Capitol Update: ‘These are difficult times for our state and Kansans alike’

Kay Wolf

The 2016 legislative session is under way in Topeka, and throughout the session we’ll be bringing you a weekly update from one of northeast Johnson County’s elected officials — Rep. Barbara Bollier, Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Rep. Jarrod Ousley, Rep. Melissa Rooker and Sen. Kay Wolf — about what they’re working on in Topeka. Sen. Wolf submits this week’s update:

Last week marked the start of the second half of the session. The second half has been shorten by a week and first adjournment will now be March 25 instead of
April 1. This leaves three weeks for bills to pass through both chambers. Any bills that are now past “turn around” for all intents and purposes are dead unless they are “exempt” (those from the budget, tax or federal state and affairs committees).

Prior to turnaround the House and Senate passed a supplemental budget to finish the fiscal year with a small ending balance. (I did not vote for this budget bill). As February revenue receipts came in approximately $53 million less than estimated it left the State revenues about $80 million dollars down for the current fiscal year. Actual receipts for July through February were anticipated to total $3.39 billion, but came in $19.7 million below the estimate. Individual income tax fell by $14.7 million, retail sales by $26.7 million, and corporate income by $11.5 million and severance by $4.7 million.

As a result the Governor order a 3 percent cut ($17 million) to the state’s regents institutions and line item vetoed two of the budget provisions. The first was a STAR Bond provision that only applied to Wyandotte County, where the Governor was hoping to lure the American Royal to Kansas from Missouri. STAR bonds are funded by diverting state and local sales tax revenues to repaying bonds for developments that create jobs and tourism. However, the Wyandotte Legends project that was a recipient of STAR Bonds was scheduled to start sending $42 million dollars back to the State General Fund as their bonds had been paid off. It is believed the governor intended to use that $42 million to help with the American Royal project and not to direct it to the state general fund, as it should be done in these dire economic times.

The governor also line item vetoed a provision that would have re-started mental health screenings prior to admitting patients to inpatient psychiatric hospitals residential treatment facilities. The veto saves the state about $1.8 million and was justified by the governor as it might jeopardize Medicaid funding. The jury is out on whether this was really a concern. It is a much needed provision and I am sorry to see it vetoed.

The third item vetoed was SB250 which essentially negated the contract for the construction of a new Energy Power Plant and would set in motion the demolition of the Docking facility. The Joint Committee on State Building Construction had asked the Department of Administration to report back to the committee prior to proceeding with any contract as the cost had more than doubled since initial discussions. They were also asked to provide the committee with a cost option of demolishing all but one floor and preserving the energy center where it is currently located (at the Docking facility). However, without reporting back to the committee the department entered into a financing agreement and construction contract believed to be not in the best financial interest of the state. As chair of this committee, I was fully in support of cancelling the project until further economic studies could be done.

As with all vetoes it requires a two-thirds majority of the legislature to overturn the governor’s veto. We will see what happens this week with these measures. There is much discontent at the capitol among the legislative body.

The judicial impeachment bill is another bill of great concern this legislative session. SB 439 expands the scope for grounds of impeachment for Supreme Court and district judges. Currently, the Kansas constitution states that offices shall be impeached given the conviction of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors, according to Article Two, Section 28. The bill expands the impeachable offenses to: Indictable criminal offenses; breach of public trust; breach of judicial ethics; failure to perform adequately the duties of office; attempting to subvert fundamental laws and introduce arbitrary power; attempt to usurp power of the legislative and executive branches; exhibiting discourteous conduct towards litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyer and others; exhibiting reckless judicial conduct; exhibiting personal misbehavior or misconduct and failure to properly supervise, administer or discipline judicial personnel.

I believe this is creating a problem where none exists and is far over-reaching. Legislative impeachment authority is presently delegated to the House of Representatives by the constitution so why the need to alter what we presently have other than to potentially weaken the separation of powers doctrine?

There are many other important and concerning pieces of legislation presently before the legislature. In addition, there is the huge question of what to do regarding school finance with the recent Supreme Court ruling and a June 30 deadline. The choices are to defy the court, add more money to the block grant, revert back to the old formula or create a new funding formula. It is highly unlikely a new formula could be finalized by the end of session. However, there have been rumors the legislature could indeed be called back in July for a “Special Session” if this issue is not resolved.

These are difficult times for our State and Kansans alike. Your voices and your votes are key in the legislative process. Thank you for allowing me to represent you.