Under the Dome 1-25-15
January 25, 2015
Associated General Contractors of Kansas Legislative Update
Motor Carrier Rules Heard in Committee
SB 21 would amend the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) operating authority statutes for medium-class private motor carriers. The bill would define the term “domicile” as the principal place of business of a motor carrier, and clarify safety exemptions that include load securement, annual inspections, and coupling devices.
Private vehicles with a gross vehicle rating of 10,001 to 26,000 receive an exception to the state transportation licensing requirements. Commercial vehicles of any weight remain regulated under this legislation.
Scrap Metal Bill Heard in Committee
SB 11 Scrap Metal, this bill requires the AG to maintain a database for providing information to law enforcement to enforce the scrap metal reduction act. The act would require scrap metal dealers to obtain a signed statement from the seller as to where the property was obtained and photos of both the seller and the items being sold. This act creates a fund in the state treasury for operating expenses incurred under this act. The funding will come from the scrap metal dealers registration fees. There was no opposition at the hearing.
After observing the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, the Kansas legislature resumed its session on Tuesday in typical second week fashion. Practically no hearings associated with actual pieces of legislation, although a few informational hearings were held on what could and probably will be “hot” legislative topics. Topics included medical marijuana and the governor’s budget and tax plan. Those folks looking for headline grabbing bill introductions were not disappointed. Bills were introduced that would diminish common core, allow for straight ticket voting by political parties, require a primary election winner to participate in the following general election and a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment allowing concealed carry without a permit.
Budget & Tax Plans
As details emerged about the governor’s budget and tax plan so too did the opposition from legislators and special interest groups. That’s to be expected. Closing a budget gap that’s equal to nearly 10% of annual State General Fund (SGF) spending is no easy task and no matter how much you borrow from fee funds and transfer money from things like the transportation fund and KPERS there’s no way to get around cutting SGF in some form or fashion. The question quickly becomes how much do you actually cut? Finding cuts that are palatable to 63 House Members and 21 Senators is a daunting exercise of political negotiation.
For Brownback it’s an even tougher endeavor in the current legislative environment. Democrats aren’t keen to any budget cuts and moderate republicans tend to join democrats in calls for lesser cuts, instead favoring increasing revenues (taxes). Conservatives on the other hand seem to be embracing the cuts suggested by the governor, but are not fans of fee sweeps and borrowing (taking) money from other sources such as KPERS and the state transportation fund. They want structural cuts and believe that state government still has many opportunities to right size by finding efficiencies and rooting out wasteful spending.
On the tax side of the ledger the Brownback plan slows some income cuts, but relies mostly on increasing taxes on alcohol and tobacco and lowering the value of mortgage interest (MID) property tax deductions. That plan is drawing sharp criticism from leaders of both political parties. For republicans in the legislature, its back to the no tax increases until all government waste is eliminated, while democrats, with data in hand; argue that increasing “sin taxes” is a tax increase on the state’s working poor. When it comes to the mortgage interest and property tax deduction, well we’ve been down this road before. The Kansas Association of Realtors (KAR) has a rather sizeable membership, a membership that has proven to be easily aggravated by the mere mention of doing anything with the MID. MID protection is virtually implanted in Realtor’s DNA from the day they pass their real estate exam. KAR has money by the way, a lot of money, and they have demonstrated little reluctance in spending on efforts to fire up everyone that has a mortgage payment.
Another Appropriations Leader Resigns
It took just one week for brand new Vice-Chair of Appropriations John Edmonds (R) Great Bend, to resign that post. Recall that at the end of the last legislative session, the Committee’s Chairman Marc Rhoades (R) Newton, resigned after disagreements with House Speaker Ray Merrick over policy issues to be included or not in the school finance bill. Edmonds public position on his resignation – he’s an accountant and tax season is a prohibitive time for such a workload as that of VC of Appropriations.
Edmonds, by the way, is a veteran of the legislature serving his second stint and has a rather old and well-established practice back in Barton County.
State of the Judiciary
Chief Justice Lawton Nuss presented his annual State of Judiciary this week. That address was from the Kansas Judicial Center and not the House Chambers. Republicans, who control both chambers of the legislature and the Supreme Court have in recent years seen the love go out of their relationship. That’s in large part due to school finance rulings. Constitutional minded conservatives don’t believe the court has the right to tell them what to spend on anything, including K-12 education. The Supreme Court, as demonstrated by their rulings, they disagree. However, the legislative drumbeat for change in the judicial system has moved from a singular focus on “power of the purse” to rulings that conservatives believe are out of touch with mainstream Kansas, including the Carr Brothers and other death sentences being overturned and business rulings such as restraint of trade.
While republicans continue to call for appointment of Justices by the governor and have introduced legislation reducing the required retirement age of judges, Nuss vacated his usual adversarial tone with the legislative branch and instead gave a speech focused on all the positive things the Court does for society in general. There was very little talk about funding, although he did say furloughs might be necessary without increased funding. Most don’t interpret the change of tact as an appeasement attempt to get along better with its co-equal branch of legislators, but rather as more of a marketing campaign to get the public more on the side of the Court. Probably worth noting that for first time, the two Supreme Court Justices that had to stand for retention elections last fall barley kept their jobs. Nuss is up for a retention vote in 2016.
The Week Ahead
The pace of activity will pick up this week. Hearings on actual bills are scheduled and the deadline for individual introductions is fast approaching. We’ll keep you updated.
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