Legislators returned on Monday to a budget shortfall, poor revenue numbers, a foster care controversy and four new House members. Rep. Ben Scott (D-Topeka); Rep. Henry Helgerson (D-Eastbourogh); Rep. Ken Rahjes (R-Agra); and Rep. Chuck Weber (R-Wichita) all took their seats after being appointed during the off season. Some housekeeping was in order as Republicans needed to replace Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady as caucus chair. Rep. Dan Hawkins (Wichita) defeated Rep. J.R. Claeys (Salina) to gain the post.
The formalities out of the way, legislators can now focus on the State of the State address Tuesday at 5:30 pm. The SOS was moved up to avoid a conflict with the State of the Union address set for later this evening. Here legislators will learn of the path the governor is proposing to close the budget shortfall. Many are anticipating the governor staying the course by keeping the LLC income tax loophole open this session. Rep. Mark Hutton (R-Wichita) might have other ideas since he introduced HB 2444 that would close the non-wage income tax exemption and lower the sales tax on food. No hearing is set for this bill but it does send a message that all options are on the table. Legislators will also get a report from the government efficiency audit this week which should allow them to make cuts to help lessen the budget problem.
On the judiciary front, a hearing is set for HCR 5013 which would change the way we select justices in Kansas by expanding the nominating commission to 15, four elected by lawyers in Kansas, five appointed by the governor and six appointed by the legislator. Of the six legislative appointees, two will be made by the speaker, two by the Senate president and two by the minority party of each chamber. This is the third proposal to change how we pick justices in Kansas to be heard. The other two are HCR 5004 and HCR 5005: one would allow selection using a governor appoint model while the other would simple be direct partisan election.
As far as committee meetings are concerned the Senate Judiciary Committee will meet Monday through Friday at 10:30 a.m., in room 346-S. Sen. Jeff King (R-Independence) continues as Senate Judiciary chair with Sen. Greg Smith (R-Overland Park) as vice-chair. The House Judiciary Committee will meet in the 112-N at 3:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Leadership for this committee remains the same with a chairman, Rep. John Barker (R-Abilene), a vice-chair Rep. Charles Macheers (R-Shawnee) and Rep. John Carmichael will sit as ranking minority leader. We do welcome Rep. Blake Carpenter (R-Derby) to the committee as he replaces former Rep. Couture-Lovelady. For other committee meeting times and locations, please access www.kslegislature.org/li
Another interesting bill is the LGBT protection bill, HB 2323. This bill, introduced by Rep. John Carmichael (D-Wichita) will be heard on Thursday this week. Controversy arose last session when Gov. Brownback eliminated protections from gender discrimination/sexual orientation in state employment. These protections were first put in place by Gov. Sebelius.
Finally, on Monday a committee met to discuss issues with foster care placement. Concerns were made about moving foster children out of their communities, foster parents profiting financially from these placements, and the ability of same sex couple to continue as foster parents. No recommendations were made, but this appears to be an issue worth monitoring.
The KBA will be live tweeting the State of the State address. To follow along please see KSBarLeg on Twitter. You can also find legislative information on the KBA website at www.ksbar.org.