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 2016 Legislative & Policy Watch Weekly E-Update

No. 11  March 19, 2016

In This Issue
School Funding Fights
Legislation to Watch Next Week
Legislative Timelines
FEderal Farm & food Policy: GMO Labeling Preemption Bill Fails
FEderal FArm & Food News: Congresstional Appropriators Support Level Playing Field
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,Audubon of Kansas, and Ks. Association of Regional Development Organizations to provide this report to their members.  We thank them for their support and assistance.

Editor: Mary Fund
Paul Johnson, Policy Analyst

To Support 
Policy Watch

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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
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How to Contact Your Legislator
Revenue Uncertainties
          by Paul Johnson
As the Kansas Legislature rushes to finish the regular session next Friday, there seems to be no rush to debate and fix the faltering revenues. The plan must be to leave town by March 25 and return on April 27 th to assess the revenue situation. The revenues collected in March will be revealed on April Fool's day with a prayer they have not fallen $50 million as the collections in February.

The consensus revenue experts will meet on April 20 to develop new revenue projections for the next 30 months. These revenue projections must be used by the Legislature and the Governor to finalize the 2016 and 2017 State budgets.

The veto session begins on April 27 and may last for a few weeks if - as expected - the consensus revenue projections are again down $100 to $150 million as the projections were last November. The revenue numbers for April will also be revealed on May 1 possibly indicating more revenue loss. Monthly revenue collections have been lower 11 of the last 12 months. One has to wonder how bad the losses must be to inspire legislative leaders to act in the veto session or will the leaders simply let the Governor decimate more state services and leave the whole mess to a newly elected 2017 Kansas Legislature?
As state support continues to decline for regent institutions and now there is a new 3% reduction ($17 million) for the final four months of this fiscal year, the University of Kansas moved ahead with a creative expansion project to upgrade declining science laboratories, build a new student union, expand parking on campus and develop new student housing for out of state and foreign students. This project was funded with the extra housing funds from the new students and the fees generated off the union plus parking.

While private, corporate funding is available for projects such as expanding the business school or sport facilities, such is not the case with improving science facilities or constructing new student housing. After three years of planning and continual review by the Board of Regents, the issuance of bonds for this project was rejected by the Kansas Development Finance Authority over financing science research laboratories. KU than turned to the finance authority in Wisconsin to proceed with issuing bonds since the market timing was right.

The Kansas Legislature was unhappy with KU going to Wisconsin and not keeping them fully updated on the project. Now the Legislature is working on legislation to fully control these creative, privately financed projects.
At the same time the Governor has been working behind the scenes to move ahead with state building or state financed projects without explicit approval by the Legislature. The Docking State Office building, just west of the Capitol, is being abandoned and slated for demolishment. Underneath the Docking building is a recently remodeled power plant that provides steam to the Capitol and four other state buildings. The Governor's plan was to completely demolish Docking and construct a new $20 million power plant at another site using the Landon State Office building as collateral.

The other option is to demolish Docking down to one floor and thus salvage the existing power plant. The Kansas Senate voiced strong opposition to the Governor's plan and has now forced the Governor to abandon his plan for the new power plant. The Kansas Senate has also voted to stop the private plans by the Governor to give away millions in state sales tax revenues to private developers to lure the American Royal to Wyandotte County from Kansas City, Missouri.
The Governor's revenue experiment to spur expansive economic growth by eliminating the income tax has great uncertainty. During the 2014 re-election campaign, the Governor set a goal of adding 25,000 jobs each year during his second term. From January 2015 to January 2016, Kansas added 1,400 nonfarm jobs - one of the worst rates in the nation.

Kansas' gross state product dropped by 1.1% last year compared with a 0.1% increase for the six-state region and a 2% increase nationally. Building permits decreased by 3.1% last year compared with a 1.2% increase for the region and 14.2% increase nationally. Private establishments in Kansas increased by 1.6% compared to 2.7% in the region and 2.1% nationally. While a 4% unemployment rate - down from 4.3% in January 2015 - is better than the region or the nation, this has been the case since 2008 long before the Governor's tax cuts.

How long and painful must this income tax experiment be before a permanent reduction to the quality of life in Kansas and the competitiveness of the Kansas economy is fully understood?          
FREE Legislative Hotline


