Consumers in Kansas would pay less sales tax on food purchases starting next year, under a tax amendment that Democratic Sen. Marci Francisco of Lawrence added to a bill Tuesday night.
But whether or not that amendment survives during negotiations with the House remains an open question.
Francisco offered her amendment at the end of another lengthy debate over tax policy in the Senate. For the previous three days, Republican leaders in the Senate had tried to cobble together a $400 million-plus tax package to close the projected budget gap for the upcoming fiscal year before the state has to start sending out furlough notices next week to potentially thousands of state employees.
Several times, Republicans offered up amendments that included entire packages of tax proposals, some of which would be more popular than others. Each time, Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley would divide the motion, forcing roll call votes on each individual piece.
As a result, only the popular items passed, including the reduction in food sales tax, and an income tax exemption for about 388,000 low-income tax filers being among them. The other, less popular portions - raising the overall sales tax rate and raising cigarette taxes - all failed.
By Tuesday morning, the Senate had a bill that not only failed to close the budget gap, it actually made the gap wider. So GOP leaders agreed Tuesday to return to their original plan, one they had been forced to abandon last Friday, to strip out the Democrats' amendments and send a shell of a bill to conference committee where a handful of lawmakers could negotiate a package for straight up or down votes in each chamber.
But Democrats objected to that, arguing that Republicans were trying to abandon positions that a majority of senators had gone on record endorsing.
Thus, after stripping out the Democratic amendments of the last two days, Francisco offered a motion to put the reduction in food sales tax back on. Her motion passed on a roll call vote, 24-11.
The measure reduces the food sales tax rate to 5.7 percent, from 6.15 percent.
The Senate is expected to vote on final passage of the bill Wednesday. It will then be sent to the House, which is expected to request a conference committee.
Wednesday will mark the 104th day of the legislative session. Lawmakers have until Sunday, June 7, to pass a balanced budget before furlough notices are sent to non-essential state employees.
TOPEKA — House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, on Friday gave a farewell speech to the chamber he has been working in for the past 12 years.
"Thank you for the friendships that I will cherish forever, for the memories that will never leave me, and the opportunity to simply serve," Davis said.
Davis is giving up his seat to run for governor against Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
He told House members that next year he will be working in the governor's office or in his law office in Lawrence.
Davis said it has been an honor to serve the 46th House District. For the past six years, he has also been minority leader.
Davis thanked his wife, Stephanie, daughter, Caroline, and parents, who were all present, and each member of the Douglas County delegation, saying he learned from all of them.
He also thanked his staff and House Republican leaders.
In new ad, group backing Brownback praises governor for school bill but doesn’t mention repeal of teacher tenure
A group backing Gov. Sam Brownback churned out a commercial praising Brownback for the new school finance bill, but the ad doesn't mention controversial parts of the bill, including a repeal of job protections for teachers.
The spot sponsored by Road Map Solutions Inc., led by Brownback's longtime political adviser David Kensinger, was running this weekend and cites the bill approved April 6 in the Legislature.
The measure, approved with only Republican votes, was passed after a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that said the Legislature must increase funding to poor schools. But the bill also includes measures opposed by Democrats and some Republicans that would repeal teacher tenure and provide corporate tax breaks for private school scholarships for low-income children.
Brownback is expected to sign the bill into law.
"We got it done," says the announcer on the new ad. The ad says the bill will provide $73 million more for schools and $78 million in property tax relief.
But the ad doesn't mention those education policy changes that have generated criticism.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, the likely Democratic challenger to Brownback, said the repeal of teacher tenure represented "a clear attack" on teachers.
A national uproar has ensued over House approval of a bill that would provide legal protection for those who, because of religious beliefs, refuse to provide services to same-sex married couples.
The 72-49 vote on Wednesday that sent House Bill 2453 to the Senate was accompanied by several written explanations by many legislators on why they voted the way they did. Those are recorded in the House Journal.
Below is the roll call vote on HB 2435 and the written explanations of vote and who signed them.
HB 2453, AN ACT concerning religious freedoms with respect to marriage, was considered on final action.
On roll call, the vote was: Yeas 72; Nays 49; Present but not voting: 0; Absent or not voting: 3. Yeas: Anthimides, Boldra, Bradford, Brunk, Couture-Lovelady, Campbell, Carlson, Carpenter, Cassidy, Christmann, Claeys, Corbet, Crum, E. Davis, DeGraaf, Dove, Edmonds, Edwards, Esau, Estes, Ewy, Garber, Goico, Gonzalez, Grosserode, Hawkins, Hedke, Henry, Hibbard, Highland, Hildabrand, Hoffman, Houser, Howell, Huebert, Hutton, Jones, Kahrs, Kelley, Kelly, Kiegerl, Kinzer, Kleeb, Lunn, Macheers, Mast, McPherson, Meier, Meigs, Merrick, Moxley, O'Brien, Osterman, Pauls, Peck, Petty, Powell, Proehl, Read, Rhoades, Rothlisberg, Rubin, Ryckman Jr., Ryckman Sr., Schroeder, Schwab, Schwartz, Seiwert, Suellentrop, Sutton, Thompson, Vickrey.
