Entries from blogs tagged with “Kansas government”
Four groups representing school boards, administrators, superintendents and teachers reached agreement this week on changes they could all accept to a state law governing collective bargaining rights for teachers.
That agreement could make it more difficult for lawmakers to impose even more restrictions, as some conservatives have suggested.
The Professional Negotiations Act currently spells out a long list of items that must be open to negotiation when school districts negotiate master contracts with local teachers unions. School boards and administrators have long sought to shorten that list. And some conservative groups have suggested limiting collective bargaining only to wages and benefits.
The K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Task Force, established by the Legislature last year, ultimately recommended in January that lawmakers let the various education groups come to an agreement themselves before the Legislature considers making changes to the law. But a minority of that panel issued a separate report saying schools should only have to negotiate wages and benefits with teachers unions.
The agreement, announced Tuesday, would require that districts negotiate salary and benefits, supplemental contracts such as coaching contracts and overtime pay. It would also give each side in the negotiations the option to choose five additional items from the current list of mandatory items. Additional items could be added only if both sides agree to negotiate them.
Those additional issues include such things as dress codes, grievance procedures, disciplinary procedures, evaluation protocols and the standards for terminating or non-renewing a teacher, among other issues.
"Today’s announcement illustrates the progress that can be achieved through meaningful discussion among education professionals," the groups said in a statement announcing the agreement.
Controversy over setting up an interfaith, non-denominational "prayer and meditation" room in the statehouse is apparently nothing new.
In response to an article posted on this site Tuesday, Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, stopped by the office with a clipping from one of the Journal-World's "Old Home Town" columns from several years back. It noted that on that particular day (the clipping wasn't dated) in 1960, two Lawrence legislators, both Republicans, chastised then-Gov. George Docking, a Democrat, for opposing a bill to set up such a room.
State Sen. Don Hults and Rep. Odd Williams, both Lawrence Republicans, labeled Democratic Gov. George Docking's opposition to "the establishment of an interfaith meditation room in the statehouse as 'sacrilegious' and 'blasphemous.' Docking had said he feared the room might be used by legislators to store and hide their liquor bottles."
During a hearing on a new bill this week, Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, said the current "prayer and meditation" room is non-denominational and does not display religious images or material favoring one religion over another.
We went down to that room to check that out and saw that it is indeed adorned with numerous Judeo-Christian images and objects. But we can report with confidence that no liquor bottles could be seen.
Several Kansas lawmakers are pushing a bill this year that would make a prayer and meditation room in the Statehouse a permanent fixture.
The House Federal and State Affairs Committee held a hearing Tuesday on H.B. 2075, establishing the "capitol meditation room."
The room is located on the second floor of the Capitol, across the hall to the north of the governor's office. In 2012, lawmakers considered a bill to set aside a room in the capitol for prayer and meditation. It passed the House by a vote of 107-17 but later died in the Senate. Instead, Gov. Sam Brownback made available a room that had been designated for part of his office staff.
Former Rep. Arlen Seigfried, a former Republican majority leader who sponsored the 2012 bill, testified in favor of the bill, saying it would place the designation into statute and ensure that a future governor could not dismantle the room simply by executive order. He said that setting aside time for prayer and personal reflection had been important to him as a legislator.
Committee chairman Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, also testified in favor, saying it would be the "easiest" bill the committee is likely to consider this year. And in response to a question from Rep. Stephanie Clayton, R-Overland Park, he assured committee members that the room was non-denominational and did not contain decorations that favored one religion over another.
But an inspection of the room later in the day revealed that it is, in fact, decorated with several paintings and other items depicting Judeo-Christian themes, including a painting of Jesus, bathed in a shower of light, kneeling in prayer; another depicting Moses before the burning bush; and still another depicting Moses beside the Ark of the Covenant. There is also a green and white flag with the words "appeal to heaven" over a pine tree.
No one testified in opposition to the bill. Brunk said he intends to bring the bill up for a vote in committee at a later date so it can be voted on by the full House.
