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.
The effort by Gov. Sam Brownback and several other Republican governors to eliminate personal state income taxes is based on an economic theory that is "extremely flawed," a new report by a non-partisan research group says.
Brownback has depended on the claims of supply-side economist Arthur Laffer that states without personal income taxes are outperforming those with state income taxes. Last year, Brownback hired Laffer for $75,000 to help draw up the governor's tax proposal.
But the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy says income tax cuts don't appear to actually stoke state economies.
"In reality, states that levy personal income taxes, including the states with the highest top rates, have seen more economic growth per capita and less decline in their median income level over the last 10 years than the nine states that do not tax income," the ITEP report states. "Unemployment rates have been nearly identical across states with and without income taxes."
Laffer's claims are based on growth in Gross State Product, which is related to population trends, and he asserts that tax policy is behind the migration of people into low-tax states.
But ITEP says population growth in states isn't determined by tax policy. The report says the growth is more attributable to low housing prices, warm weather and high birth rates in those states.
The ITEP study looks at median family income, which shows that while income has declined in most states over the past decade, the declines have been smaller in states with income taxes. Five of the nine states without income taxes are doing worse than average in median income growth.
And ITEP says that Laffer's theory fails to take into account that some states don't choose to levy an income tax because they have an unusual economic resource, such as oil, coal or tourism.
The Kansas House on Friday approved a bill that will require public schools to have a "Celebrate Freedom Week" every year in mid-September.
Supporters said it would help students learn more about the early history of the United States and founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.
"I think it's time we got involved in celebrating patriotism," said state Rep. John Bradford, R-Lansing, who said he felt that children were not getting enough instruction on U.S. history.
But opponents of House Bill 2280 said schools were already teaching American history and that mandating a specific period for the instruction could mess up teachers' class schedules.
"How ironic that we have a bill with freedom in the name that is one more mandate on local government," said state Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton.
State Rep. Ward Cassidy, R-St. Francis, said he liked the idea of a "Celebrate Freedom Week," but opposed mandating schools to have it. "I don't think every time we come up with a great idea we should force schools to do that great idea," he said.
The measure was approved 95-25 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.
In addition to studying the "original intent, meaning and importance" of the nation's early documents, the bill says, "The religious references in the writings of the founding fathers shall not be censored when presented as part of such instruction."
Senate leaders Thursday said Gov. Sam Brownback's budget proposal will be cut and that may eliminate $10 million to help Kansas University build a new health education building.
"As you look at cuts, the easiest things to cut are projects that haven't started yet," said Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.
Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, described the KU proposal as "low-hanging fruit," in efforts to cut the budget.
Their comments came after the Senate wrapped up business before the unofficial halfway point of the 2013 legislative session.
Wagle said Brownback's budget will have to be cut in order to bridge a revenue shortfall. Meanwhile, she said, she believes a majority of the Senate will vote to keep in place the 6.3 percent state sales tax rate, which was scheduled to fall back to 5.7 percent on July 1.
Keeping the sales tax at 6.3 percent is necessary to buy down income tax rates, Wagle, Bruce and Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence said.
KU has made construction of a $75 million medical building at the KU Medical Center a major goal to increase the number of trained doctors.
Brownback proposed $10 million over two years to help jump-start the proposal. A Senate budget committee has removed the funding but the House budget committee has kept it in.
Topeka — The Kansas Senate on Thursday approved legislation that critics said would allow doctors to withhold information about prenatal problems from pregnant women if they believe it would lead the mother to get an abortion.
Senate Bill 142 bans civil actions for a claim of so-called "wrongful life" or "wrongful birth," in which a doctor withholds information about medical problems with the fetus from the pregnant woman and the baby is born with problems the mother was not warned about.
Abortion rights supporters say the measure will encourage doctors to lie to pregnant women.
State Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City, said the measure "invites doctors to break the oath of their profession." She added, "This legislation is disrespectful to woman and families."
But supporters of the bill said a doctor who lies to a patient would still be liable for medical malpractice and possible violations of standards set by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts.
State Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, said the legislation, supported by Kansans for Life, would prohibit parents from filing lawsuits where they want to be compensated for not aborting their child.
The measure was approved by the Senate, 34-5, and now goes to the House for consideration.
Topeka — The Senate Commerce Committee on Monday recommended approval of a workers' compensation bill opposed by labor and trial lawyers.
Pro-business interests said Senate Bill 73 updated medical guidelines dealing with workers injured on the job and the employer-paid insurance system to compensate them.
The bill would use the American Medical Association Sixth Edition of injury impairment ratings, rather than the Fourth Edition which is currently used and agreed to two years ago by both sides of workers' comp litigation.
Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said the proposed change was a mistake.
"I have a huge concern that there are classes of workers out there who will no longer qualify for work disability," under the newer edition, he said.
Trial lawyers and labor officials said the Sixth Edition guidelines were untested and would be confusing to Kansas physicians who had become accustomed to the Fourth Edition.
Holland's amendment to keep the Fourth Edition was rejected.
But several Republicans also expressed concern about changing to the Sixth Edition and an amendment was approved to delay its implementation until 2015.
The committee also removed a proposal in the bill that would have disallowed payment through workers' compensation insurance coverage to undocumented workers.
In addition, Sen. Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, successfully amended the bill to shorten to 10 days from 20 days the time an injured worker has to file a workers' comp complaint.
Some on the committee said the shorter period would increase the number of workers' comp disputes because workers would be faced with a tighter deadline to decide to pursue a claim. But Denning said the shorter deadline would encourage workers to get treatment while giving employers more certainty about whether they would face an injured worker claim.
Topeka -- A bill pushed by abortion opponents that would require the Kansas University Medical Center to establish a center that focuses on adult stem cells has been filed in the Legislature.
Senate Bill 199 would create the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center.
The measure is authored by 22 conservative Republican senators, including Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita, Majority Leader Terry Bruce of Hutchinson, and Public Health and Welfare Chair Mary Pilcher-Cook of Shawnee.
A hearing on the bill will probably be held later this month.
Under the proposal, KU would appoint a director of the center who would be responsible for oversight of patient treatment and research with adult, cord blood and other non-embryonic stem cells. Abortion opponents oppose human embryonic stem cell research because it involves the destruction of the embryo.
The director could solicit grants, gifts and contributions. The bill also sets up a 13-member advisory board.