The 2014 Kansas Legislative session is off and running. Every year is something new and this year is no exception. Time lines for bill introductions and committee hearings are set and there typically is little variation once they are set. The unknowns are the issues and the surprises that each session brings.
The first unusual aspect of the 2014 session is the number of new legislators we have for a non-election year. Normal vacancies in a non-election year might be one or two, but so far we have 6 new members in the House. Five of the members resigned due to family or business pressures and one House member passed away shortly after the special session we had in September.
Just a few issues we expect to see are some agriculture related discussions regarding corporate farming in Kansas, the use of drones to monitor crops and livestock operations, and we always discuss water in some way during the session. There may be a push to do better monitoring of the Equus Beds aquifer to make sure it is safe and viable well into the future. Many cities in south-central Kansas get their water from this source. The Equus Beds aquifer provides water for about 20% of the population of Kansas as well as irrigation for thousands of acres of farmland.
Other issues may include health and commerce legislation. There is the question of Medicaid expansion that ties in some ways to the Affordable Care Act. We had a group here on our first day of session, which was Monday, that was promoting legalization of marijuana, especially for medical purposes.
While I don’t anticipate large-scale changes to the existing tax laws that could affect business and commerce, there will likely be some tweaks and minor changes to smooth out rough spots. One that has been in the news already is the possibility of eliminating what is known as the Mortgage Registration Fee, which is a .26% fee on mortgages. The bankers and real-estate agencies want to eliminate it, but the fee money is used to operate the County Register of Deeds office, so Counties are opposed.
The last expected legislative issues I will mention today are education, court and corrections questions, mostly related to funding. The corrections budget was vetoed by the Governor last session, so work needs to be done to build a budget back. The courts had some furlough days built in last year to save money, but questions are being asked whether the courts can continue to operate with fewer days and still clear out the dockets in a reasonable time.
And finally is the question of education funding. Generally, we are all waiting to see what the Supreme Court decision may be on education funding. That decision could come at any time, but the courts render decisions on their own timeline so it could be soon, or could be some time in the future.
Education funding is such a large part of the State general fund, about 50% for K-12 and nearly 70% if you include higher education, we are virtually required to talk about education funding any time we discuss budget issues. The Governor is proposing to fund all-day kindergarten, which would put a little more money into the K-12 system. Education is obviously important, but questions revolve around how much money is needed and is the money being spent wisely.
The best way to contact legislators is to go to www.kslegislature.org . Email is the best as we are often in committees or other meetings. I hope to hear from you regarding your concerns.