Fresh off of their "clean sweep" victories in the 2014 elections, Kansas Republicans will gather in Topeka this weekend to elect their party leadership and start strategizing for 2016.
Democrats, on the other hand, have a lot more work and soul-searching ahead of them before their state convention in March.
The off-year conventions typically focus on electing new leadership to the parties' district and state committees, and to begin organizing — and fundraising — for the next round of elections.
State GOP chairman Kelly Arnold is running unopposed for another term, as is most of the rest of the leadership team. The only change will be in the office of vice chair. Michelle Martin is stepping down and is expected to be replaced by Ashley McMillan Hutchinson, a former executive director of the party.
The GOP convention kicks off Friday evening at the Capitol Plaza Hotel. Friday night is mostly a group of receptions hosted by Gov. Sam Brownback and other elected officials. The anti-abortion group Kansans for Life will hold a prayer breakfast Saturday morning, followed by more receptions with Sen. Pat Roberts, U.S. Reps. Mike Pompeo and Tim Huelskamp, and Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
Those will be followed by district committee meetings. The state committee meets at 3:30 p.m. to formally elect officers.
For the Democrats, whose convention is in March, things are a lot less settled. Party chairwoman Joan Wagnon is not running for another term, and the search is on for someone to take the helm of the party that was the victim of the GOP's clean sweep in which Republicans won every statewide elected office, along with all four congressional seats, and widened their majority in the Kansas House.
Wagnon and others within the party have said support now appears to be coalescing around Larry Meeker of Johnson County. Meeker, who holds a doctorate in business administration, is a former mayor of Lake Quivira who twice ran unsuccessfully for the Kansas House.
In 2012, his name was left off the ballot, he says, because Secretary of State Kris Kobach's office lost his paperwork; Kobach says it was because Meeker failed to submit the forms. He ran as an independent anyway but lost in a three-way race to Republican Brett Hildabrand, with Libertarian Michael Kerner picking up 11 percent of the vote. In 2014, he got on the ballot as a Democrat but lost again in the same three-way race.
Democrats will hold their convention, known as "Washington Days," March 6-7 in Topeka.
Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday defended his proposal to do away with the state school finance formula, saying it's one of the reasons the state is facing a large revenue shortfall this year.
He also subtly laid part of the blame on the Kansas State Department of Education for giving estimates of how much the formula would cost this year, estimates that later turned out to be too low.
“We have proposed stable funding for K-12 as appropriated in FY ’15, which included an increase of approximately $200 million," Brownback said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. "The previous Kansas State Department of Education estimate for the 2014-2015 school year was understated by more than $60 million."
That is partially true, although the agency had warned legislators last year that its estimates were only best guesses because nobody could predict at the time how districts would respond to new funding made available as a result of a Kansas Supreme Court order.
In March, the Supreme Court upheld part of a lower court ruling that said the state's failure to fully fund so-called "equalization" aid for poor school districts was unconstitutional. It ordered the Legislature to fully fund equalization for local option budgets, which lawmakers had held flat during the Great Recession, as well as capital outlay equalization, which the Legislature had stopped funding altogether.
Lawmakers agreed to fully fund those two aid programs, but it was not clear at the time how districts would respond. That's because school districts don't set their budgets until August each year, after they know for certain how much funding they can expect from the state.
The department had estimated at the time that the increased aid would cost about $119 million. But as it turned out, a lot of districts that had cut back in those areas when the Legislature wasn't fully funding equalization took advantage of the new funding available this year by raising their LOB and capital outlay budgets.
That resulted in about $64 million in unexpected costs to the state.
"The Legislature cannot properly budget state resources when an unpredictable formula, responsible for more than half of our state general fund expenditures, is complicated by incorrect information," Brownback said. "This is exactly the reason why a new formula is necessary."
Brownback has proposed to fund that extra $64 million this year. But his budget proposal for the next two fiscal years strikes that money out. That's part of the $127 million cut that K-12 schools would take in their operating budgets each of the next two years under Brownback's plan.
Brownback's plan calls for lumping base state aid and the two kinds of equalization aid into one lump sum and distributing it to districts in the form of block grants for the next two years. Those block grants are based on the current fiscal year's funding, minus the $64 million in additional costs this year, and minus some of next year's increased pension contributions.
