Newsletter - Week Eight and Nine

Dear Friends,

Week Eight & Nine Update – Jeff Melcher The past two weeks since we returned to the legislature have been quite busy. Now that we have passed the mid-way point of the session, we are primarily working on legislation the House has passed, as well as focusing on the budget and taxation. We must be done with all these items by first adjournment, which is on April 5.

Before I go forward, I want to reference an article in the Kansas City Business Journal that covered an interview they did with me. You can read it by clicking here.

As for the current legislative update, here is what we’re working on:

Taxes

Last week, the Senate passed the Governor’s tax plan. Here is essentially what it does:

In 2012, individual income tax rates were as follows:

$0-$30,000 – 3.5%
$30 - $60,000 – 6.25%
$60,000 + -- 6.45%

In 2013, after the passage of last year’s tax cut, tax rates are currently:

$0 - $30,000 – 3.0%
$30,000+ -- 4.9% (the highest two brackets collapsed into one)

Under the Governor’s proposal, here would be the annual rates:

2014 / 2015
$0 - $30,000 – 2.5%
$30,000+ -- 4.9%

2016
$0 - $30,000 – 1.9%
$30,000+ -- 4.9%

2017
$0 - $30,000 – 1.9%
$30,000 – 3.5%

The plan does freeze the current sales tax rate at 6.3%.

The Governor’s plan, found in HB 2059, passed the Senate past week 25-14 and I voted yes. The House is also working on a tax plan, which differs in several respects. I look forward to updating you on the progress of this issue in the next two weeks.

Innovative School Districts

The Senate has also been working on the new concept of “Innovative Education Districts” in SB 176 (which we passed two weeks ago) and a very similar bill in Sub for HB 2319, which the House adopted previously and the Senate debated this week.

This is an exciting new concept, as it really focuses our efforts at a child-centric method of education rather than a system-centric method. While school funding is certainly important, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be frozen by debates purely over finance – we also need to talk about initiatives to actually improve student achievement.

The bill would allow up to 10% of the state’s school districts to opt out of the state laws and rules and regulations in order to improve student achievement. If signed into law, each school wishing to participate in the Coalition of Innovative Districts Act would need to fill out an application from the State Board of Education. Districts selected to participate in the act would be selected by a Coalition Board nominated by the Governor and respective chairpersons of House and Senate education committees.

In order to be selected for the Public Innovative District by the Coalition Board, schools would need to meet the following requirements:

  1. Participate in all applicable Kansas math and reading assessments
  2. Abide by all financial and auditing requirements
  3. Comply with all applicable health, safety and access laws
  4. Be subject to the special Education for Exceptional Children Act, the virtual School Act, the School District Finance and Quality Performance Act, capital outlay requirements, all laws governing the issuance of general obligation bonds by districts, laws governing public employee retirement, and laws governing school board elections
  5. Participating schools could not charge tuition for any pupils residing in the district’s boundaries
  6. Schools in the program would be exempt from all laws and rules and regulations applicable to school districts
During debate on the floor Thursday, two amendments were adopted to SB 176. The first amendment was offered by Senator Steve Abrams, also the carrier of the bill. His amendment would require the Coalition Board to submit annual reports to the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, and the chairpersons of House and Senate education committees. The reports would be required to include information regarding pupil performance, laws and regulations deemed to be problematic by the coalition board and other information regarding the success or problems experience by each school district.

The second amendment was offered by Senator Steve Fitzgerald. The amendment caps the number of school districts operating under the Innovative School District Act from 10 schools to 10 percent of the schools in the state at the same time. The amendments would also allow the Coalition Board to organize into sub-committees to further review specific aspects of rules and regulations or laws hindering or helping the state’s public education system and student success.

I fully support this legislation.

Judicial Reform – Kansas Court of Appeals

Last week, the Senate adopted HB 2019, which would change the method of selection for the Kansas Court of Appeals. When discussing the issue of judicial selection, it’s important to remember the Judicial Nominating Commission covers both the Kansas Supreme Court and the Kansas Court of Appeals, which is the level under the Supreme Court.

Currently, changes to the Kansas Supreme Court would take a constitutional amendment, which requires a 2/3 vote in both houses and a vote of the people. Changes to the Kansas Court of Appeals, only require a change in statute and thus a simple majority vote in each house, plus signature by the Governor.

A few weeks ago, you might recall that the Senate passed SCR 1601, a constitutional amendment which would cover both courts that would amend the process of how Kansas Supreme Court Justices and Kansas Court of Appeals judges are selected, by changing it from the current system, in which the Governor must select one of three nominees forwarded to him by a nominating commission controlled by lawyers appointed by other lawyers, to a system based on the federal model, where the Governor would select who he chooses, but that nomination would be subject to Senate confirmation. Though the Kansas Court of Appeals, as I mentioned, is statutory at present, that amendment would have made the method of selection for that court a part of our Kansas Constitution.

The House has not addressed that legislation, but did pass HB 2019, which would change the method of selection for the Court of Appeals only. This week, the Senate debated HB 2019 and passed it by a vote of 28-12. I supported this legislation.

Because the bill is identical to the House bill, it now goes directly to the Governor, who is expected to sign it. There could be further reaction later this session on the constitutional amendment, but that issue is still in the hands of the House.

Protecting tax payer’s dollars (HB 2022)

HB 2022, also known as the paycheck protection act, would ban state or other units of government from making payroll deductions for members of public sector unions for the purpose of contributing to the union’s political action committee (PAC). Currently, unions negotiate the amount and frequency of the deduction with government entities. The money from the deduction is contributed to the PAC, but in many cases the member is not given the ability to specify how the deduction is then used.

While the bill would eliminate the option for the payroll deduction, it is important to note members are not prohibited from contributing to their union’s PAC. If a member wishes to make a contribution to a PAC, he or she would need only to write a check noting it as a PAC contribution. It would also be permissible for the member to set up an electronic transfer from his or her bank account to the PAC fund – which has the same effect as the paycheck deduction but the action is taken after the paycheck is received, not simultaneously.

This protects union members from any self-imposed or peer pressure to check a box allowing a payroll deduction and, therefore, better ensures each member is making a free and deliberate decision to contribute to union political activities. Furthermore, it removes the questionable appropriateness of the state or any other local unit of government of being in the business of making payroll deductions for political purposes.

The bill also includes amendments to the wage payment act which permits employers to withhold a portion of an employee’s wages if they have loaned them money, over paid their salary or withholds any merchandise or uniforms purchased by the employee. The provision also allows employees to withhold a portion of an employee’s final wages if the employee does not return property belonging to the employer; repay a loan or advance the employee made to the employer; an overpayment for payroll; or replacement of an employer’s merchandise, uniforms or equipment lost or damaged by the employee.

The bill further revises current Professional Negotiations Act and Public Employer-Employee Relations Act (PEERA) by redefining and restricting all partisan or political employee organizations (PEO’s). Additionally, HB 2022 will prohibit PEO’s from negotiating with boards of education regarding the terms and conditions of professional services or from deducting dues from member’s paychecks for partisan or political activities. If a public employee wanted to spend money for partisan or political purpose then they would need to ensure member’s contributions were voluntary.

On Thursday, March 14, 2013 the Kansas Senate passed HB 2022 by a vote of 24 to 16. I supported this legislation.

Thank you for reading this week’s newsletter!

Senator Jeff Melcher
Phone: 785-296-7301
Email: Jeff.Melcher@senate.ks.gov


Paid for by Melcher for Senate; Daniel Kjergaard, Treasurer