The first week of the legislative session has come and gone!
On Monday at 2:00 p.m., we were sworn into office, and I am honored to have the opportunity to serve you for the next four years. It is always a humbling experience to take the oath and pledge to uphold our federal and state constitutions. I will do my very best to represent you by standing up for truth and upholding conservative principles.
My committees this year are as follows:
- Ethics, Elections and Local Government
My office location is 234-E. If you're in Topeka, I encourage you to stop by.
In this first week, we heard the State of the State from Governor Sam Brownback, received the governor's budget, and both chambers are in the process of adopting their rules - a very important process.
We're already engaging in some interesting debates, mostly in the public domain. The left is coordinating a push to repeal the LLC exemption, and we've all been witnessing
press release exchanges
between the office of Governor Brownback and Senate President Wagle.
As always, I will do my best to keep you up to date as to the "real story" of what is going on. Below you can read some important information about what went on this week in Topeka, and what to look forward to in the week ahead.
Mary takes the Oath of Office along with four other Senators.
Governor Sam Brownback delivered his annual State of the State
address to a joint session of the Kansas Legislature on Tuesday.
You can read the text of his remarks by clicking here.
You can view the speech by clicking here.
During his remarks, Governor Brownback outlined his annual budget, defended his tax policy, discussed his administration's extensive efforts to rein i
n the size and scope of government, reform our education funding system, and fix broken critical systems such as KPERS.
He also challenged our state universities to offer a four-year program for Kansas students at just $15,000 in tuition. The costs of running our higher education institutions is causing financial hardship for those who do seek a degree, and we m
ust bring that down - so I was pleased to see his proposal.
Certainly, as the governor himself alluded to, there will be those who immediately seek to poke holes in his proposals, and surely there will be aspects of any budget, particularly, that each of us disagree with. That's true for any governor. However, there is much to like in what he outlined, and I applaud his willingness to defend the policies that have been implemented.
|Governor Brownback begins his State of the State remarks as Speaker Ron Ryckman and Senate President Susan Wagle applaud.
State of State Proposal Details
Here are of the most important details of Governor Brownback's proposals:
- Save $136 million in efficiencies
- Securitize the Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement (which would sell off our income of $55-$60 million annually)
- Merge Kansas school districts' health insurance plans with the state employee health insurance plans
- Borrow $317 million idle funds, typically fee-generated money held by various agencies and managed by the Pooled Money Investment Board.
- Increase the LLC report filing fee from $40 to $200
- Increase the cigarette tax from $1.29/pack to $2.29/pack
- Increase the tobacco products tax from 10% to 20%
- Increase the liquor enforcement tax from 8% to 16%
- Increase the lower tax income bracket to 2.7% (from 2.6%)
I appreciate the need for revenue, but I am skeptical of the tax increases laid out here, particularly the large increases in tobacco and liquor, and the increase of taxes to lower income families. I do not see myself voting for these items under any scenario.
Our rural areas are facing a shortage of medical and dental personnel, making health care access difficult for many of our citizens. With over 90 of our counties classified as being underserved for medical and over 85 for dental, we need to address this.
Governor Brownback proposed three solutions:
- $5 million to start new medical and dentistry residency programs.
- A privately funded Doctor of Osteopathy School.
- Funding for development of a dental school at the University of Kansas Medical Center. There are no dental schools in Kansas, but the University of Missouri has a dental school less than four miles away.
These ideas are worth exploring.
Of course, education remains a major issue, as it is every session - both in terms of K-12 funding as well as higher education. In his remarks, Governor Brownback:
- Urged lawmakers to pass a new school finance formula.
- As noted above, he challenged institutions of higher education to craft a plan that would allow students to earn a bachelor's degree for $15,000 or less. The first institution to accomplish this goal will receive 50 state-funded scholarships for degree-seeking students.
- Build Kansas' Career and Technical Institution education programs that empower students to work good-paying jobs upon graduation.
I think each of these proposals have merit and look forward to considering them in committee and on the floor.
What's the Real Story on Jobs, LLCs, Highways and Education Funding?
Over the last few years, if there was a theme to the reporting of facts regarding job growth, highway funding and education spending in Kansas, it would be entitled, the "Greatest Story Never Told."
While there are many reasons, perhaps, for the story NOT being told, that doesn't mean we should not tell it today. Many of the great reforms that have taken place the last six years are now under threat from left-wing groups who want to create their own utopia, a utopia of big government, unlimited spending, liberal social welfare policy, and a massive education bureaucracy - all funded by your tax dollars. To get there, they first have to demonize the success of the last six years - and they've succeeded so far in doing so.
The truth is decidedly different, of course, and it's our duty as elected officials to tell the truth to the public. First of all, the State's current tax policies have nothing to do with current revenue projection shortfalls. Secondly, to help demonstrate how well Kansas is performing, below are four images. Two demonstrate the significant job growth and business creation that have resulted from the tax policy. Another demonstrates the upward trend in education spending. The final one simply shows that our highways rank with the best in the country for both urban and rural roads.