Democrats, moderate Republicans and other education advocates are saying it doesn't matter whether the Legislature uses a formula to distribute the money or not. That's because a three-judge trial court in December ruled that the overall level of funding for public schools is already unconstitutionally low, and the cuts in Brownback's budget proposal would only make that situation worse.
The adequacy of overall funding was a question the Supreme Court had referred back to the trial court last year for reconsideration.
The cuts that Gov. Sam Brownback is proposing in school district operating funds would total $127.4 million next year, according to a new analysis by the Kansas State Department of Education, much larger than the $107 million first estimated when the administration outlined its budget plan last week.
But the department says it cannot estimate how that would affect individual districts because the administration has not yet proposed a bill explaining how the money would be distributed among the state's 286 school districts.
Officials in the department's school finance division prepared the report for briefings in the House and Senate Republican caucuses. It shows that the governor is proposing to combine three kinds of aid that go to school districts — general state aid; local option budget equalization; and capital outlay equalization — into a single block grant for districts.
During the 2013-2014 school year, those three aid programs added up to $3.137 billion. But the governor's plan calls for reducing that to $3.009 billion for each of the next two years.
But because of increases in pension contributions over the next two years, the total cut to K-12 education in the governor's budget would be $22.5 million.
Rep. Ron Ryckman, Jr., R-Olathe, said he hoped to learn by the end of the day Wednesday when the administration plans to submit a formal bill explaining how the funds would be distributed and which committee the bill would be assigned to.
Lower-income people in Kansas are taxed at more than twice the rate as upper-income people, according to a new report released Wednesday.
The fifth edition of the "Who Pays?" study from two think tanks, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) and the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, says the poorest 20 percent of people in Kansas will pay, on average, 11.1 percent of their income in state and local taxes in 2015, compared with a 3.6-percent tax rate for the wealthiest 1 percent.
That puts Kansas in ninth place on the groups' list of the "Terrible 10" most regressive states in the country.
"The bottom line is that every state fails the basic test of tax fairness," the report stated. "The District of Columbia is the only tax system that requires its best-off citizens to pay as much of their incomes in state and local taxes as the very poorest taxpayers, but middle-income taxpayers in DC pay far more than the top one percent. In other words, every single state and local tax system is regressive and even the states that do better than others have much room for improvement."
The report noted that states with the most regressive tax codes tend to rely heavily on sales taxes, which economists say hit lower-income people harder because they spend a greater share of their income on taxable retail purchases.
It also noted that Kansas recently overhauled its tax code by lowering income tax rates and raising the sales tax rate.
On a side note, former Kansas budget director Duane Goossen, who recently retired from the Kansas Health Institute, will soon join the Kansas Center for Economic Growth as a senior fellow. Goossen served as budget director for 12 years under Govs. Bill Graves, Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson.
The idea of having the state of Kansas take over administration of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act is unlikely to gain traction this year, largely because of the cost and the state's current budget crisis, the chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee said Tuesday.
"Because of the other priorities we have right now, it's probably lower on the list," said Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe.
Last year, lawmakers passed a bill directing the secretary of labor to study the feasibility of adopting a state OSHA plan that would develop workplace safety regulations that would be at least as effective as the standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The bill passed on nearly a straight party-line vote.
Labor Secretary Lana Gordon released that report late last week. It showed the cost of setting up a state program would be about $3.2 million in the first year and nearly $3 million a year after that to administer it.
The federal law encourages states to set up their own state plans, and the federal government will pay up to half of an approved plan's operating costs. But only 26 have done so since the federal program began in 1970.
Lynn said that in the business community, where OSHA is often seen as an overly burdensome federal agency, there is plenty of interest in setting up an alternative program at the state level.
"They're not connected with the business communities," Lynn said. "They're adversaries, essentially."
According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor, Kansas ranks 23rd out of 44 states that report workplace death and injury statistics.
In 2013, there were 3.7 work-related illnesses and injuries per 100 full-time employees, and there were 54 work-related deaths.
