of citizenship" law.
About 50 people with Wichita-based Sunflower Community Action assembled in the Statehouse to protest Senate Bill 140 and House Bill 2192.
SB 140 would authorize law enforcement to determine an individual's immigration status if reasonable suspicion exists that the person is here illegally. The measure has been referred to the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, but no hearing has been held.
HB 2192 would repeal in-state tuition for some undocumented, college-eligible immigrant students. No hearing has been set on this bill either, but supporters of the current law note that the repeal could easily be amended into any bill dealing with the budget or education.
Several young people spoke at the rally about how they were brought to Kansas as infants by their parents who were seeking a better life for their families. They said they consider Kansas their home and that the proposed bills would provide a hardship for many hard-working families.
Topeka — In Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback and his conservative Republican colleagues in the Legislature seem to be following the no-way, no-how lead of Texas Gov. Rick Perry on whether to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.
But this story link text in the San Antonio Express-News shows that not all is as it appears in Texas.
While Perry, whom Brownback backed for the Republican nomination for president, is taking a tough-guy stand against Medicaid expansion, key legislators in the Lone Star State are working behind the scenes for a "Texas solution."
And there may be more acceptance in conservative Republican circles for a proposal by Arkansas that has apparently gotten the green light form Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a former Kansas governor. This bloglink text reports that Sebelius has said OK to the plan to use Medicaid dollars to buy private insurance.
So far, Brownback says he is undecided on whether to opt in to expanding Medicaid in Kansas, although whenever asked he says he worries about the costs and notes the state's budget problems — problems caused by income tax cuts he signed into law last year.
And conservative Republicans in the Legislature are pushing a resolution opposing the expansion of Medicaid. Hospitals and health care groups oppose the resolution. In addition, a statewide poll conducted on behalf of the Kansas Hospital Association found that 60 percent of Kansans support expanding Medicaid.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government would pay the entire cost of the expansion for three years, and then that share would fall down to 90 percent after that.
Currently, Medicaid provides health care coverage to about 380,000 Kansans. The largest portion of them, about 230,000, are children. The rest are mostly lower-income, pregnant women, people with disabilities and elderly people. The $2.8 billion program is funded with federal and state dollars.
Medicaid in Kansas doesn’t cover low-income adults who don’t have children. And a nondisabled adult with children is eligible only if his or her income is below 32 percent of the poverty level, which is approximately $5,000 per year. That is about the most difficult eligibility level in the country.
But starting in 2014, the ACA creates an eligibility level of 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $15,415 per year for an individual and $26,344 per year for a family of three.
Estimates are that expansion would cover upwards of 150,000 more Kansans.
Topeka — The Tea-party affiliated FreedomWorks is urging Kansas legislators to reject Common Core reading and math standards.
"Help us protect Kansan students from Common Core," Whitney Neal, director of grassroots for FreedomWorks, said in a note to the group's members. "Let’s fight to keep parents, teachers, and local communities in charge of education – not Washington bureaucrats."
Kansas formally adopted Common Core standards in 2010, saying they would help prepare students for college and careers. Numerous school districts throughout the state, including Lawrence, have spent the past two years getting teachers ready to implement them.
Common Core standards have been adopted by most states, and started as a project of the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers.
But FreedomWorks says Common Core will take away the rights of states to compose their own education requirements.
In Kansas, the Legislature is fighting over budget and tax issues. Senate Republican leaders want to insert a provision in the budget that would prohibit the expenditure of state funds to implement Common Core standards.
Topeka — As the Kansas Legislature remained deadlocked over taxes and spending, Gov. Sam Brownback is speaking today at a $40-a-ticket luncheon in Chicago before the Illinois Policy Institute.
The event has been titled "There's no place like home. A conversation with Kansas Governor Sam Brownback."
The information about the event says that Brownback "has proven to be an innovative reformer seeking to expand liberty in the Sunflower State." It says Brownback enacted the largest income tax cut in Kansas history and is seeking more cuts.
The Illinois Policy Institute describes itself as a non-partisan organization dedicated to supporting free market principles and liberty-based public policy initiatives. Here is a link to information about the event.link text
U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, both Kansas Republicans, voted against gun legislation that would have expanded background checks and other restrictions.
The measure, put together by U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, was in response to the Newtown, Conn., massacre and other mass slayings.
The proposal to expand background checks to sales at guns shows and online received a majority of votes in the Senate — 54-46 — but failed Wednesday to get the required 60 votes needed to advance.
Of the bill, Roberts said, "I believe that Senators Toomey and Manchin came to the table with a sincere proposal, however, I have serious concerns with their legislation, including the expansion of the background check system and government intrusion on private firearm transfers.
"A background check can provide a key line of defense against gun violence, but it must be done in a way that does not infringe upon Second Amendment rights."
The National Rifle Association thanked legislators for defeating the background check expansion, saying it would have criminalized transactions between friends — a charge that supporters of the bill said was untrue.
Roberts said he supported an alternative bill that he said would improve the efficiency and accuracy of the background check system.
