Below are some of the highlights of week 4 at the Capitol.
Although subject to change, the House currently plans to debate its budget bill, SB 161, next week.
• The bill is a legislative solution to the budget deficit. The bill is both a rescission bill to make reductions to the current fiscal year, and a supplemental bill to add to the two year budget that passed last year.
• The bill gives the governor additional authority to make targeted spending reductions if revenues fall and the state is in the red.
• The bill reduces overall spending while also addressing several key areas:
Public safety: There’s been a lot of talk in the media about corrections and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) being understaffed. The budget bill puts in $2.45 million to boost the pay of all uniformed corrections officers. The bill also gives the KBI the authority to spend already existing department funds to boost the pay of current employees to remain competitive within law enforcement.
Healthcare: The bill adds $3 million to address staffing shortages and other issues at Osawatomie and Larned State Hospitals that treat severely mentally ill patients. There are also several provisions addressing rural health care concerns. This includes an additional $378,000 for safety net clinics, which provide important healthcare options for rural and low-income patients. Also, the bill authorizes student loan repayment for pharmacists to work in rural areas where there may not be free-standing pharmacies. This is paid for out of federal dollars.
Bonding Amendment: The budget committee added an amendment that restricts KU from spending fee funds, such as tuition, housing, and other fee categories, unless the legislature authorizes the expenditures. The amendment keeps KU’s budget at the exact same level as the legislature authorized last year. All other state entities except for Regents institutions are required to receive legislative approval to spend fees and other monies.
Recently it was revealed KU entered into a $350 million agreement to construct new buildings using bonding from outside the state instead of using the Kansas Development Finance Authority, sidestepping transparency and accountability for taxpayers. Because KU obtained the bonds from out of state, they ended up with a higher interest rate. Ultimately, if the project fails, the state of Kansas—which means taxpayers and students—will be required to pay the debt. The goal of the amendment is to restore transparency and accountability to protect the Kansas taxpayer.
The House also placed a 19 percent bonding cap back onto the KDOT budget. That means debt service cannot exceed more than 19 percent of the revenue KDOT brings in.
More information on the budget will be provided next week.
Transparency in Government
Transparency took center stage in the House this week. A resolution to allow the people of Kansas to vote on whether to keep the current system of Supreme Court judicial selection in place or to move to the federal model of executive branch appointment and Senate confirmation did not reach 84 votes in the House as required by the constitution.
The current Supreme Court selection process is controlled by attorneys. A small number of attorneys select a majority of the nominating commission and it is never revealed who actually votes in these elections. The Supreme Court has been overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court on multiple occasions for not following the law and using reasoned judgment in their decisions.
I was one of 68 Republicans voting to give the people of Kansas a voice in the selection of their Supreme Court justices.
In closing, please keep me and my colleagues in your thoughts and prayers as we serve for what’s in the best interests of Kansans.
All my best!