At first it looked like a typo in the official program for the inauguration. Among the list of people to be sworn in on Monday, the program listed Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss and Associate Justice Eric Rosen.
But it was no typo. Nuss was there, not to be sworn in, but to administer the oaths to all the other officials elected in November, including Justice Rosen who won his retention election. But missing from the list was Justice Lee Johnson, who also stood for retention in November.
Asked about Johnson's absence, Nuss would only say that Johnson had chosen not to participate in the ceremony, but that he would be sworn in at a different time. And the court's spokeswoman offered no further explanation when she was asked about it later.
"Justice Johnson chose not to participate in the ceremonial swearing-in, but he will be sworn in by the chief justice and will sign his oath today," spokeswoman Lisa Taylor said.
Although his absence may have been unrelated, there has been a palpable tension in recent years between the court and Republicans who control the Legislature and governor's office.
Much of that stems from earlier decisions in school finance cases when the court ordered the Legislature to appropriate more money for public schools. But it was inflamed last year when the court vacated the death sentences of two convicted killers, Jonathan and Reginald Carr. Brownback and other Republicans used that issue to openly campaign against retaining Rosen and Johnson, the only two justices up for retention last year.
Both justices survived their retentions, but by much smaller margins than normal. Rosen was retained with 52.7 percent of the vote; Johnson with 52.6 percent.
Inauguration ceremonies scheduled for Monday will be held indoors in the Kansas House chamber due to forecasts of frigid temperatures.
Organizers of the ceremonies said people wishing to attend the 11 a.m. event, which will feature the swearing-in of Gov. Sam Brownback, should enter the Statehouse through the north doors, off of Eighth Street, through the visitor center. Parking is available in the underground garage, accessible from Eighth Street, and in metered spaces around the perimeter of the Statehouse.
Visitors should allow extra time to enter the building for security checks of all persons seeking access for the inaugural events.
There will be limited public seating in the House Chamber on a first-come basis. The public will be able to hear the proceedings through speakers on the first and second floors of the Statehouse. The events are scheduled to be streamed over WIBW.com, as well.
Minimum wage Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, pre-filed a bill this week to raise the Kansas minimum wage to $10.25 an hour over the next three years. The current state minimum wage is the same as the federal rate, $7.25 an hour.
It would also raise the base wage for waiters and waitresses and other service industry workers who get part of their wages in tips. Currently, the state minimum wage for those individuals is $2.13 an hour, provided they earn enough in tips that their total wages are at least $7.25 an hour.
Ward's bill would gradually raise that base wage to $3.08 an hour by 2018.
The bill, although unlikely to pass the Republican-dominated Legislature, does help highlight the ideological differences between the two parties. It may also help to highlight differences within the Democratic caucus itself over how best to deal with Republicans, who now have a commanding 98-27 majority in the House, their largest majority since the 1953-54 sessions.
Ward ran unsuccessfully for the minority leader post this session, saying he would be aggressive in dealing with Brownback and the conservative majority in the House. But he lost the leadership race to Rep. Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City, who some believed would accomplish more by taking a more conciliatory approach.
“While Governor Brownback’s failed experiment has given tax breaks to the wealthiest in our state, those working at or near the current minimum wage have actually seen an increase in their tax burden," Ward said in a statement announcing his bill. "It’s time to give those working long hours in low-wage jobs a break; they need a pay raise to meet the costs of everyday life."
Ward noted that someone who works full-time at $7.25 an hour would earn about $15,000 in a year, just slightly more than the federal poverty level for a family of two.
“The typical minimum wage workers are not teenagers trying to earn a little spending money; the vast majority are age 20 or older, and 55 percent are women," Ward said.
Currently, 29 other states have a higher minimum wage in Kansas. The last time Kansas increased its minimum wage was in 2009, during the Great Recession, when lawmakers agreed to make it equal to the federal minimum wage. Before that, the Kansas minimum wage was $2.65 an hour.
