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 2016 Legislative & Policy Watch Weekly E-Update

No. 1  January 8, 2016

In This Issue
How to Receive Policy Watch
About Policy Watch

About Policy Watch E-Updates


The Legislative and Policy Watch Weekly E-Update is a project of the Kansas Rural Center.

In 2015, KRC is partnering with the Kansas Natural Resources Council  and Audubon of Kansas to provide this report to their members.  We thank them for their support and assistance.

Editor: Mary Fund
Paul Johnson, Policy Analyst


  The Kansas Rural Center
promotes the health of the land and its people through research, education and advocacy that advance an ecologically sound, economically viable,  and socially just agriculture. For more information about KRC go to
The Kansas Natural Resource Council (KNRC)
promotes environmentally responsible practices and sustainable natural resource policies to ensure the quality and abundance of these resources for future generations. For more information about our organization and programs, or how to become a member, please visit
knrc.weebly.com  To be removed from the KNRC Policy Watch list, please contact  Sharon Ashworth at sharon.knrc@gmail.com.


Audubon of Kansas (AOK) is a statewide non-profit organization  established to promote appreciation and stewardship of Kansas' natural ecosystems, with special emphasis on conservation of prairies, birds, other wildlife, and habitat.For more information about our organization and our programs, or how to become a member, please visit http://www.audubonofkansas.org
 to be removed from the AOK Policy Watch list, please contact Monica Goss at monica.goss@audubonofkansas.org


   Welcome to the Kansas Rural Center's 2016 Legislative  Policy Watch Weekly E-Updates!  Beginning this week and running to the end of the  legislative session, the Kansas Rural Center will issue its Policy Watch Weekly E-Updates. Paul Johnson, KRC's Policy Analyst, will bring you the latest information concerning budget and state revenues, tax issues, school finance, agriculture and food,  natural resource and energy  issues,  judiciary system developments, and  other topics critical for citizens of Kansas.

   We will also provide you information on how to contact your legislators, committee hearing schedules, and any activities at the Statehouse or beyond on the issues so critical to Kansas.

    In addition to state issues, we will continue to provide  information on  action and debates in Washington, D.C. on implementation and developments in  federal farm programs through our participation in the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.  

   Some of you on KRC's list are receiving the E-Update for the first time as a complimentary issue  because you attended one of KRC's workshops, our annual conference, or attended a meeting or presentation. If you have not contributed to KRC, and would like to support the Weekly Updates, click HERE to learn more.
 
    Times are tight for organizations like us working to keep you informed, so we appreciate-- and need-- your support.  To those of you who have recently sent your support, we thank you.

     We especially thank the Kansas Natural Resource Council  and Audubon of Kansas for making  a generous contribution so they can distribute the Policy E-Updates to their members.

    Mary Fund, Editor
                                                          
2016 Kansas at the Crossroads
                                            by Paul Johnson


The 2016 Kansas Legislature begins on January 11 with many challenges facing the State. Kansas is virtually broke to pay for essential state services. Revenues continue to be adjusted downwards. Further budget adjustments will be required for 2017.
 
   The future of public schools is uncertain at best. The independence of the judiciary in Kansas is under attack by the conservatives that now control the executive and legislative branches. Social services struggle under severe budgetary cuts and thousands of working Kansans go without basic medical services.
 
   Agricultural and environmental issues will be debated in regards to local food systems and water challenges, and corporate control. On top of all this, 2016 is an election year for all 125 Kansas House members and all 40 Kansas Senators. Election year politics will dominate the tone and depth of debate of the 2016 session.

   Read on below.
Preview of 2016

   Revenues and Taxes. Kansas' revenue crisis and the State's budget are inherently intertwined. Even with lowered revenue estimates by the State's consensus revenue experts in November, monthly revenue receipts going forward in 2016 are uncertain at best.
 
   The Legislative Budget committee was told in December that the State's ending balance by June 30 will be only $5 million. A minimum ending balance should be $100 million to pay all bills on time. By existing law, which is waived by legislators, the ending balance should be 7.5% ($450 million). The forecast for the 2017 State budget - that starts July 1, 2016 - is a $170 million deficit.
 
   After a series of state budget cuts caused by the 2009 recession and the 2011-13 budget cuts initiated by the Governor to fund income tax cuts, further arbitrary, across-the-board budget cuts will likely be proposed for 2017. After signing a sales tax increase and forcing schools and local governments to raise property taxes in 2015, the Governor has removed further tax changes off the table in an election year.
  
