This legislative session is similar to others in that as we approach the end, many issues seem to be unsettled. However, conference committees will settle much of the uncertainty. The legislature is finished working regular bills, so the main focus is turning toward how to address the court decision on education. We also need to touch up the budget before we can finish our work.
An autism bill passed the House early this week that requires insurance plans with larger memberships provide coverage for autism spectrum disorder. The bill is limited but still provides early intervention, which is important to help these children achieve the best results. The Senate may take this up or possibly put the bill in a conference committee report.
Early this week there was a bill that passed the House, but not the Senate at this point, to form a Healthcare Compact with other states. The bill is political in nature and asks Congress to allow State oversight of Medicare and health insurance. Passing a bill of this type does not immediately make Medicare and Healthcare Exchanges the responsibility of the State, but simply sets up a request for the States to take over that responsibility. The Senate may not take this up as time is short.
The Senate sent over a bill that would repeal the renewable standards for power companies to meet. The current standards are 20% by 2020. Kansas has fairly open renewable requirements in that wind, solar, hydro and several other smaller energy sources count as renewable. Power companies tell me the cost of renewable power is very little more compared to conventional. Power companies also say that all but one company already meets or exceeds these standards, so repeal probably would have little or no effect. Much of the higher energy costs seen recently are because of tighter EPA emissions standards requirements. The House killed the bill, meaning the renewable requirements stay in place.
There is finally a bill draft to resolve the school court decision. Negotiations between the Governor, Senate President, and House Speaker have been going on for over a week. A copy of the House bill became available Tuesday, so most of the information is still new. After a quick scan, the bill seems to address fairly well the equity question and generally allocates about $103M in funding to meet the equity question. This bill, HB 2774, does not seem to address the capital outlay funding quite as well and it reduces transportation weighting by correcting an error in the transportation weighting formula.
The main question remaining on HB 2774 is where the money comes from. The economy of Kansas seems to be growing fairly well, so revenue estimates are anticipated to be up when the revenue estimators meet in April. How much is the unknown. Will the economy grow enough so that if we take money from the ending balance, will the remaining balance plus growth be enough to sustain the extra ongoing expenditure for school funding? That is one tough question to answer.
Other possibilities are to grab a little money here and there, but it’s difficult to come up with $100M+ every year in this way as a grab would be one time only money. There are limitations on how much can be collected in this way as K-12 funding is the largest part of the State budget with higher education next. There are restrictions on social programs that have Federal matches, so that option is not open.
First adjournment is this week, so I will have only one more report until veto/wrap-up the last day of April and into May. We have much to do on the school issue so expect things to move quickly.