State of the Judiciary
Kansas Chief Justice Lawton Nuss will deliver the annual State of the Judiciary speech at 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 21, and for the second year in a row it will be delivered from the courtroom of the Supreme Court instead of from the House of Representatives.
In a statement Tuesday, the court said Nuss decided to speak from the courtroom, in part to make it available to the public via webcast, "to address the public's interest in the impact of state revenue shortfalls on the Judicial Branch budget."
Last year, though, House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, denied Nuss' request to speak from the floor of the House, suggesting he could deliver the address in writing, adding: "I just think it's time that could be put to better use on other things."
That move was seen as symbolic of the strained relationship between the court and conservatives in the Legislature. Much of that stems from the court's 2005 ruling in a school finance case in which the court threatened to close public schools if the Legislature did not appropriate more funding.
Last year at this time, lawmakers were awaiting the court's ruling in yet another school finance case, and Gov. Sam Brownback alluded to that directly in his State of the State address — while looking directly at Nuss who was in the audience — when he said: "Let us resolve that our schools remain open and are not closed by the courts or anyone else."
This year, many are expecting lawmakers to consider a constitutional amendment that would change the way Supreme Court justices are selected.
House Democrats finalized their committee assignments over the weekend. Republicans put out their assignments last month. So if you're wondering where you're Douglas County-area representative is going to be this session, here's the list.
Committees generally meet at 9 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Not all committees meet every day. The House typically comes into session at 11 a.m. Of course, as the session nears the end, those times can change.
Barbara Ballard (D-District 44): 9 a.m. every day, Appropriations; 1:30 p.m. every day, Transportation; 3:30 p.m. every day, Social Services Budget (Ranking Minority).
Boog Highberger (D-46th District): 9 a.m. Monday/Wednesday, Energy and Environment; 1:30 p.m. every day, Corrections and Juvenile Justice (Ranking Minority); 3:30 p.m. every day, Judiciary.
Connie O'Brien (R-District 42): 9 a.m. Monday/Wednesday, Vision 20/20; 9 a.m. Tuesday/ Thursday, Children and Seniors, chair; 1:30 p.m.Monday/Wednesday, Elections; 3:30 p.m. every day, Education Budget.
Tom Sloan (R-District 45): 9 a.m. Monday/Wednesday, Vision 20/20 Committee, chair; 1:30 p.m. every day, Transportation; 3:30 p.m. every day, Agriculture and Natural Resources.
John Wilson (D-District 10): 9 a.m. every day, Federal and State Affairs; 1:30 p.m. every day, Health and Human Services; 3:30 p.m. Monday/Wednesday, Insurance.
Gov. Sam Brownback and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer announced changes in their top staff positions Monday. Landon Fulmer, the governor’s chief of staff since 2012, will step down Jan. 5 to become vice president of state affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in Washington, D.C. He will be replaced by Jon Hummell, who previously served as policy director in Brownback’s office. “Landon has been an integral part of my team for many years, both in Kansas and in Washington, D.C.,” Brownback said in a statement. “I am grateful to him for his leadership and commitment to serving the people of Kansas. We will miss Landon and wish him well in this new endeavor.” Meanwhile, Chuck Knapp has been named the new chief of staff in Colyer’s office, replacing Mark Dugan, who stepped down in March to manage the Brownback-Colyer re-election campaign. Knapp, a longtime Republican staffer, has previously worked in communications in the Brownback administration in the Department of Administration and the Department for Children and Families. He will continue his role as deputy secretary of operations and public affairs at DCF in addition to his duties in Colyer’s office. Dugan has announced plans to start his own firm, Dugan Consulting Group, a public affairs firm that will focus on campaign management, grassroots advocacy and government relations. “Jon and Chuck have been valuable members of my team and I have confidence they will continue to bring a passion for serving Kansans to their new roles,” Brownback said.
A long-awaited court decision about whether Kansas is adequately funding its public schools has been pushed back until around the first of the year.
Shawnee County District Judge Frank Theis, who presides over the three-judge panel hearing the case, sent an email to attorneys in the case late Friday saying the decision will likely come within the next 30-45 days.