School Finance. Having under-funded and then scrapped the existing public school funding formula, the 2015 Kansas Legislature passed a two year fixed block grant - 2016 & 2017 - for public schools, thus buying time to write a new funding formula. Considering the pending $170 million budget deficit for 2017 and that public schools comprise 50% of the State budget, it is hard to believe that the block grant will be fully funded in 2017.
 
   In 2015, the Kansas Legislature withheld $54 million in funding intended to equalize funding for poorer school districts. A district court has ruled this reduction in funding was unconstitutional. The Kansas Supreme Court may well order the restoration of this funding during the 2016 legislative session.
 
   A district court panel of judges has also ruled that Kansas has inadequately funded the previous public school funding formula by close to $500 million. This case will take several months to be fully adjudicated.
 
   While many conservatives would prefer vouchers allowing  parents to select any public or private school, it is unlikely that enacting a new school funding formula will occur in this election year. The future of public education in Kansas hangs in the balance.
 
Judiciary System. The independence of the Kansas' judiciary is in jeopardy. The Governor and the Kansas Legislature passed law moving the administration of the 31 district courts from the Kansas Supreme Court to the individual districts. There is now a district court ruling declaring this law unconstitutional.
 
   Just before Christmas, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the Legislature's just passed law, declaring that the administration of district courts is constitutionally under the jurisdiction of the Kansas Supreme Court. The Kansas Legislature bundled their law with the entire budget of the Kansas court system so that if the new law was reversed by the court, the court system budget would be zeroed out thus shutting the courts down. This provision of negating the court's budget has been put on hold until March 15 to give the Legislature time to reconsider all options.
 
   While the Governor was successful in passing a law that gives the Governor the authority to select new justices to the Kansas Court of Appeals with confirmation by the Kansas Senate, it will take a constitutional amendment to change the selection of Kansas Supreme Court justices. This proposal has passed the Kansas Senate but has not garnered the necessary 84 votes in the Kansas House.
 
   This battle now turns to the ballot box since sitting Supreme Court and Court of Appeals justices must face votes of retention every four years. In 2016, five of the seven Supreme Court justices along with six of the fourteen Appeals Court justices will be on the ballot. Special interest money is flowing into Kansas to influence these retention elections. Separation of the executive/administrative, legislative, and judicial branches is at stake.
 
   Social Services. Social services continue to struggle under severe budgetary restraints. The state mental hospital at Osawatomie has now lost federal accreditation due to staffing shortages and inadequate security measures for staff.
 
   Having privatized the entire foster care system twenty years ago, foster care costs keep increasing and Kansas now has a record number of foster children - 6,600 - in state custody. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is the most important public assistance program for our poorest families. Since 2011, the number of clients has fallen from 38,963 to 13,592. Over 15,000 children have lost TANF; and Kansas has little idea what happened to these kids.
 
   Medicaid Expansion. Conservatives have fought hard to block the expansion of Medicaid (Kan Care) thus denying 150,000 very low income, working Kansans from having basic medical care. One rural southeast Kansas hospital has already closed and many more are in severe financial straits. Federal taxes paid by Kansans are funding Medicaid expansion in 30 other states. Kansas is losing out on hundreds of millions of federal dollars that would provide several thousand new jobs. This Kan Care expansion could be self-funded through provider taxes and savings in mental health and prison population health costs.
 
   Water Vision Plan and Water Issues. Definitive funding for the Governor's 50-year Water Vision has been delayed. After hundreds of public meetings and input from 14 water basin regions, the plan was to have a Blue Ribbon Economic Task Force in place in the fall of 2015 to have final priorities and a funding plan for the 2016 session. Now the Task Force will deliberate in 2016 for the 2017 session.
 
   Water rights disputes and how to establish an administrative process within the Kansas Department of Agriculture to settle these disputes before court action is instituted will be debated. Because of the ongoing budget deficits, the State Water Plan will likely not be funded with State budget funds but may rely solely on water and chemical fees thus reducing the funding from $24 million to $14 million.
 
   Noxious Weeds. Senate Bill 134 was introduced in 2015 to fundamentally amend the Kansas Noxious Weed law. The bill will move the listing of noxious weeds from being in statute to a streamlined administrative rule and regulation process. This seemingly simple administrative change actually has big potential impacts on the emerging specialty crop sector of fruit and vegetable growers, as well as organic growers.
 
   Twelve noxious weeds are now listed in statute. Legislation must be passed to list a new noxious weed to the state list. Under SB 134, the Kansas Secretary of Agriculture becomes a 'weed czar' by taking recommendations from a hand-picked noxious weed advisory committee. The KDA Secretary will also have special emergency powers to declare any plant a potential 'noxious weed', as will county commissions with the Secretary's approval. There is no definition of a 'noxious weed' in statute and no policy on using the safest, least toxic methods to control weeds first, and no definition of drift.
 