Moran did not immediately respond to a request for comment about his vote on expanding background checks.
Topeka — A possible election challenge to Gov. Sam Brownback by former Senate President Steve Morris has been batted around the Twitterverse recently.
Contacted by phone, Morris, a Republican from Hugoton, said he has no plans to run for governor in 2014, but he added, "In this business, you never want to say never."
Morris said there was been discussion around the state of trying to challenge Brownback, a conservative Republican, with an independent or third-party candidate. He said there is probably no way a moderate Republican could defeat Brownback during the GOP primary because of the strength of conservatives within the party.
Morris said he believes Brownback's income tax cuts are hurting the state.
"The tax plan that the governor engineered last year was a big mistake, and this (Brownback's desire to eliminate the state income tax altogether) would just compound that mistake," he said.
Morris was one of 9 moderate Republican senators who were defeated in the GOP primary in August 2012. The moderates were targeted by Wichita-based Koch Industries and groups loyal to Brownback, such as the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Kansans for Life.
Topeka — Labor officials are not happy with the Kansas Legislature.
Citing a recent report that lists Kansas as one of the nation's 10 most deadly states in workplace safety, labor officials said Wednesday the 2013 Legislature will be remembered as one of the most anti-worker legislatures ever.
"Far too many people are dying on the job in this state and instead of strengthening protections for working people, our elected officials are further rigging the system against Kansas workers," said Bruce Tunnell, executive vice president of the Kansas AFL-CIO. "Their misplaced priorities will mean that the health and well-being of more working people are at risk on the job."
An AFL-CIO report said that 78 workers were killed on the job in Kansas in 2011, a rate of 5.9 deaths per 100,000 workers, compared to the national average of 3.6 deaths per 100,000 workers. In addition, 41,000 workplace injuries and illnesses were reported, which was a rate higher than the national average. Kansas ranks 40th in workplace safety, according to the report.
But instead of addressing these safety issues, Tunnell said, the Legislature approved and Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law measures that make it more difficult for injured workers to collect workers' compensation.
Senate Bill 187 puts the appointment of workers' compensation judges more in the hands of businesses and insurance providers. Business groups said the former system favored nominees who were the least objectionable, and not necessarily the most qualified.
Senate Bill 73 reduces the time an injured worker can report a workplace injury, and puts in place new impairment guidelines for injured workers that organized labor has opposed. Supporters of the bill said the new impairment ratings were simply an update.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Monday urged Congress to approve a proposed farm bill, saying he hoped a bipartisan deal on agriculture would create momentum to also pass immigration reform and a long-term deficit reduction plan.
"It's like turning a wheel," Vilsack said in a telephone interview with the Lawrence Journal-World. "Once you give it a push, it can roll around for a while. We have to get momentum in this Congress for getting something done," he said.
Passage of a farm bill provides the best opportunity "to get that wheel rolling," he said.
The House and Senate are set to consider separate five-year farm bills. The Senate bill would cut $2.4 billion annually, while the House plan would reduce spending by $4 billion out of about $100 billion annually.
Both versions would cut food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The Senate bill would cut $400 million per year, while the House would reduce it by $2 billion annually.
The administration supports the Senate version, Vilsack said, because the House bill cuts SNAP too deeply.
And Vilsack said it's important to approve immigration legislation, too.The Senate Judiciary Committee is aiming to pass before the Memorial Day recess an immigration bill to secure the border and offer citizenship to millions.
Vilsack said getting those two pieces of legislation passed may pave the way for cooperation on a budget deal.
Congress and the White House's failure to agree on long-term deficit reduction has led to automatic budget cuts, known as sequestration. Vilsack said sequestration "does create a challenge to fund programs."
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was in Washington, D.C., yesterday testifying against an immigration bill before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
Kobach cited the recent Boston Marathon bombing as one of several reasons he opposed the proposed legislation, saying that the bill provided insufficient background checks to prevent terrorists from gaining amnesty.
According to his written testimony, Kobach said that under the bill "any illegal alien can invent a new name with a totally clean record and present that name when applying for the amnesty.
"In other words, an alien who has a terrorist background can call himself `Rumpelstiltskin' without having to prove that that is his real name."
He said marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died in a shoot-out with police, was able to travel internationally and gain terrorist training before returning to the United States.
Supporters of the immigration bill, however, say it will strengthen security by increasing border security and enforcement. The measure would also require employers to check their workers' legal status, and it would provide a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants now here illegally.
Kobach has worked with several cities and states, such as Arizona, in passing measures aimed at reducing illegal immigration.
His use of the term "self-deportation," to describe the departure of undocumented workers because of tough immigration enforcement laws became an issue during the November presidential campaign. Kobach was an adviser on immigration issues to Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who also used the term "self-deportation." Some have said that hurt Romney among Hispanic voters.
During Tuesday's committee meeting, Kobach got into a discussion about "self-deportation" with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Kobach said, "Self-deportation is not some radical idea. It is simply the idea that people may comply with the law by their own choice.