Nays: Alcala, Alford, Ballard, Barker, Becker, Bollier, Bridges, Burroughs, Carlin, Carmichael, Clayton, Concannon, P. Davis, Dierks, Doll, Finch, Finney, Frownfelter, Gandhi, Henderson, Hill, Hineman, Houston, Jennings, Johnson, Kuether, Lane, Lusk, Lusker, Menghini, Perry, Phillips, Rooker, Ruiz, Sawyer, Sloan, Sloop, Swanson, Tietze, Todd, Trimmer, Victors, Ward, Waymaster, Weigel, Whipple, Wilson, Winn, Wolfe Moore. Present but not voting: None. Absent or not voting: Bruchman, Peterson, Thimesch. The bill passed, as amended.
EXPLANATIONS OF VOTE
Mr. Speaker: It is my deeply held sincere religious belief that the commandment to “Love one another” is contradicted by this legislation. This bill expressly permits discrimination against my neighbor in the name of religious freedom. I vote no on HB 2453. — Sydney Carlin.
Mr. Speaker: I strongly believe in preserving religious liberty. I also believe that between the constitutional amendment passed in 2005 and HB 2203 passed last year, we have accomplished most of the intent expressed in HB 2453. HB 2453 has created perceptions of promoting discrimination. This was quite evident as I listened to the discussions on the floor, and as I read the emails that I received yesterday. However, I firmly believe that HB 2453 does create a fertile ground for lawsuits. I do not think that prohibiting lawsuits as part of the bill is going to stop them. I vote no on HB 2453. — Shanti Gandhi.
Mr. Speaker: I vote no on HB 2453 because: 1. I believe it is unnecessary considering the constitutional amendment passed in 2005 and the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act passed in 2013; 2. The motive of the bill is a fear of a speculative federal appeals court opinion that may or may not find our constitutional amendment unconstitutional; 3. The bill would be personally hurtful to my friends when they are denied services available to everyone else based upon whom they love; 4. I believe the bill is much broader in scope than what was intended. —Tom Sloan, Don Hill, John E. Barker, Steven R. Becker.
Mr. Speaker: I vote no on HB 2453. My closely held religious belief is that God is love. I cannot vote yes for this bill if I am to heed the words of Christ when he said, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, you have done it unto me.” — Don Hineman, Barbara Bollier, Tom Sawyer.
Mr. Speaker: This bill is not discriminatory against any group of people. It only ensures that individuals are not forced to participate in an event that is contrary to their religious beliefs. Questions arise for me on how this bill affects people receiving lawful government services they have the right to receive. I vote no on HB 2453. — James E. Toddd.
Mr. Speaker: I strongly support religious freedom, but this bill is not about religious freedom. In my opinion, this is about legalized discrimination, and I cannot vote in support of this. I vote no on HB 2453. —Patricia M. Sloop.
Mr. Speaker: I vote no on HB 2453. I support freedom of religion, but proponents of this bill concede it addresses issues which Kansans are not currently facing. Kansans are facing the consequences of 2011 education cuts. A study last fall shows only three states have cut education deeper. Adjusted for inflation, per pupil school funding is below 1992 levels. Schools are closing, class sizes are growing, parents are paying higher fees, and our economy is struggling. The next generation of leaders, innovators, and job creators is being molded today in Kansas classrooms. We must invest in them because strong schools are the foundation of a stronger economy. — Carolyn L. Bridges, Roderick Houston, Adam Lusker, Ed Trimmer.
Mr. Speaker: I support religious freedoms, however, I cannot support any legislation that condones or licenses discriminatory behavior against any person. I vote no on HB 2453. Gail Finney, Julie Menghini, Broderick Henderson, Tom Burroughs, Paul Davis.
Mr. Speaker: One of the founding principles of our country, inscribed in the First Amendment, is the right of the people to be led by their conscience and follow their own deeply held religious convictions without fear of penalty or reprisal. Because of that, I vote YES on HB 2453. — Connie O'Brien, Travis Couture-Lovelady, Willie Dove, Ronald Ryckman Sr., Brett Hildabrand, Jerry Lunn, Joe Edwards, Craig McPherson, Randy Garber, Richard Carlson, Leslie Osterman, Will Carpenter, Kevin Jones, Allan Rothlisberg, Joe Swiewert, Sharon Schwartz, Ken Corbet, Ron Highland, Amanda Grosserode.