The decision will weigh heavily in the upcoming legislative session, even though the opinion is certain to be appealed, because the latest revenue estimates show the state is already facing a $715 million budget shortfall over the next year and a half.
The trial court first ruled in January 2013 that the state was underfunding schools to the tune of about $450 million a year. It also said the funding system in place was inequitable, and it ordered the state to increase so-called "equalization funding" for less wealthy districts.
In March of this year, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld the panel on the equity issue, but it overturned the verdict on adequacy and remanded that issue back to the three-judge panel with instructions to reconsider that issue using a different standard.
Many court watchers had expected a decision earlier, possibly even this week, after being told the judges had already begun drafting the opinion.
Given that the Supreme Court has already heard the case once, some observers think it may not take as long to consider a second appeal. Depending on when the three-judge panel issues its opinion, some believe it's conceivable, but by no means certain, that the Supreme Court could take briefs, hear oral arguments and render a final decision before the end of the 2015 legislative session.
It's been a busy month of court watching in Kansas as cases dealing with same-sex marriage have rushed their way to both the U.S. and Kansas Supreme courts. But while waiting for final decisions on those cases, it's worth noting that three other cases of monumental importance to Kansans are still pending before a single judge in Shawnee County.
Not only does Judge Frank Theis have another case dealing with same-sex marriage — one that could decide whether Kansas has to recognize marriages legally performed in other states — but he also has a case that could decide the future of the state's proof-of-citizenship requirement for voter registration and, lest we forget, the major unresolved portion of a school finance lawsuit that could dominate the upcoming legislative session.
Here is a quick rundown of those cases:
• Gay marriage: Nelson et al. v. Kansas Department of Revenue. This case was filed by Lawrence attorney David Brown on behalf of two gay couples, one from Lawrence and another from Alma, who were legally married in California. It challenges the state's policy of requiring them to file separate state income tax returns despite the fact that they can file joint federal returns.
The case is different from the other higher-profile cases in that it challenges the state's refusal to recognize legally performed same-sex marriages. The others pending before the state and federal high courts challenge the state's refusal to grant licenses for couples to be married in Kansas.
The Nelson case had been set for hearing on Friday, but there's a strong chance Theis will postpone that hearing and wait for the dust to settle from the higher courts, by which time the case may become moot.
• Voting rights: Belenky et al. v. Kobach We wrote about this case Monday, but here's a recap. We now have a situation in which Kansas holds "dual elections" in which different voters are treated differently, depending on how they registered.
Those who register using a federal form, which does not ask for proof of citizenship, may vote only in federal races, those for president, U.S. House and U.S. Senate. To vote in state and local elections, voters registering for the first time in their county must show documentary proof of citizenship.
In the Nov. 4 elections, more than 20,000 would-be voters were barred from voting because they used the state form but did not provide proof of citizenship. An analysis by the Journal-World showed a disproportionate number of those voters were under age 25 or resided in low-income neighborhoods.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach's office had sued in federal court, trying to get the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to provide Kansas with a federal form that asks for proof of citizenship. Last week, the 10th Circuit said the EAC doesn't have to. Kobach says he plans to appeal that ruling. But in the meantime, there's the question of whether "dual elections" are constitutional.
Equality Kansas, a gay rights and civil rights advocacy group, is challenging the constitutionality of that setup. If they prevail, it could provide a pathway for voters to circumvent the proof-of-citizenship requirement simply by registering to vote using the federal form, basically eviscerating the law passed in 2012 by the Kansas Legislature, at Kobach's urging.
Judge Theis had put that case on hold pending the decision by the 10th Circuit. But now that the appellate court has ruled, the case could be reset for hearing at any time.
• School Finance: Gannon v. Kansas. Many people might have thought this case was dispensed with earlier this year when the Legislature agreed to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court order to spend more money on "equalization aid" targeting less wealthy districts. But that was only part of the case — and a relatively small part at that.
The bigger part of the case challenges the overall adequacy of state funding for public schools. The Supreme Court remanded that portion back to a three-judge panel (of which Theis is the presiding judge) to decide based on a different standard than had been used in the past.
