May 16, 2018
Wrapping It Up: 2018 Session Accomplishments
During the 2018 legislative session, which concluded May 4, my colleagues and I made progress in many areas that will pay dividends for our state. Here’s a recap of some of those accomplishments.
Flint Hills Trail
SB 331 designated the Flint Hills Trail, which crosses north Lyon County, as the Flint Hills Trail State Park. Bill Borst, a longtime friend who recently passed, treated adjacent landowners with great respect while working diligently to establish the recreational trail in Lyon County. Thank you to Bill, his coworkers and the landowners. The bill passed the House 96-23 and the Senate 27-12. Governor Colyer has signed the bill.
Criminal Use of Weapons
HB 2145 amended the definition of “criminal use of weapons” by adding possession of a firearm by any:
I voted for the bill, which the House approved 113-6 and the Senate passed unanimously. Governor Colyer has signed it into law.
- Fugitives from justice.
- Undocumented immigrants illegally or unlawfully in the United States.
- Persons convicted of a misdemeanor for a domestic violence offense within the past five years.
- Persons subject to court orders restraining them from harassing, stalking or threatening an intimate partner, child or child of an intimate partner.
HB 2579 allows people who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned to seek damages from the state. A claimant entitled to damages would receive $65,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment, as well as not less than $25,000 for each additional year served on parole or post-release supervision, or each additional year the claimant was required to register as an offender under the Kansas Offender Registration Act, whichever is greater. I supported this legislation, which removes Kansas from the list of only 18 states that withhold compensation from innocent people who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. The bill passed unanimously in both chambers and Governor Colyer has signed it.
Education funding was the elephant in the room throughout the session. To ensure we were making informed decisions, the Legislative Coordinating Council requested a new study to provide updated estimates for adequate funding of K-12 education based on standards required by statute. The study, released in March, recommended between $451 million and about $2 billion in additional education funding. The lower number would maintain current student performance and attain a 95 percent graduation rate in five years. The higher number would put 60 percent of Kansas students “on track for college” in five years.
SB 423 and House Sub for SB 61 were the legislature’s response to the study and the school finance lawsuit. Those bills are expected to provide $192 million in additional state aid to school districts next year, and approximately $525 million through 2023. And it’s all funded with existing resources.
I voted in favor of both bills, and the governor has signed them into law. Importantly, they gradually increase per-student funding beginning next year through 2023. Specifically, the bills:
Check out the Kansas Association of School Boards summary to take a deep dive into the details of the education bills. I believe this legislation will fulfill our constitutional duty to fund education, and also will increase accountability.
- Allow school districts to adopt a local operating budget (LOB) up to the statewide average from the preceding year or, under special circumstances, adopt an LOB up to 33 percent of total aid to the district.
- Restore $80 million in state aid for special education.
- Fund the Mentor Teacher Program.
- Ensure that students in grades 9-12 have the opportunity to take the ACT.
- Pay for the first year of the Mental Health Intervention Team and the Jobs for America’s Graduates pilot programs, both of which initially will be tested in larger districts.
Repeat Drunk-Driving Offenders
HB 2439 toughens penalties for repeat drunk-driving offenders who kill or seriously injure a person while driving drunk. I voted for the bill, which is known as Caitlin’s Law in recognition of Caitlin Vogel, a 24-year-old Olathe School District instructor killed in a 2016 auto accident. The bill passed unanimously in both chambers and Governor Colyer has signed it.
Abused and Neglected Children
House Sub for SB 336, which unanimously passed both chambers, gives the public more access to information about the deaths of abused and neglected children. That includes a summary of previous reports of abuse or neglect, and any services recommended by the Kansas Department of Children and Families that were provided to the child.
Transportation Task Force
House Sub for SB 391 created a new transportation task force to focus on the next multi-year transportation plan for the state. I voted in favor, and it passed almost unanimously, with only a single no vote in each chamber. In the budget bill, we reduced State Highway Fund transfers to the Department of Education by $57 million, leaving more state funding for KDOT.
Hoax Emergency Calls
HB 2581, known as the Andrew Finch Act, increases the penalties for hoax emergency calls. Last December, Finch was shot and killed by Wichita police after they had received a hoax 911 call. I voted in favor of the increased penalties. The bill passed both chambers unanimously and Governor Colyer has signed it.
HB 2701, which creates a statewide task force to study access to broadband service, especially in rural areas, passed the House 117-3 and was approved unanimously in the Senate. Access to adequate broadband service is becoming a critical need for small businesses and professionals in rural communities. I voted in favor, and have been an active participant in a broadband access study group.
Nurse Licensure Compact
HB 2496, already signed by the governor, enacts the nurse licensure compact. The bill allows registered nurses in Kansas to practice in any of the other 29 states that are part of the compact without being specifically licensed in those states. The compact establishes single-licensing requirements for all 30 of the participating states, including federal and state criminal background checks. I voted in favor of the bill, which passed unanimously in the Senate and 123-1 in the House.
House Sub for SB 109 amended the budget for 2019, which begins July 1, and comes in at about $60 million less than what the governor had proposed. The bill restores about two-thirds of the cuts made to higher education in 2016-17, and provides the ESU School of Nursing with a one-year appropriation of $535,000. The bill also provides pay increases for non-judicial staff and judges, $500,000 for stream-bank stabilization projects and $100,000 for research of industrial hemp as a cash crop. I voted in favor, and the bill passed the House 98-23 and the Senate 26-14.
Adoption Protection Act
SB 284, the Adoption Protection Act, received a lot of attention during the veto session. Controversy swirled around the amendment to allow faith-based adoption/foster care organizations to make decisions based on their sincerely held religious beliefs. The beliefs would be documented on the organizations’ websites or printed materials. The primary tenet of adoption and foster care is to do what is in the best interest of the child. I kept this in mind as I read testimony from the committee hearing, researched the issue and spoke with advocates on both sides of the debate.
Many colleagues whom I deeply respect voted for the bill, and I hold no issue with them for their votes. However, I voted no because I found the bill to be vague and because there is reason to believe that it might not pass a constitutional test:
The bill passed both chambers and Governor Colyer has said he will sign it. I hope it does not impact the primary tenet of doing what is in the best interest of the child, and that my doubts will be proven wrong.
- In my view, the phrase “sincerely held religious belief” needed to be defined to clarify whether all religious beliefs — as opposed to just certain beliefs — must be satisfied before adoption or foster placement. I am Catholic, and at every Mass we say the Nicene Creed, which includes what I would refer to as our sincerely held religious beliefs. However, debate on the bill seemed to indicate that other religious beliefs may be taken into account, such as the conviction that only heterosexual married couples might be considered as adoptive/foster parents. This belief, for instance, would exclude single parent homes.
- The state provides money to organizations that identify foster parents. In my view, the separation of church and state becomes blurred when a faith-based organization, established as a nonprofit arm of an organized religion, uses sincerely held religious beliefs to determine which people are acceptable adoptive/foster parents. I did some research, and although I am not an attorney, I was troubled by the constitutional question.
If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a foster parent, please follow this link or call 1-844-380-2009
I Welcome Your Viewpoints
I welcome your views about the 2018 session or other issues. It is an honor and privilege to represent you.