Some Senate Republicans did some heavy lifting on Friday for private gyms by voting to give them a property tax exemption.
State Sen. Jeff Melcher, R-Leawood, said it was unfair that for-profit private health clubs paid property taxes, while non-profit YMCAs and YWCAs were exempt from those taxes.
Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka, however, said the YMCAs and YWCAs do public service work, while private health clubs don't.
Hensley handed out information that showed many supporters of Melcher's amendment received campaign donations from the owner of Genesis Health Clubs.
"The people who write the checks, end up writing the laws," Hensley said.
Melcher responded, saying, "It's a shame a taxpayer has to expend so many resources to get tax fairness." His amendment giving private health clubs a property tax exemption was approved 21-17. The underlying bill dealt with a long-running dispute over taxes paid by a concrete company.
State Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, tried to exempt Douglas County from the amendment, saying that there were no YMCAs or YWCAs in the county. "I'm not going to let foolish special-interest tax policy unfairly shift the tax burden onto other commercial and residential property owners in my district," he said. But his amendment was rejected.
School children visiting the Statehouse on Thursday quickly gravitated toward the building's newest addition — a 17-foot juvenile mosasaur hanging on the wall in Gov. Sam Brownback's ceremonial office.
"It's kind of like lightning in a bottle, the way I see it," said Alan Detrich, of Lawrence, a fossil hunter who discovered the dinosaur several years ago in Gove County in western Kansas.
"Once you get a kid interested in dinosaurs or fossils, they want to read about it, and on the way to becoming a paleontologist they might accidentally end up being a doctor, or a governor, or a state representative," Detrich said.
Detrich has loaned the mosasaur to the state for an indefinite period of time.
The mosasaur arrived as the Kansas House gave final approval to make the tylosaurus, a type of mosasaur, as the state marine fossil, and pteranodon as the official state flying fossil.
The designation started with petitions from school children in Lecompton Elementary; Liberty Memorial Central Middle School and New York school, both of Lawrence; and Santa Fe Trails Middle School in Olathe.
Amanda Martin-Hamon, the daughter of the late Larry Martin, who had been Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Kansas University Natural History Museum, said her father would have been proud of the designation because it will be used as an educational tool. "He felt like paleontology was a really great way to do that because kids love fossils, they love dinosaurs. It sparks their imagination to think that sea monsters were real," she said.
Martin-Hamon's daughter Teagan, a third-grader at Lecompton school, helped spur the petition effort of having a state fossil.
The mosasaur, coiled up in its "death pose" on display, was a swimming reptile predator common to Kansas when it was under an inland sea millions of years ago.
A bill that would phase-out the mortgage registration fee over five years has been approved by a Senate committee.
Bankers and real estate agents have been pushing for the end of the fee, saying it hurts their business and consumers.
But county officials statewide, including those in Douglas County, have said the lost revenue would need to be made up some other way.
Senate Bill 298 was recommended by the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee earlier this week.
The fee is equal to $2.60 for each $1,000 borrowed on a home mortgage, or $390 for a $150,000 mortgage. It isn't collected from people who pay cash for real estate.
In Douglas County, the fee generated about $1.8 million last year, and officials estimate a 2-mill rise in property taxes would be needed to replace that money.
The bill approved by the committee would also phase-in over four years a $4-per-page increase in fees for documents handled by county registers of deeds. But county officials say they won't produce nearly enough to replace the mortgage registration fee.
The Kansas House advanced a bill to designate the Tylosaurus and Pteranodon as the official state fossils, but not before a lecture from a state legislator that the action was a waste of time.
"This foolishness has to stop sometime," said state Rep. Mike Kiegerl, R-Olathe.
He said the proposal would have no benefit and the Legislature should spend its time on school finance and funding services for those with disabilities.
But other legislators said designating a state marine fossil and state flying fossil would expose Kansas schoolchildren to the natural scientific history of Kansas.
And it would spur tourism, they said, especially at the Kansas University Natural History Museum and Sternberg Museum in Hays.
In fact, famous fossil hunter Alan Detrich will bring a juvenile Tylosaurus skeleton to the Statehouse on Thursday for display.
House Bill 2595 gained preliminary approval 93-13.
Topeka — An ultrasound will be performed on a pregnant woman before a Senate committee today, the chairwoman of the committee said.