   Local Food and Farming. A seven member 'local food and farm' task force - created by the 2014 Kansas Legislature - met throughout 2015 to develop recommendations for the 2016 session. The task force will provide a statewide analysis of promoting and expanding specialty crop agriculture such as produce and grapes.
 
   The task force 2016 Kansas report will be a beginning to develop a comprehensive plan with detailed recommendations for financial incentives, technical support, local food infra-structures and funding needs to make fresh and affordable locally grown foods more accessible. The report will be presented by the task force to the Legislature early in the session.
 
   Other Issues. There is no way to predict every important issue for the 2016 session. There are several hundred bills held over from the 2015 session that could be debated. Some high profile issues like guns on college campuses in Kansas will garner a lot of attention. The exclusion of colleges, municipal governments and libraries from allowing concealed carry of guns in buildings without metal detectors expires on July 1, 2017 so legislation will be proposed to enact a different policy. The prisons in Kansas - that now have 9,463 beds - are over capacity by at least 100. Projections are that in a few years the over capacity will be 1,000. There will be a debate over paying counties to house these prisoners or building a new wing at the prison in El Dorado.
  
   Many conservatives are still opposed to the EPA's Clean Power Plan rule that will reduce greenhouse gases by 30% through burning less coal, relying more on natural gas, expanding the use of renewable energy such as wind power and improving the use of electricity through conservation and efficiency. Lawsuits will continue to block this plan.
 
   2016 Elections. 2016 is an election year with all members and seats up for election. In 2014, 248 candidates for the Kansas House spent $3.6 million on their campaigns and the average cost for the winners was $22,080. Political action committees (PAC) and out-of-state organizations spent an additional $1.9 million. In 2012, an average Kansas Senator spent $94,000 to win their seat and this does not include the out-of-state and PAC money. In the 2014 Kansas House campaigns, PAC's and out-of-state organizations spent over 50% of the campaign costs and one has to wonder what they want for their contributions?
 
   Kansas is truly at a crossroads. The quality of life in Kansas is at stake. The solid, stable sensible Kansas revenue policy of balancing property, sales and income taxes has been broken as Kansas lowers and eliminates the income tax for the wealthiest Kansans while working Kansans struggle with the nation's second highest sales tax on groceries . One in six Kansas households are food insecure.
 
   The existing tax plan severely limits any restoration of budget cuts to vital state services, while keeping Kansas on the path to completely eliminating the income tax for individuals and then corporations. The Mississippi model of greater income disparity, failing public schools, second class universities, shattered social services, inadequate public safety and deteriorating highways is the path that Kansas is on with the Governor's tax experiment.
 
   Will Kansans vote based on their displeasure and dismay at the 2015 Session and behavior of their elected leaders? Will another vision begin to take shape?   2016 is your electoral chance to support candidates with that alternative vision. Let the games begin.
 
   Paul Johnson can be reached at pdjohnson@centurylink.net              
 
 
How to Contact Kansas Legislators

Kansas House of Representatives,
 Click Here
        For House of Representative Committees, Click Here
Kansas Senate
   Click Here
             For Senate Committees, Click Here
To identify your legislator, click
Kansas Legislature Website
  While we will provide information on calendars and upcoming hearings on some bills and issues, this information on committees, weekly calendars and schedules, bills, etc.  is directly available at the website below:

http://www.kslegislature.org/li/

The calendar of deadlines for the session  can also be found here.
How to Ensure You Receive Weekly Policy E-Updates
Contributors to KRC of $60 or more are automatically on the Policy Watch list, if they provide an e-mail address; or you can subscribe just for the Updates for $25.    KRC will send complimentary copies to non-contributors for several issues.   To get information on how to support Policy Watch,, click   HERE.

In 2016, KRC is also partnering with the Kansas Natural Resource Council and
Audubon of Kansas to send Policy Watch to their members. We thank them for their support. 

 If you are receiving Policy Watch because you are an AOK member, to be removed you need to contact Monica Goss at monica.goss@audubonofkansas.org.  To be removed as a KNRC member, contact Sharon Ashworth at sharon.knrc@gmail.com.

 If you would are on KRC's mailing list, and would like to opt out of receiving KRC Weekly Updates, please contact Joanna Voigt at  
About Policy Watch
   If you have any questions about Policy Watch, contact Mary Fund, editor at mfund@kansasruralcenter.org, or contact Paul Johnson at pdjohnson@centurylink.net

 

   To learn more about the Kansas Rural Center, please visit our website at
The Kansas Rural Center
4021 SW 10th Ave. #337
Topeka, Ks. 66604

866-579-5469
www.kansasruralcenter.org