On Monday, January 9, the Kansas Legislature opened its doors. The election season allows us to welcome 60 new faces to the Capitol; these new legislators will have an immediate impact on policy going forward. Conservatives continue to control the house but by a slim margin. There is an opportunity for Democrats and moderates to work together to lift some very heavy policy pieces. Look for early action to repeal the LLC loophole and discussion to expand Medicaid.
We will also see significant change in both judiciary committees this session. Sen. Rick Wilborn will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee and Rep. Blaine Finch has been tasked with the house committee. The house committee is stacked with 11 lawyer/legislators whereas the senate committee has on its roster Sen. David Haley, who is law-trained but non-practicing. The lack of lawyers in the Senate will create an interesting dynamic when both chambers debate technical legal issues and when they meet for conference committee.
These legislators face an uphill battle from day one. The state finds itself in a $340 million hole for this fiscal year which ends June 30. This budget hole only grows when discussing FY18. There was some good news in December as revenues surpassed estimates for the first time since July. The $6 million overage is helpful but a more robust figure is needed to make a dent in the shortage.
Legislators will also focus on crafting a new school finance formula. Schools are currently operating under a block grant formula which many want to change. How this is changed is yet to be seen, but some pundits believe the block grant approach could be used again. Several school districts, public policy outfits and interested parties have submitted their thoughts to the governor but as of the start of the session, no one has a good idea how to handle the situation.
Besides focusing on the state budget and school finance, the legislature will consider a significant increase to judicial branch personnel salaries. The Office of Judicial Administration put forth a proposal seeking $20 million in state general funds for pay raises for judges and staff. Currently, Kansas ranks 50 in judicial pay and 45 when accounting for inflation. It has been reported that judicial branch employees often hold two or three jobs to make ends meet. See: http://kscourts.org/Kansas-Courts/General-Information/News-Releases.asp#111816 .
The KBA will introduce four proposals: two dealing with probate issues, one making changes to the uniform law concerning arbitration, and a new business association type called Benefit Corporations. Look for these bills and others that affect the practice of law in the KBA 2017 Bill Tracking Chart. The bill tracking chart will be released on Friday, Jan. 13, with bi-weekly updates thereafter.
For information on legislators, bills and committee assignments please look at www.ksbar.org starting on Jan. 16. You can also find information at www.kslegisalture.org . To get live updates during the session you can follow us on twitter .