The procedure will be performed in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee as hundreds of anti-abortion advocates gather at the Statehouse to coincide with the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
Public Health and Welfare Chairwoman State Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, is an ardent opponent of abortion.
She said the ultrasound needed to be done for the committee for education purposes. "Because we often consider the life and health of the unborn child in the Senate health committee, it is important that committee members are educated as to the science of the life within the womb," Pilcher-Cook said.
Those opposed to abortion often push for laws that require women who want an abortion to have an ultrasound and have abortion providers place the ultrasound image next to a pregnant woman so she can view it and listen to the heartbeat.
The Guardian newspaper recently reported on numerous internal documents of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which helps shape legislation in Kansas and other states.
One document showed that the corporate-backed ALEC, which has numerous Republican legislative members in Kansas, had proposed that the ALEC state chairs take a loyalty oath that said, "I will act with care and loyalty and put the interests of the organization first."
House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, is the ALEC state chair in Kansas. Asked whether Merrick would sign such an oath, his spokeswoman Rachel Whitten said, "This is a non-issue. The oath was not adopted."
A new SurveyUSA pollfinds that Kansas' Republican political leaders have high job disapproval ratings.
Fifty-eight percent of Kansans disapproved of the job Gov. Sam Brownback was doing while 35 percent approved. U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran had 53 percent and 50 percent disapproval ratings while 35 percent and 37 percent approved, the poll said.
Although within the margin of error, the Republicans' approval rates were even lower than President Barack Obama's, a Democrat, who had a 42 percent approval rate and 56 percent disapproval.
The poll also shows that Democrat Paul Davis, who is challenging Brownback in the 2014 election, has low name identification.
Eight of 10 voters were either neutral or had no opinion about Davis when asked if they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him. In fact, his name ID was so low, the pollsters referred to him as "Paul David" instead of "Paul Davis."
Davis' campaign said SurveyUSA planned to re-do that portion of the poll. But Davis' camp said the point of the poll was that it showed that their candidate at this point lacks name ID.
When the poll asked individuals' opinion of Brownback, 22 percent were favorable and 47 percent unfavorable, while the remaining were either neutral or had no opinion.
Meanwhile, Davis was at 7 percent with a favorable opinion, 13 percent unfavorable, while 80 percent were either neutral or had no opinion.
In addition, only 29 percent of those polled approved of the job the Republican-dominated Kansas Legislature was doing, while 61 percent disapproved.
The poll of 532 registered voters was released earlier this week and conducted on behalf of KWCH-TV in Wichita. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points. Of those polled, 41 percent were Republicans, 30 percent Democrats, and 29 percent independents.
Topeka — In all the furor over various tax proposals in the Legislature, one that has caught the attention of some legislators is reducing the state sales tax on groceries.
People who buy their groceries in Kansas are paying the second-highest state sales tax in the nation on groceries.
According to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, 45 states charge a state sales tax. Of those, 31 exempt groceries from the state sales tax.
Of the other 14 states, seven charge a portion of the state sales tax on groceries, and seven, including Kansas, apply the entire state sales tax on groceries. Of those seven, only Mississippi has a higher state sales tax: 7 percent. The state sales tax in Kansas is now 6.3 percent.
If the Kansas sales tax decreases to 5.7 percent, as current law states, Kansans will pay the third highest state tax on groceries behind Mississippi and Idaho, with a 6 percent tax.
GOP tax plans would increase taxes on low-wage Kansans, decrease taxes for high-income Kansans, report says
Topeka — Taxes will increase for low-wage Kansans and decrease for those with higher incomes under plans being considered by Republican state legislators, according to a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy looked at the various proposals before the Legislature that essentially increase the state sales tax while ratcheting down the income tax and reducing deductions.
Currently, the state sales tax of 6.3 percent is scheduled to decrease to 5.7 percent on July 1. But Gov. Sam Brownback wants to keep the rate at 6.3 percent, saying that will stabilize the state budget and help buy down income tax rates.
A Senate GOP plan to keep the rate at 6.25 percent, while lowering income tax rates, would result in a tax increase for 60 percent of Kansans, making $60,000 per year or less, the ITEP analysis shows. Of that group, the largest percentage increase would be for those making $20,000 per year or less.
But those making more than $60,000 per year would realize a tax cut under the proposals. ITEP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group. Its stated mission is to provide information on tax policies, tax fairness, government budgets and sound economic policy.
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.