The panel held a hearing on that issue in August, and court watchers have been waiting ever since for a decision.
In the panel's original ruling in 2013, it said the state was short-changing public schools to the tune of about $450 million a year.
If the panel comes back and says the state is still below the mark, that could throw the Kansas Legislature into chaos this session. Because remember, state revenue estimators just said Monday that the state is now projected to have a $715 million budget gap over the next 18 months.
There is no deadline for the panel to render its decision, but most people expect one before the start of the 2015 session.
While Kansas lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback try to figure out how to trim $715 million out of the state budget over the next year and a half, one Lawrence resident is offering a novel idea: crowdfunding.
In a tongue-in-cheek appeal, Lawrence resident Will Averill launched a campaign Wednesday on the crowdfunding website Indiegogo.com to raise money to bail out the state of Kansas.
“Whoops! We didn't plan very well,” Averill wrote. “But hey, when you run out of money, ask people who have it!”
Indiegogo is a San Francisco-based web company that offers a platform for crowdfunding - the practice of raising money for a project or venture in small donations from large numbers of people.
The campaign, which Averill admits is “mostly a joke,” is a response to new budget figures announced Monday that show the state facing a $278.7 million revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and a $435.7 million shortfall for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Cautioning "don't actually donate money to this campaign," Averill also satirizes the typical crowdfunding incentives, offering “a hearty Thanks from the State of Kansas” for a $1 gift; “a monkey from the Wichita Zoo” for $100; and “a state senator” for $10,000.
State officials say the shortfall is mainly the result of sweeping tax cuts the Legislature approved in 2012 and 2013, which Brownback and the Republican leadership in the Legislature said would stimulate the Kansas economy.
“This is mostly a joke to highlight the precariousness of the situation we've put ourselves in,” Averill wrote on the website. “Everyone has made our state a laughingstock for a long time, and we're not doing much right now to help that.”
Averill did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.
A leading state children's advocate says that a bill that would have saved children's lives and cost nothing died because of "politics."
"Politics got in the way, and Kansas kids will die needlessly as a result," said Shannon Cotsoradis, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Children. Key state officials denied Cotsoradis' allegation.
One of those, Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, said the bill got caught up in legislative deadlines.
The dispute is over Senate Bill 259, which would have allowed health researchers to extract information from the State Child Death Review Board for the purpose of public health research. The bill would have prohibited disclosure of information that could be used to identify a child.
Supporters of the bill say it will help the state identify trends and risk factors that may contribute to the death of a child.
Cotsoradis said identifying those public health trends is crucial because the Kansas child death rate exceeds the national rate.
A bill similar to SB 259 passed the House without opposition.
SB 259 was approved in March by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but it failed to advance and died at the end of the session.
When pressed what she meant by "politics" getting in the way, Cotsoradis said that Kansas Action for Children has a long-running legal dispute with Attorney General Derek Schmidt in which the child advocacy group seeks the release of information about tobacco settlement revenues that fund children's programs.
"We don't have the best relationship with the attorney general's office. That may have factored into the equation," Cotsoradis said. Schmidt's office denied that Schmidt had anything to do with the bill's demise. Schmidt's spokesman, Clint Blaes, noted that the Child Death Review Board, which is part of the attorney general's office, testified in support of the bill.
King, who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said, "There is nothing nefarious going on." King added that he supported the bill and will try to pass it next year. As far as the charge that children will die as a result of the measure not being passed, King said, "I have not seen one iota of evidence" to support that.
Cotsoradis said a bill that passed the House without opposition, and drew no opponents who testified, should have passed the Legislature.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who was sharply criticized for problems with the rollout of Healthcare.gov, got big laughs Saturday night at the White House Correspondents Association dinner, when she came on stage as part of a joke to fix a technical glitch during President Barack Obama's speech.
Obama introduced a video, but when it failed to load properly. Obama asked, "Does anybody know how to fix this?"
Sebelius, the former governor of Kansas, stepped out and said, "I got this. I see it all the time."
Sebelius announced last month that she will be stepping down from her post.
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.