The best and worst bills being considered by the 2016 Kansas Legislature: Rep. Rooker’s take

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Turnaround day, the final day for a bill to be considered in its house of origin and one of the first major deadlines in a Kansas legislative session, came last week, and we thought it provided a good opportunity to check in with local legislators about which pieces of legislation have them excited and which have them disturbed. So far we’ve published the thoughts of Rep. Jarrod Ousley, Sen. Pat Pettey and Rep. Barbara Bollier.

We continue today with Rep. Melissa Rooker:

The best part of the 2016 legislative session in the Kansas House so far involves stopping several bad things from happening:

Rep. Melissa Rooker
Rep. Melissa Rooker

HCR 5005 changes the method of judicial selection of our Kansas Supreme Court justices. The Kansas constitution provides for a Supreme Court nominating commission that screens applicants for court vacancies, and sends the governor three candidates to choose from. Once the governor makes his selection, the Kansas Senate holds a confirmation hearing to finalize the choice. HCR 5005 called for changing this method to the federal model – the governor makes a choice and the Senate confirms. Thankfully, the proposed amendment was defeated several weeks ago. The political war being waged at the federal level over the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy proves the point that our current system in Kansas does a very good job of keeping politics to a minimum in this very important process.

HCR 5010 makes application to the U.S. Congress to call a convention of states.
Proponents argue that the federal government is heavy-handed and out of control, and seek the convention of states as a path to passing a federal balanced budget amendment. Opponents made a strong case that there is no way to limit a runaway convention – in other words, it opens the entire document up to change. No guidelines for choosing delegates are provided, and there are no rules of the road governing what they can address. I strongly believe that remedy for what ails our federal government already exists and is in the hands of the citizens of this great country. We have the power to change the tone in Washington via the ballot box and I strongly encourage you to exercise your power in August and November by casting your vote in the next election cycle.

HB 2532 is an attempt to add requirements to the state education standards to include ethnic studies and financial literacy. While I support the teaching of the specific topics this bill sought to address, I absolutely do not believe that the legislature has the constitutional authority to direct education standards. It was important that this bill was defeated. We should not interfere with the constitutional duties of the duly elected State Board of Education. Defeating this bill was an encouraging sign that we can successfully stop HB 2292, the effort to repeal the state education standards that threatens our IB, AP, ACT, SAT and other important programs that are part of organizations outside of the state of Kansas.

Best bills still alive:

HB 2549 is the current version of a bill I co-sponsored last year that authorizes our law enforcement personnel to provide assistance in critical incidents across the state line. The bill is a response to a request from the counties within the Mid-America Regional Council to break down mutual aid barriers and work as a region to better prepare for potential natural disasters, terror attacks, or other major events known as “critical incidents,” which differ from situations involving “hot pursuit.” I represent eight cities with five different police departments, all of whom already cooperate inside the state and support this legislation. In the Northeast, we have several area businesses and a private school whose properties straddles the state line, making questions of jurisdiction complicated.

SB 86 allows for the live-streaming of committee hearings and passed the Senate last year. I co-sponsored the original Transparency Act, HB 2148, and wholeheartedly support live-streaming of our committee hearings, and overall transparency in the process. This bill is simply a new version of the same idea and would be very helpful to the citizens of Kansas.

HB 2456 would allow Kansas to join the interstate medical licensure compact, which allows broader recognition of medical licenses from state to state, creates a database of all licensed physicians to increase accountability, and sets up a hearing and disciplinary structure.

HB 2518 requires all death certificates be filed with the state electronically beginning in 2017. This bill is intended to make things easier for families by speeding up the process for obtaining a death certificate.

The worst

The worst part of the 2016 legislative session so far has to be the budget that passed, House sub SB 161. No effort was made to address education funding in this bill. Additional transportation funding is swept to the state general fund, one-time fund sweeps (to the tune of over $300 million) that wipe out funds collected for specific purposes by a variety of state agencies continue, state contributions to KPERS are delayed, payments to the KPERS death & disability fund are eliminated for 2017, and a long list of other dubious fiscal practices are included in an effort to avoid facing our real fiscal dilemma. This bill hands the legislature’s responsibility over appropriations to the governor if the ending balance falls below $100 million – which is now given that the budget bill leaves the state with a mere $6 million in the bank notwithstanding the Gannon decision, and assuming all revenue projections are met for the rest of this fiscal year.

HB 2578 amends the school sports head injury prevention act. This bill passed the House and allows chiropractors the authority to certify a child is able to return to the field of play after a concussion.

HB 2457 amends the tax credit for low income student scholarships program
This bill expands the “scholarship” program to include individual donors, not just corporations, increases the tax credit from 70 percent to 90 percent, removes restrictions that required a student to be attending a Title I school to allow any student in the state to receive a scholarship, and removes the annual cap on tax credits allowed. The budget ramifications for this bill are dire.

HB 2292, mentioned before, repeals the Kansas education standards.

There are so many more to talk about, but space is limited. Stay tuned for the second half of the session, which is scheduled to end March 25.