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 2016 Legislative & Policy Watch Weekly E-Update

No. 6  February 12, 2016

In This Issue
Public School Finance
Natural Resources Legislation
Local Food Legislation
Clean Power Plan on Pause
EWG Federal Crop Insurance Report
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

To Support 
Policy Watch

Policy Watch Sponsors
  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
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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


Kansas Association of Regional Development Organizations, Inc. (KARDO) is a statewide, non-profit organization established to improve the ability of both organizations and individuals engaged in regional planning and development to service the needs of all parts of Kansas in an effective and efficient manner.  For more information about our organization and programs, and to become a member or donate, please visit http://kardo.ncrpc.org .  To be removed from the KARDO Policy Watch list, contact John Cyr at jcyr@nckcn.com .


How to Contact Your Legislator



Kansas House of Representatives,
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For House  Committees,        Click  Here

Kansas Senate
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For Senate Committees, Click   Here


Lipstick Budgeting
                                           
  by Paul Johnson
   
   The State budget pig is leaner and ready for further starvation. The revenue picture for the State remains cloudy while hundreds of millions of income tax dollar reductions have been given to the wealthiest taxpayers. While Kansas should have a few hundred million in ending balances to handle emergencies and cash flow, there are only a few million in the bank and monthly revenue collections are very uncertain. 

   The Kansas Supreme Court has now ruled the school funding block grant unconstitutional and the formula to assist poorer school districts is underfunded by at least $54 million. Legislative leaders have pledged to block any public debate on the Governor's income tax reduction experiment so the scramble is on to fix this mess by budgetary gimmicks.

   The plan to dismantle public services has been very purposeful. While the previous Governor had to cut education, social services and transportation to reckon with the great recession of 2009, this Governor came to office to arbitrarily cut these same programs even further so he could give millions in income tax reductions to his political contributors. The plan appears to be  to underfund and mismanage state public programs so they would be seen as ineffective and in need of privatization to be given to his supporters. Now the plan is to starve 
public schools and local governments to discredit those public services.  
   
Medicaid and KanCare.
   The dismantlement of state public services started with the privatizing of the $3+ billion Medicaid programs that was renamed KanCare. The request for proposals to create KanCare was carefully handled by the most connected political consultants. For the over 400,000 Kansans - dependent on these life-saving medical services, the challenges for timely and adequate services have been many. 

   The single 800 number for the KanCare Clearinghouse - to answer questions or resolve mistakes - has a four-hour plus wait time to talk to a real person. The Governor appointed a political associate to be the independent KanCare ombudsman to assist clients. This political associate was unqualified and quit after a few months. No new appointment has been made.

   On January 1, the KanCare eligibility determination system for elderly and disabled Kansans was transferred from the Kansas Department for Children and Families to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Last July, state officials moved KanCare eligibility processing to the long-delayed and over budget Kansas Eligibility Enforcement Sysytem (KEES) which has forced employees to use dozens of workarounds to make the system function.

   Since then many clients have been improperly dropped from KanCare. There are now over 10,000 applications pending. Traditionally, pregnant women were presumed eligible and had little trouble qualifying. It used to take 7-10 days to process but now takes three to four months. KanCare handles close to 40% of the live births in Kansas. 

   A similar story is happening with the elderly and nursing homes. While waiting for eligibility determinations, many nursing homes are carrying thousands of dollars in unreimbursed costs. Many facilities can no longer admit new residents if their KanCare application is pending. Frail elders - who need intensive nursing care - are being denied access to that care for months and months. KanCare funds one-half of all nursing home beds in Kansas. 

Other state services.
   As state revenues continue to tighten, state services such as prisons, mental hospitals and the highway patrol continues to deteriorate. The prisons are completely full and unable to recruit adequate staffing. 

   The Osawatomie State Hospital suspended voluntary admissions in December 2014 after federal health authorities declared that its services were not sufficient to meet the needs of the patients. Recently it lost its Medicare payments to the tune of about $1 million a month because it was out of compliance with health and safety standards. 30% of the 450 staffing positions are now vacant. The Highway Patrol is struggling to hire enough officers. There are many counties in Kansas that do not have a single Highway Patrol officer.

   Now it is time to squeeze local units of government with a lid on property taxes in Senate Bill 316. This comes at a time when 'revenue sharing programs' between state government and the counties have been unfunded or repealed. In place since 1925, the mortgage registration fee on bankers and homebuyers is being repealed and the financial loss put on all property taxpayers.

    In 2006, property tax on commercial and industrial machinery and equipment was repealed thus costing counties like Wyandotte over $11.3 million annually. In place since 1937, the Local Ad Valorem Tax Reduction Fund utilized state tax dollars to provide a dollar for dollar reduction in local property taxes. This was cancelled in 2003. Also in 2003, the City-County Revenue Sharing program with the State was ended. Local governments statewide have lost more than $2 billion in demand transfers from the Kansas Legislature. Counties are funded primarily with property taxes and secondarily with local sales tax.