"Self-deportation is something that Arizona has proven that if you ratchet up the penalties for violating the law, people chose to leave and it has been proven that they do that."
But Durbin said, "The voters had the last word on self-deportation on Nov. 6, so we're beyond that now. You can stick with that theory as long as you'd like, but I think what we are talking about now is whether America is a better country if we have an immigration system that brings 11 million people out of the shadows, to register with this government, so we know who they are, where they are, do a criminal background check, or whether we leave them in the shadows."
Topeka — State tax revenue is expected to decline more over the next fiscal year than it decreased during the three years of the Great Recession, according to new state fiscal estimates.
New revenue figures show that the state will receive $5.454 billion in tax revenue for the fiscal year that starts July 1— a decrease of $745 million from the estimated $6.199 billion in revenue during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
During the recession, tax receipts fell to $5.191 billion in fiscal year 2010 from $5.809 billion in fiscal year 2007. That's a decline of $618 million over a three-year period.
The bulk of the $745 million reduction in receipts over the next fiscal year includes $450 million less in income tax and $270 million fewer dollars in state sales tax.
The revenue estimates are compiled by the Consensus Revenue Estimating Group, which includes the state Division of the Budget, Legislative Research Department and three consulting economists from state universities.
Last year, Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law cuts in income tax rates, including exemptions from state income taxes on non-wage income for 190,000 businesses, and eliminating tax credits for low-income Kansans.
In 2010, facing record revenue declines, the Legislature approved raising the state sales tax from to 6.3 percent from 5.3 percent, and then allowing that rate to fall back to 5.7 percent after three years.
Saying he wants to avoid cuts to higher education, Brownback is now pushing to make the 6.3 percent sales tax permanent. Democrats say the tax plan signed by Brownback has produced a fiscal crisis.
Topeka — Gov. Sam Brownback continues to try to build his case for making the 6.3 percent state sales tax permanent, instead of letting it fall to 5.7 percent.
On Friday, Brownback said the state may need revenue from the higher levy in case of a ruling against the state from the Kansas Supreme Court on funding of public schools.link text
"We've got a lawsuit pending against the state right now that we have lost at the lower court on K-12 funding, and we don't know when the Supreme Court is going to rule — it's under mediation now — but I think you have got to also be also looking at that in the overall picture," Brownback said.
In 2010, facing a revenue crisis, the Legislature approved a temporary, three-year increase in the state sales tax to 6.3 percent from 5.3 percent, and then decreasing it to 5.7 percent on July 1.
Brownback wants to keep the rate at 6.3 percent, saying the revenue is needed to balance the budget. He has said in recent days that the higher sales tax is required to prevent cuts proposed by the House and Senate to higher education.
Democrats oppose extending the higher rate because they say current budget problems are the result of Brownback signing into law last year income tax cuts, which they say benefit mostly the wealthy. link text In addition, they said that Brownback wants to use future sales tax revenue to cut income taxes even more. Conservative Republicans in the House have also voiced opposition to the higher sales tax rate, saying the budget should be cut more.
But on Friday, Brownback added the issue of school funding to the mix.
In January, a three-judge panel ruled that legislators must increase spending on schools by at least $440 million. The issue is pending before the state Supreme Court.
Brownback said legislators have to consider the impact that a possible final ruling against the state would have on the budget and how the state would come up with additional revenue for schools.
"You could get yourself where you'd be in a crisis position, and I don't think that's prudent," Brownback said.
Topeka — As legislators return Wednesday for the wrap-up session, concerns are rising for those who care for Kansans with developmental disabilities.
Two issues are in play.
One is increased funding proposed by Gov. Sam Brownback to reduce the number of Kansans on waiting lists to get the support they need.
The second issue is whether the thousands of Kansans with developmental and intellectual disabilities should be brought under the new KanCare system to provide their long-term care services.
Parents of those with disabilities support Brownback's proposed $18.5 million funding increase, though many oppose providing long-term care for their children under the privatized KanCare system run by for-profit insurance companies.
But Brownback's administration is saying one would impact the other.
Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said the "continued opposition to including long-term services under KanCare for persons on the I/DD (intellectual and developmental disability) waiver jeopardizes the state's ability to address the waiting lists."
De Rocha points to a fiscal note of House Bill 2029, which would "carve out" long-term care services from KanCare.
That fiscal note, signed by Brownback's budget director Steve Anderson, says the carve-out would increase costs to the state by $9.2 million in the fiscal year starting July 1, and $16.8 million in the fiscal year after that.
As a result, de Rocha said, the ability of the House and Senate to adopt Brownback's increased funding plan "could be impacted by the carve-out."
Tom Laing, executive director of InterHab, which represents groups that provide services to people with developmental disabilities, had a different view of the fiscal note.
Laing said projected costs contained in the fiscal note incorrectly included several factors, including inflation. "We don't get paid higher costs due to inflation. That is a fictional variable that they've thrown in," he said.
InterHab says more than 1,100 Kansans will attend a rally on Wednesday outside the Statehouse calling on Brownback and the Legislature to carve out from KanCare long-term services for the developmentally disabled.