Year in review 2014

State Seal of Kansas.

State Seal of Kansas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every year the legislature works on numerous bills that have a direct impact on the future of Kansas citizens. Below you will find what the Kansas Legislature did in 2014 on major issues including education finance and policy, tax reform, insurance and health care, business and job development, and budget.

Education Finance and Policy

Pupils In Class Using Digital Tablet With Teacher

There is always a topic or a genre of issues that control the legislative process.  While we were successful in passing a number of important pieces of legislation, this year education finance and policy dominated the legislative process.

On March 7, the Supreme Court released its 110-page ruling in the education finance and policy case Gannon v. State, emphasizing that the equitable distribution of funds and student outcomes are essential in determining the adequacy of education funding.  The Legislature passed HB2506 including the following highlights:

  • The bill appropriates $134 million and addresses the equitable distribution of funds,  particularly the local option budget (LOB) and capital outlay as directed in the ruling, and provides $84 million of property tax relief in the process;
  • There is a tax credit scholarship for low income students;
  • It adds an additional $36 million into the classroom where it belongs;
  • Virtual schools are appropriately funded;
  • The bill adopts the “Rose Standards” from a Kentucky lawsuit which funds education for better outcomes rather than just writing a check into the system;
  • There is a two-year budgeting process;
  • The LOB can be expanded with a vote of the people;
  • There is a K-12 commission to make recommendations for more efficient use of taxpayer money;
  • Alternative teacher licensure for math, science, technology, and engineering will help get qualified people from the private sector into our schools;
  • The bill expands the Public Innovative Districts;
  • Policies that the Board of Regents desired became part of the bill; and finally,
  • The bill removes a state mandate on school districts for due process hearings upon termination or non-renewal of a contract based on tenure. This leaves the decision to local school districts to contractually initiate due process if they determine it to be in the best educational interest of the students.

Tax Reform 

Tax forms

There was significant tax reform initiated this year.

HB2047  prohibits all local taxing jurisdictions from spending more property tax dollars than the previous year’s budget unless they vote to do so and publish their actions.

SB231 assures that appealing taxes in Kansas will be more more fair, affordable and impartial for citizens and businesses.  Summary decisions must be made in 14 days and full decisions within 90 days. The bill increases appeal options for the taxpayer, mandates education for the appeal officers, provides more access to county appraisers, streamilines the process, provides two years of stability if the appeal is successful, authorizes settlement agreements, and provides numerous policy changes to help assure a fair and expedited appeal.

HB2643 phases out the mortgage registration tax over a five year period and phases in increased per page filing costs to offset the county revenue loss and further defines what is real property and personal property.

Insurance and Health Care

 

HealthcareSignificant insurance and health care bills passed the legislature this year.

HB2553, The Health Care Compact, lays the groundwork for Kansas (with eight other states to date) to control our own federal health care dollars. If congressional consent is given, the Legislature can make decisions about our health care dollars, free from federal bureaucrats.  The Affordable Care Act has already taken over $700 billion from Medicare. This compact mandates that all federal money received must be spent on healthcare and can not be used to fund anything else.

SB309 Any professional association or business league that has been in existence for at least five years and has five or more employers may associate to provide their own health care plans.

HB2552 After hearing a pattern of complaints, the legislature took action to require the KanCare managers to pay their providers promptly for their services.

HB2668 Predetermination of Health Care Benefits Act establishes a request for information about estimated amounts the patient will be expected to pay including the deductible, copay and coinsurance, the amount the health care provider and institution will be paid, and whether any payments will be reduced or increased.

Business and Job Development

Disabled man in wheelchair looking at mirror

Woven throughout the legislative process has been an emphasis on business and job development.

From Commerce and Labor:

HB2430 Promoting Employment Across Kansas (PEAK) program has been extended for 5-7 years.  PEAK has been a successful business recruitment and retention tool for high impact companies that emply 100 people or more, providing certain incentives for companies that hire new employees.

HB2576 contains an important fix for businesses that paid a disproportionate amount of  unemployment insurance.

SB372 allows qualified regular, part time employees to be eligible for a pro rata share of unemployment benefits.  It gives companies an option to maintain an employee workforce while still paying benefits without having to lay off large numbers of employees.

SB371 The Secretary of Labor has been aggressively pursuing Unemployment Insurance fraud.  This bill allows penalty money to be deposited back into the UI pool for the benefit of those employees who qualify for it.

Final budget

FY 2015 Approved SGF budget by govt function

 

This year’s final budget is a product of a two-year budget cycle that was initiated for the 2014 and 2015 legislative sessions to provide more stability and thus more predictability in state spending. The recommended 2014 budget for the state general fund was $5,998,527,797 and the all funds budget was $15,046,074,363.  The recommended budget for the 2015 fiscal year (beginning July 1, 2014) is $6,272,867,803 for the state general fund and is $14,770,702,655 for the all funds budget.

Opponents of our efforts to reform government spending and bring it under control predicted that we would have a billion dollar deficit at this point. But, at the end of fiscal year 2014, we had a very healthy $434 million ending balance. And, according to Legislative Research, the projected ending balance for fiscal year 2015 will be $390.7 million dollars.

Legislators both agree and disagree over funding. But with reason, determination, and compromise we have been successful in setting priorities and controlling state spending.

 

Other Legislative Issues from 2014

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HB2744 will keep chief law enforcement officers from refusing to sign off on firearms transfers that are legal under federal and Kansas law, based solely on their own personal belief about firearms.

HB2578 addresses transfers of certain federally regulated firearms; concealed and open carry of firearms; regulation of firearms and knives by local units of government; forfeiture, return, and buyback of firearms; criminal use and possession of weapons. The nut of the bill creates a consistent statewide system of laws for carrying a firearm rather than the current patchwork system.

HB256 Mistreatment of a Dependent Adult or Elder Person Act, creates a crime that involves taking unfair advantage of a dependent adult’s resources.

HB 2023 allows recovery of workers compensation in cases involving heart disease during the course of usual work performed by firefighters or law enforcement officers.

SB248 requires the Secretary of Corrections to provide written notice to victims or their families at least 14 days prior to when the inmate who committed the crime is released.

HB2744 requires health insurance coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of Autism in children under the age of 12, and creates the Applied Behavior Analysis Licensure Act. The bill requires large health insurance plans to provide coverage effective January 1, 2015 and extends the autism coverage to grandfathered individual or small group plans effective July 1, 2016.

SB 258 requires the State Registrar to establish a certificate of birth when a delivery results in stillbirth.

SB 367 restricts what data contained in a student’s educational record can be disclosed and to whom it can be disclosed.

SB311 phases in the increase of caps on non-economic damages from $250,000 to $350,000.  Additionally, it makes so called expert witnesses in court testimony actually be experts in their field.

HB2057 authorizes counties to grant property tax abatements or credits to owners of homesteads destroyed or substantially damaged by earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, fires, or storms.

SCR 1618 is a state constitutional amendment for consideration at the next general election to allow raffles by religious, charitable, fraternal, educational, and veterans nonprofit organizations.

HB 2197 amends law concerning the Kansas State High School Activities Association (KSHSAA).The bill requires four of the sixty appointees to be non-school employees, ideally parents, and rotates two of those appointees onto the executive board.