Mr. Speaker: The Kansas Bill of Rights says, “The right to worship God according to the dictates of conscience shall never be infringed: ... Nor shall any control of or interference with the rights of conscience be permitted. ...” The bill's opponents have made false representations about new discrimination. States enacting same sex marriage – from New York to Hawaii – have also enacted specific protections for religious liberties as it relates to same-sex marriage, including Progressive governors like Andrew Cuomo and Martin O'Malley. Kansas is consistent with those states. It maintains the status quo. Nothing more, nothing less. I vote YES on HB 2453. — Charles Macheers, Keith Esau, Mario Goico, Jim Howell
Mr. Speaker: There are substantial legal conflicts surrounding a possible U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion striking down the Kansas marriage amendment. Because of that, it is imperative that we protect individuals from penalty if they choose to decline to participate in a marriage event that conflicts with their religious beliefs. I vote YES on HB 2453. — Kasha Kelley, Dennis Hedke, Kelly Miegs, Bud Estes, John Bradford, Kent Thompson, Reid Petty, Daniel Hawkins, Marvin Kleeb.
Topeka — Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, has pre-filed legislation that would require the governor to make public the names of people who apply for an appointment to the Kansas Court of Appeals.
Last year, Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, and his conservative allies pushed through a change in the way Court of Appeals judges were selected.
Now those judges are selected by the governor subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Prior to the change, the governor selected an appeals court judge from a list of nominees provided by a nominating commission.
Brownback selected his chief counsel, Caleb Stegall, as the first nominee under the new law.
The new selection process became more controversial when Brownback refused to divulge the names of those applying for the vacancy on the state's second highest court. Under the former system, the nominating commission released the names of those applying, its final recommendation and had even opened up to the public its interview process.
Brownback declined to make the applicants' names public, saying it would hurt the chances of getting qualified individuals to apply.
Under Senate Bill 252, the governor would be required to make each applicant's name and city of residence available to the public once the application process is over. The 2014 legislative session starts Monday.
In a question-and-answer period on Wednesday with the Kansas Board or Regents, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback provided some insight into the end of the 2013 legislation session in June in which Republican legislative leaders demanded cuts to the universities and Brownback accepted those cuts.
Brownback said at the end of a legislative session, "Often you're crowding everything into a chute, and we're going to get this done tonight — this is going to happen tonight, and then things happen and it doesn't always come out exactly the way your wanted it to come out. And things get traded here and there to get something on through the final process."
Brownback said perhaps the perception from legislative leaders was that higher education could handle the cuts. "You have a lot places you get money from, and maybe you can handle this, whereas other places don't have the options," he said.
On the final day of the session, Republican leaders mustered enough votes within their caucuses to pass a state budget that cut universities 3 percent over two years and to push through a tax package that increased the state sales tax while reducing deductions and racheting down income tax rates.
Brownback has made phasing out the state income tax one of his major goals.
Brownback has praised GOP legislative leaders, but has vowed to fight for restoration of the cuts when the 2014 session starts in January.
House GOP leader says state employee furloughs possible unless budget approved; measure putting brakes on Common Core in the mix
Topeka — Republican leaders in the House told their rank-and-file members that they needed to approve a state budget Saturday or state employees would face furloughs.
But some GOP House members said they felt like they were being given a take-it or leave-it option, and others said they would vote against the budget unless they get a chance to vote for a bill putting the brakes on Common Core education standards.
The dispute arose on the 99th day of the legislative session, which was supposed to end at 90 days and Republican leaders had earlier said would be finished in 80 days.
"We have a Republican House, Senate and governor and we need to get our work done," said House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg. "If we have bad results because of delays in our process … it has effects and those can affect all of us in the next year," Vickrey said.
Vickrey said the Legislature is facing constitutional deadlines to appropriate funds for the next fiscal year. "The governor can't spend money not passed by the Legislature," he said.
Some state payments for July 1 and beyond are written as early as June 10, he said. To get an approved appropriations bill prepared for Gov. Sam Brownback to sign into law takes at least 7 days, he said. Vickrey said furloughs of state employees, and non-payment of insurance for some state employees was "right around the corner." He said the House would take up the proposed budget later Saturday.
But Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, said he didn't think any state employees were in any imminent danger of being furloughed, but he said the Legislature needs to approve a budget.
State Rep. Pete DeGraaf, R-Mulvane, said he was a "No" vote on the budget until the House gets a chance to consider a bill that would suspend work on Common Core and proposed science standards for schools. Tea party groups say Common Core standards represent a federal intrusion on schools, but supporters of Common Core say the standards will improve education and note that they were developed by states.