Aside from this data, I often hear from constituents who are benefiting from the tax policy - and no, they are not head basketball coaches. They are real entrepreneurs who want to remain in Kansas and grow their business here. The tax policy was designed specifically for them, and we should not turn our backs on the very policies that encouraged them to do so.
While they may not seem like a big deal to the average citizen, the rules that make up any legislative body matter a great deal. On one hand, they are absolutely necessary to ensure proper procedures are followed and in a consistent matter, and if properly constructed, achieve an appropriate balance between allowing members latitude to advance their views and the need to respect the eventual will of the body. On the other hand, they can also be used by those in power to consolidate that power by stifling debate or motions that would threaten their agenda.
This week, we began reviewing proposed Senate rules - scheduled for us to debate Tuesday - that make some alterations into how we conduct our business. Several conservatives are concerned about some of the specific changes that are proposed.
One change would raise the votes required to pull a bill from a committee that had not been worked OR to place an adversely reported bill from committee on General Orders. The vote requirement would be raised from 24 (which it has historically been, which is a 3/5 majority) to 27 (which is a 2/3 majority). This rule would have the effect of centralizing more power in the hands of leadership and its allies, as it would allow the Senate President to put a bill in a committee made of left-wing members, knowing it would get adversely reported, and then the increased vote requirement would make it next to impossible to remove it, ensuring the bill does not get revived.
A second proposed rule would change the requirement for pulling a bill from the Consent Calendar. The Consent Calendar exists in order to allow the quick passage of noncontroversial legislation without debate. In both chambers, it has always been understood that any one member can raise an objection anonymously and remove the bill from this calendar. Historically, it has not ever been any different, and it has worked well.
Under the proposed rules, this requirement would be raised to 3 Senators, eliminating the anonymous nature of the objection and creating a high bar for Senators to track and implement. Interestingly, the House, with 125 members, has already adopted the rules with an anonymous one vote objection that's always been in place to remove an item from Consent.
A final proposed rule change would allow a motion during debate to "recess to a time certain." This motion would be non-debatable. While seemingly innocuous, this would allow debate on critically important issues to be abruptly stopped, at any time and for any reason, reducing a Senator's ability to maintain votes for his/her bill, as this maneuver will be used as a way to gain time to influence or change votes on a measure.
The practical result would be that with no debate, a motion to recess until the following day could be made in the middle of a discussion on tax, budget or school finance bill. This maneuver could essentially allow the Leadership to stop the legislative clock and manipulate the legislative calendar, effectively reducing the number of legislative days.
The outcome of this rules debate will shape the entire session, and that is why the debate and vote Tuesday is so critical.
With ice cold temperatures now here, it's important to remember there are ways for all of us to stay warm, even if our financial strains make paying the home heating bill a difficult one.
In that respect, I wanted to inform you of the LIEAP program. Here is a release:
LIEAP Application Period Opens Tuesday, Jan. 17
Program available to help families stay warm this winter
TOPEKA - During the cold winter months, heating a home can be a financial strain. In order to ensure Kansans keep warm this winter, the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) will begin accepting applications for its Low Income Energy Assistance Pro
gram (LIEAP) on Tuesday, Jan. 17
"Kansas winters have the potential to bring brutally cold temperatures, snow and ice," said
DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore. We want to make sure families don't go cold due to financial concerns. Our LIEAP staff is trained and ready to begin processing applications, so
families have warm homes this winter."
LIEAP provides an annual benefit to help qualifying households pay winter heating bills. Persons with disabilities, older adults and families with children are the primary groups assisted. In 2016, nearly 44,000 households received an average benefit of a little under $500.
To qualify, applican ts must be responsible for direct payment of their heating bills. Income eligibilityrequirements are set at 130 percent of the federal poverty level. The level of benefit varies according to household income, number of people living in the home, type of residence, type of heating fuel, and utility rates.
Applicants must demonstrate that they have made payments on their heating bill two out of the last three months. Those payments must be equal to or exceed $80 or the total balance due on their energy bills, whichever is less.
Applications for the program have been mailed to households that received energy assistance last year. LIEAP applications are also available at local DCF offices and through partnering agencies.
They can be requested by calling 1-800-432-0043. For more information or to apply online, visit www.lieap.dcf.ks.gov.
Applications will be accepted from Jan. 17 to March 31.
(Applications received prior to Jan. 17 will be denied.)
Until Next Week...
That's it for this week! I want to close by just restating that this session is going to be a difficult one. A good part of our task will be playing defense, upholding liberty and protecting the important progress we have made the past six years. Along with several of my colleagues, we are committed to fighting and we will keep you updated along the way.
In honor of your liberty,