   The Kansas House and the Kansas Senate have now passed 'lipstick' budgets patching the revenue mess for 2016 and 2017 with more transfers from the highway funds, neglecting retirement payments and continuing to freeze salaries for state workers (in place since 2009). Now comes the challenge from the Court order to fund schools equitably. The Kansas Speaker of the House is on his retirement path guaranteeing that the income tax reductions given to campaign funders - that purchased the conservative majorities in the House and the Senate - will not be challenged. Members of the House and Senate can slink out of town without confronting their self-inflicted revenue mess and let our lame duck Governor slash and burn the budget into some balance.

  Public School Finances
   
    On Feb. 11, the Kansas Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the 'block grant' funding law for public education passed in 2015 does not comply with the Kansas Constitution and gave lawmakers until the end of June to write a new law. This decision dealt with equity among the 286 school districts and ruled that the block grant approach left poor districts $54 million short. The Court has yet to decide on the larger question of whether Kansas must boost its education spending by at least $548 million a year. The Court ruled that the 'block grant' law - which expires in July 2017 - violates the Kansas Constitution's requirement that the state finance a suitable education for every student. The Court said in its unsigned opinion: 'Without a constitutionally equitable school finance system, the schools in Kansas will be unable to operate beyond June 30'.

    The House Education Committee - on a vote of 11 to 6 - recommended favorable passage of House Bill 2457 which expands the use of tax credits to pay for students to go to private schools. Under this bill - any public or private school student is eligible if his or her family has an income below 185% of the federal poverty level. (For a family four - income under $45,000) The estimated cost for the first year is $8 million. While House rules require that any additional spending must be taken from another program, no such rule exists for tax cuts or tax credits that reduce the revenues to the State. 

   House Bill 2504 - that would have consolidated and realigned school districts - has been put on hold and is probably dead for this session. House Bill 2486 - that would establish the school district bond project review board - was pulled from a committee hearing and its fate is uncertain.
    
Natural Resources Legislation
  

   Senate Bill 384 proposes the requirement that recovery plans for non-game and threatened species be in place prior to listing a species or designating critical habitat for a species. Kansas has only completed recovery plans for 19 of the 51 species listed on the state's threatened and endangered list. SB 384 puts the remaining species without a current recovery plan at grave danger of becoming extirpated with no protection of their habitat. SB 384 changes current law by defining critical habitat as only the area that vulnerable wildlife species currently occupies, rather than the traditional consideration of its historical and potential geographic range at full health. SB 384 could result in the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism losing its federal funding, as well as invite federal intervention, by failing to meet federal standards for addressing non-game and listed species issues. The hearings have been held on SB 384 and Senate Natural Resources committee will work the bill on Wednesday - Feb. 17 - at 8:30 am in Room 159-S.

    Senate Bill 425 authorizes the board of county commissioners of any county to regulate conservation easements on property located within the county. A conservation easement could be limited in duration to the lifetime of the grantor and may be revoked at grantor's request. SB 425 was introduced on February 9 and assigned to the Senate Natural Resources committee on February 10. SB 425 is scheduled for a hearing and possible action on Thursday - Feb. 18 - at 8:30 am in Room 159-S. Testimony on SB 425 must be to the Committee Assistant - Toni Beck (785-296-7694) by noon on Wednesday - February 17.

    House Bill 2595 reserves regulation of consumer incentive items and nutrition labeling for food menu items in restaurants and vending machines to the legislature. This bill will halt or threaten existing growth of food policy councils, community gardens and other local initiatives that support increased access to healthy food across Kansas communities. HB 2595 ties the hands of local authority to deal with some of the most pressing public health concerns in Kansas today, including diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and other chronic diseases associated with obesity and poor nutrition. 30% of Kansas children age 10-17 are considered overweight or obese by BMI measures. Kansas ranks 13th in the nation for adult obesity, with an obesity rate of 31.3%. HB 2595 is scheduled for a hearing before the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development committee on Wednesday - February 17 - at 1:30 pm in Room 346-S.
Local Food and Agriculture
    
   
    Senate Bill 314 extends the 'local food and farm' task force. Hearings have been held on SB 314 so the Senate Agriculture committee will take final action on SB 314 on Tuesday - February 16 - at 8:30 am in Room 159-S.     
  
Clean Power Plan on Pause
       Reprinted with permission from the Climate and Energy Project   Feb. 10, 2016
  
   On February 9, the U.S. Supreme Court granted an emergency stay   of the Clean Power Plan, which cuts carbon pollution from existing power plants. In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reviewed the case thoroughly and unanimously denied motions to stay the Clean Power Plan.  The Supreme Court overruled this decision, pausing the Clean Power Plan while the D.C. Circuit Court determines the merit of lawsuits challenging the Clean Power Plan. Oral arguments will be held in the D.C. Circuit Court on   June 2 nd.
 