The Legislative Hotline is the fastest, easiest way to voice  your opinion to your legislator. Even if you don't know your legislator's name or your district, you can call this number and be connected with your state legislator.
    The operator will ask for your zip code and identify your legislator for you. You can either leave your message with the operator, who will pass it on, or you can ask to be connected to your legislator's office and leave the message yourself.
 School Funding Fights
Legislation is finally moving to address the school funding equity ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court. The Kansas Legislature has until June 30 to fix this equity issue, or public schools will not open on July 1. Given the existing budget deficit already facing the Legislature and little debate on finding new revenues, it is a real challenge to find any new money. The Kansas Supreme Court was clear in their decision that fixing the inequity problem between wealthier and poorer school districts must not come from funds in the basic block grant already passed for 2017. The Legislature may feel it has no other choice. It seems more likely a special legislative session may have to be called this summer to find a solution.
The cost to fix the local option budget and capital outlay state aid for the local school districts is $38.6 million. House Bill 2731 would have added $20 million in new state general fund dollars and transferred the $17.5 million from the extraordinary needs line item - that assists school districts with new enrollments or certain loss of property valuation - to fix the equity problem. There would be winners and losers among the 286 school districts and would force some school districts to raise mill levies to compensate for the loss. The House Appropriations committee members did not support this plan and the chairman was forced to withdraw the bill. A new bill with a different formula will be presented and debated next week in the House.
Senate Bill 512 was quickly heard in the Senate Ways and Means and voted to the floor for debate next week. No new money was provided with this bill. The 2017 school block grant will be cut by 1.45% to fix the equity problems. Once again there will be winners and losers among the 286 school districts. The reduction here of 1.45% will come out of operating budgets for every school district so they will all face that loss. This move - to flaunt the Kansas Supreme Court's school funding equity order by taking operating funds from all school districts to assist the poorer school districts - will set the stage for a constitutional confrontation. It is very unlikely that SB 512 can make it through the whole Senate and the House by next Friday when the regular session ends so this debate will not be settled till the veto session in May.
Beyond this equity fight, there are several bills recommended by the A & M efficiency report to pare money from school districts to lessen state support. SB 505 and HB 2728 would force school districts to spend down any ending balances over 15%. HB 2729 and SB 499 would require school districts to procure specific spend categories - such as fuel, supplies, materials, maintenance services, etc. - through the Kansas Department of Administration. HB 2730 authorizes the establishment of a school district group-funded pool for health insurance purposes. Time is short so it is hard to predict which of these bills have enough traction to be implemented this session.
 Legislation to Watch Next Week
With only one week left in the regular session, there is very little time for many committee hearings. Most of the time will be spent on floor debates and the work of conference committees that will bundle bills on the same topic into one Christmas package.
House Bill 2595 reserves the regulation of nutritional labeling for food menu items in restaurants and vending machines to the legislature. On Friday, HB 2595 was amended on the House floor to limit its impact on local zoning laws. This bill has now passed the House and its future is uncertain in the Senate.
House Bill 2479 changes noxious weed law in Kansas. The House version made fundamental changes by moving the listing of noxious weeds from statute to rule and regulation by the Secretary of Agriculture. The Senate's amended version leaves the listing in statute but gives counties more authority to control noxious weeds. This bill will first be debated on the Senate floor next week and then go to conference with the House.
Senate Bill 314 extends the life of the 'Local Food and Farm' task force for one more year. This bill has passed the Senate and just passed out of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee. Hopefully it will be passed by the full House next week and sent on to the Governor.
Senate Sub. for House Bill 2059 creates application requirements and fees to appropriate surface water that otherwise leaves the state. This is the effort to allocate Missouri River water and transfer it across Kansas. After several weeks of debate, this bill finally made it out of the Senate Natural Resources committee and will be debated on the Senate floor next week.
Senate Bill 367 fundamentally amends the juvenile justice system in Kansas. The plan is to lessen the mostly costly placements for juveniles and use those savings for more community and alternative settings. There is no guarantee those savings will be directed to community options. This bill has had extensive hearings in the Senate and the House. It has passed the Senate and an amended version has now passed the House so it will be in a conference committee next week.
Senate Bill 425 would have made fundamental changes to conservation easements by inserting county commission control and possibly limiting the perpetual length of the easement. After several days of contentious hearings, the Senate Natural Resources committee on a vote of 6 to 3 tabled and hopefully killed the bill for this session.  
Legislative Timelines

The week of March 21 to the 25 th will be reserved for floor debates and House/Senate conference committees reconciling the differences in bills that have passed one chamber or the other.
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:

The calendar of deadlines for the session  can also be found here.
GMO Labeling Preemption Bill Fails Vote in Senate;
           Debate Expected to Continue

From National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC   March17, 2016 
The debate over the labeling of foods containing genetically engineered or genetically modified (GMO) ingredients casts a wide net. In addition to the traditional food, agriculture, and business interests you might expect to be involved, the GMO labeling debate has pulled in countless other interest groups, from states' rights activists to concerned parents.

Farmers, consumers, and business interests have been aggressively lobbying members of Congress as various GMO labeling bills were considered and, this week, supporters of nationwide mandatory labeling snagged a significant victory.
On Wednesday, March 16, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) attempted to invoke cloture on his controversial GMO labeling bill. Roberts' legislation, which would pre-empt state laws requiring mandatory labeling of GMO food and farm products and instead establish a voluntary national labeling program, was widely opposed by a broad coalition of organizations, including NSAC.

If passed, the motion to invoke cloture would have ended debate on the Roberts bill and advanced it to a vote. In what has been seen as an early and important victory for mandatory labeling advocates, the motion to invoke was soundly defeated with 49 opposed and 48 voting in favor. Cloture requires 60 votes.
    To read more, click Here. 

   Congressional Appropriators Support a Level Playing
        Field for Contract Farmers

From National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition  March 18, 2016

Yesterday, eight Congressional Appropriators signed on to a letter to United States Agriculture Department (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, thanking him for moving forward with rules to protect contract livestock and poultry producers from unfair and retaliatory practices.

The letter, signed by four Senate and four House agriculture appropriators, comes on the heels of Secretary Vilsack's recent comments (27:30 mark) to the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee regarding the USDA's decision to move forward in finalizing rules in the Packers and Stockyards Act:

"We realize that Congress has lifted the restriction on our ability to work on these issues. I've asked the team to take a look at what modifications and changes would be appropriate...The key here is to make sure that the playing field is level between those that are owners and those that are producers, to make sure that there is not an unfair advantage in that relationship, and to make sure that especially in difficult times that those that have invested a lot of hard earned resources and time are treated fairly."

    To read more, click   Here.
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About Policy Watch
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