Marijuana bill to conference committee; school accounting bill dies; bill raising auto insurance minimums advances
The Kansas House apparently has a lot of questions about what the Senate did to the House's marijuana bill and voted Friday to request a conference committee.
The original bill, which passed the House last year, would lower the penalties for first- and second-time charges of marijuana possession. That was intended to free up bed space in the state's already-overcrowded prisons, thus saving the state upwards of $1 million a year.
But it also included provisions legalizing the medical use of hemp oil to treat certain seizure disorders and authorizing the Kansas Department of Agriculture to research industrial uses of hemp.
Over in the Senate, though, the medical and agricultural hemp provisions got stricken out and replaced with a provision, pushed by Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, calling for mandatory prison sentences for certain aggravated burglary charges. Among other things, that would effectively cancel out all of the bed space and financial savings from lowering marijuana possession charges.
Friday, the bill came back to the House on a motion to concur or nonconcur with what the Senate had done. But both the chairman of the Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee, Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee, and the ranking Democrat, Rep. Boog Highberger of Lawrence, said those were some pretty major changes to their bill, and they want to talk about it some more.
It probably won't be the only sentencing bill on which the House and Senate have different positions. What often happens in the Legislature is to wait until the final weeks of the session when the conference committee has a stack of bills to deal with, and then begin horse-trading with different elements from many different bills, which will then get bundled together into a single "omnibus" Corrections and Juvenile Justice bill.
That practice, by the way, has been a particular bone of contention for Rubin, who has tried, mostly without success, in the past to put strict limits into the House rules about how many different bills can be bundled together in conference reports.
Uniform accounting and reporting dies
Conservatives in the House who have been pushing for a law to make school districts produce more understandable financial reports suffered a setback in the House when their bill to require uniform accounting and reporting systems failed on final action, 58-61.
That had been one of the recommendations of Gov. Sam Brownback's task force on school efficiency, which issued its report in 2013, and the bill calling for such a system passed the Senate in 2015. Groups including the conservative think tank Kansas Policy Authority (whose president Dave Trabert served on the efficiency task force) argued that having a uniform accounting and reporting system would make it easier to compare finances and spending habits across districts to determine who's being more efficient with their money and who's being more wasteful.
They also argued that having a single, uniform accounting and reporting system might save districts, and the state, some money on software costs.
The bill, however, went further and would have required districts to publish on their websites the aggregate annual compensation for their employees as well as the names and salary information of their 10 highest-paid employees, or top three employees in the case of very small districts.
But a lot of school officials pushed back, arguing first that the Kansas State Department of Education already has a standard form for reporting top-line, summary data. But they all have individual systems for keeping track of more detailed information because the 286 districts all do things differently.
Auto insurance coverage
Drivers who carry only the minimum required liability insurance in Kansas would have to carry a little bit more under a bill that passed out of the House Friday, 116-2.
Since the 1980s, Kansas has required drivers to carry only $10,000 worth of coverage for property damage. But with the average cost of new cars today now well over $30,000 — and even the cheapest new car on the road pricing at more than $12,000 — there is now general agreement that the Kansas coverage minimum just wasn't enough.
The bill does not, however, raise the minimum coverage limit for bodily injuries, which is the cost of medical care if you cause an accident that injures someone else, despite the massive increases in health care costs that have occurred since the 1980s. That limit now stands at $25,000 per person, or $50,000 total.
Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, who chairs the Insurance Committee, said Kansas is still above average among states for injury coverage and raising the limit would have had a bigger impact on the price of an insurance policy, which would likely result in having more uninsured drivers on the road.
He also said that although there are many horror stories about people who've been severely injured in accidents, overall, the vast majority of injury accidents result in relatively minor injuries.
That bill now goes to the Senate.
Two members of the Kansas congressional delegation won leadership positions on Wednesday.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican, was elected to serve as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, was elected vice chair of the House Republican Conference.
Moran will be responsible for recruiting GOP Senate candidates and helping them raise campaign funds.
Jenkins, who just won re-election to a third term, will be part of the Republican leadership team, advancing the party's agenda.