   The ruling, while not what we had hoped for, does not overturn the Clean Power Plan. Kansas has already taken several important steps towards designing a compliance strategy for the state that will deliver economic benefits from renewable energy. The Kansas Corporation Commission opened a docket to explore cost effective options that will continue to deliver reliable energy. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has provided expertise and knowledge about the new rule. In meetings across the state, the Climate + Energy Project has witnessed overwhelming public support for the Clean Power Plan.
 
   Kansas is well positioned to be a leader in the clean energy economy. CO2 reduction is already on the way in Kansas and around the nation as 21st century business leaders support a transition to clean energy sources. The Clean Power Plan will expedite this market-driven trend. Forward-looking power companies and businesses across the economy are seizing on the opportunities associated with investing in clean energy and energy efficiency. The Clean Power Plan will reduce carbon pollution at our power plants, helping decrease the risk of climate change. Transitioning to a low-carbon economy creates jobs, improves health, and provides cleaner air for our children and grandchildren.
 
   Regardless of the appellate court rulings to come, the conversation about the future of energy in Kansas has started, and Kansans are now more than ever engaged in those discussions. CEP meets people all around the state who care about where their electricity comes from and are eager to help. We encourage you to continue participating in building reliable, clean energy economy in Kansas.
 
Count on  Climate and Energy Project  to keep you informed on information related to the Clean Power Plan in Kansas and ways to get involved.

The Climate + Energy Project (CEP) is a non-partisan 501c(3) organization working to reduce emissions through greater energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy. Located in America's Heartland, CEP collaborates with diverse partners across the nation to find practical solutions for a clean energy future that provides jobs, prosperity and energy security. 

Federal Farm and Food Policy News
Crop Insurance Report Shows Farmers Win Big with Crop Insurance
   Wednesday, February 10, 2016

   WASHINGTON - Most farmers collect more money in crop insurance payouts than they pay in premiums on their federal policies over time, making the term "insurance" a misnomer, according to a new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

   The report, titled   Crop Insurance: A Lottery Thats a Sure Bet , found that farmers, as a whole, saw an annual return of 120 percent on their crop insurance between 2000 and 2014, meaning that they got back $2.20 in claims for each dollar they paid in premiums. In contrast, even risky private-sector investments yield expected returns of around 15 to 25 percent. While growers are not guaranteed a profit on the insurance, in aggregate they have enjoyed positive rates of return every year ranging from 29 percent ($1.29 for every dollar of premium in 2007) to 324 percent ($4.24 for every dollar of premium) in the 2012 drought year.

    "The federal crop insurance program is not something the average person or small business owner would recognize as insurance," said Bruce A. Babcock, professor of economics at Iowa State University and author of the report. "The taxpayer-funded subsidies to lower the cost of premiums have grown so large and the payouts so generous that the program now acts as yet another income support program for farmers, rather than as a risk management tool."

    All farmers do not have positive returns every year; their location and the type of crops they grow determine whether they end up with a positive or negative rate of return. However, the odds of a positive return are in all growers' favor because premiums are over-subsidized, regardless of location or crop.

   Babcock writes: "Not one of the Corn Belt states has a rate of return greater than 100 percent. But in the Great Plains, only North Dakota soybeans have had a rate of return of less than 100 percent since 2000. Cotton in Oklahoma and Texas has rates of return greater than 200 percent. In the South, only North Carolina cotton and soybeans have rates of return of less than 100 percent, while Arkansas corn and wheat and North Carolina wheat have rates of returns greater than 200 percent."

    Taxpayers cover about 60 percent of crop insurance premiums for farmers, pay for the costs of administering the program and also shell out a large share of the payouts for claims. Because growers have so little skin in the game, the "loss" that triggers a payout often exceeds the amount they paid out of pocket in premiums.

   "Too often, these heavily subsidized policies encourage farmers to take risks they normally may not - like planting on marginal or environmentally sensitive land - because a payout is virtually guaranteed," said Colin O'Neil, EWG's agriculture policy director. "It's in the best interest of taxpayers and the environment for Congress to reform the federal crop insurance program into one that's a fiscally and environmentally responsible farm safety net."
   
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.
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In 2016, KRC is partnering with the Kansas Natural Resource Council , 
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 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. To be removed as a KARDO member, you need to contact John Cyr at  jcyr@nckcn.com 

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About Policy Watch
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   If you have any questions about Policy Watch, contact Mary Fund, editor at mfund@kansasruralcenter.org, or contact Paul Johnson at pdjohnson@centurylink.net

 

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