On the issue of adopting a budget, state Rep. Ed Bideau, R-Chanute, said legislators have known for weeks about approaching deadlines and that the overtime session is playing havoc with school districts trying to prepare for the next year. "It smacks a little bit of a cramdown," to be told the budget must be approved now, he said.
TOPEKA — Gov. Sam Brownback's administration expects tax revenue gains for the month of May, according to an email inadvertently sent Friday to the Lawrence Journal-World.
The email, from Chad Bettes, who is a high-ranking official in the Kansas Department of Revenue, to Sherriene Jones-Sontag, spokeswoman for Gov. Sam Brownback, even includes a prepared comment from Kansas Secretary of Revenue Nick Jordan. The actual revenue numbers were to be filled in later Friday.
Earlier Friday, Jordan urged House Republicans to break an impasse during the current overtime legislative session and approve measures that increase the sales tax but lower income tax rates. He said lowering income taxes would stimulate the economy. While higher sales taxes hit the poor hardest, he said the state spends $3.5 billion a year on safety-net programs for low-income Kansans.
Here is the email from Bettes to Jones-Sontag. The subject heading said, "Please advise of changes and/or approval":
Planning to send the numbers out between 4 and 4:30 p.m. -- State Tax Receipts Total $XX.X Million in May TOPEKA – May tax receipts exceeded estimates by $XX million, or XX percent, buoyed by one-time revenue attributed to taxpayers who accelerated income in advance of federal tax increases enacted earlier this year. Individual income receipts were $XX million more than anticipated, or XX percent, for the month. The increase over the estimate was due in part to balance due payments for 2012 income taxes, which were processed in late April and early May following the annual tax filing deadline. “It is important to be cautious when looking at these numbers because federal tax hikes proposed at the end of last year and passed in January likely influenced taxpayer behavior as people worked to ensure that income would be taxed at 2012 rates,” said Revenue Secretary Nick Jordan. “We have reaped the benefit of that at the state level in April and May, and now we expect things to return to more normal levels.”
Topeka — More than 21,000 uninsured Kansans with mental illness would receive needed treatment, and lives would be saved if Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Legislature expanded Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, a new report says.
So far, Brownback, a vocal opponent of the ACA, and his Republican colleagues in the Legislature are going in the opposite direction.
Brownback has declined to sign on to Medicaid expansion, and a pending House resolution says the Legislature isn't interested in expansion.
But the National Alliance on Mental Illness urged legislators to increase the number of people eligible for Medicaid, saying that would strengthen the mental health care system.
Nationwide, the expansion would provide treatment to 2.7 million uninsured people living with mental illness, the NAMI report said. NAMI, the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization, said that currently fewer than half of Americans with mental illness receive treatment.
"In Kansas, 21,293 currently uninsured adults who live with mental illness would become eligible under Medicaid expansion," said Rick Cagan, executive director for NAMI Kansas. "This represents 13.2 percent of the overall uninsured population in the state. That would be a big step forward. It will help save lives,” said Cagan.
The report says that Medicaid expansion would be a good deal for the states because the federal government will pay 100 percent of the cost through 2016 and taper to no less than 90 percent of the cost by 2020. Kansas would get $5.27 billion in federal funding over 10 years, and save $149 million in uncompensated care, NAMI said. "When mental illness isn’t treated, costs get shifted to emergency rooms and the criminal justice system,” said Cagan. “Families break up. Taxpayers end up paying avoidable costs," he said.
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 one of the toughest eligibility standards 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 upwards of 150,000 more Kansans would be covered under the expansion.
Topeka — Senate Republicans on Wednesday proposed a 6.25 percent state sales tax rate and a 5.7 percent rate on food.
House Republican leaders said they would come back later this afternoon to tell the Senate what they thought of the plan.
The current state sales tax is 6.3 percent, but is scheduled to fall to 5.7 percent on July 1.
Republicans say they need to keep the sales tax higher to shore up state coffers — depleted by last year's income tax cuts — and to buy down more income tax reductions over the next six years. Democrats say the income tax cuts benefit the wealthy and will reduce revenue needed for essential state services.
Under the latest Senate proposal, itemized deductions would be eliminated over six years, except for charitable contributions. The standard deduction would also be cut to $5,000 from $9,000 for head of household, and to $6,500 from $9,000 for married filing jointly.
By 2018, income tax rates would be cut to 3.5 percent from 4.9 percent on the top rate, and to 2.5 percent from 3 percent on the bottom rate.
Agreement on tax changes is essential to getting movement on a state budget. Legislators are in the 89th day of the session. Earlier, GOP leaders said they wanted to finish the session in 80 days.