Week 10 was a rush as committees began wrapping up hearings for the year in anticipation of Second House Consideration deadline. This deadline is set for March 26th and any bills not passed out will be dead for the session. In addition, First Adjournment is literally right around the corner (April 4th) and both chambers will be busy on the floor passing bills approved by committees. With that in mind the Kansas Senate had a near record number of bills up for debate this week. More than 40 bills were heard, discussed and passed over the last ten working days. The big one was the phase of the mortgage registration fee. This fee, tacked on to people taking out mortgages to buy property, will cost local government tens of millions of dollars. The bill does allow for a small offset in higher recording fees but nothing that can really cover the lost.
Another big item was the first school finance bill which added $129 million of state general funds to equalize school funding. The kicker in this first attempt was the number of “strings” attached to the money, including enhanced charter school language and scholarships for private schools. The bill is an “all or nothing” approach by the House that is eerily similar to the bundled Judicial Branch Budget bill Senate Sub for HB 2338. This is not an entirely new concept (Fed link transportation funding to seat belts and drinking age) but this process is becoming ever more popular in Kansas.
However, this first attempt was met with serious push back. It became clear that the drafters of HB 2773 did not discuss the provisions in the bill with leadership. Speaker Merrick was unaware of the charter school language and ordered a new bill be drafted. The new, workable bill, is HB 2774.
On the KBA front, SB 311 was debated last week. SB 311 increases the noneconomic cap to $350,000 but allows collateral source evidence and federalizes expert witness rules. The KBA worked with like-minded partners to remove the two offending provisions. Our efforts were rewarded when the Kansas House voted 82-33 to remove the collateral source provision. The amendment to cut out the expert witness change was not approved. SB 311 passed on Monday 119-2. If the Senate fails to concur with the amended bill it will head to conference committee where supporters of the collateral source provision will try to insert it back into the bill. Rep. Kinzer carried the collateral source amendment with significant support from Rep. Kahrs. See; http://www.therepublic.com/w/KS--Lawsuits-Damage-Limits
See also http://www.kansascity.com/2014/03/21/4906127/kansas-house-rejects-key-change.html
Last week the Kansas Legislature added “handshaking” as a required course in high school to a curriculum bill. The handshaking amendment was made as a joke to highlight the micromanaging of local school curriculum decisions. Things got serious when the committee decided that some form of etiquette training was important and the amendment passed.
Also Rep. Virgil Peck (R-Tyro, KS) introduced a bill to increase legislator’s pay from $88 to $204. This new number is 80% of a teacher’s salary. The bill, minus daily per diem of $123, would work out to around $25,000.
The KBA got good news when both of its bills (HB 2398
dealing with LLC’s and HB 2444 dealing with spendthrift trusts) were passed
out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. HB 2398 was even placed on the Senate Consent Calendar which means that
after three days it will move automatically to Final Action.