The Week Ending, the Week Ahead

The Week Ending, the Week Ahead

Governor Sam Brownback kicked off the session with his State of the State address Tuesday night and budget message Wednesday morning.  We’ve reviewed details of his budget and proposal for early reading support and grade level retention in earlier posts (below).

State Government and Budget.  Next week, the House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means Committees begin to dig deeper with briefings on an audit of the Juvenile Justice Authority, which the Governor wants to fold into the Department of Corrections (Tue, H. Appropriations; Thursday, S. W&M); overhaul of state Medicaid programs into KanCare (Wed, H. Appropriations, Thurs, S. W&M); and the Kansas Turnpike Authority, which the Governor wants to merge with the state Department of Transportation (Thurs, S.  W&M).

Judicial Selection.  In his address, the Governor called for a change the way state Court of Appeals and Supreme Court judges are appointed.  Currently, the Governor must choose from nominees selected by a nominating commission dominated by the Kansas Bar – called “merit selection.” This past Wednesday and Thursday, Senate Judiciary held hearings on SCR 1601, which would have the Governor make appointments subject to Senate Confirmation, called the “federal model;” and SB 8, which creates a commission to review and make recommendations on the qualifications of the Governor’s nominations prior to Senate action.

Next Tuesday, House Judiciary holds hearings on another package of proposals:

  • HB 2019, which would have the Governor make appointments to the Court of Appeals with Senate confirmation.  (Federal model)
  • HB 2020, which requires partisan election of Court of Appeals judges in a general election.
  • HCR 5002, a constitutional amendment providing for the Governor to appoint Supreme Court judges confirmed by the Senate. (Federal model)
  • HCR 5003, amending the constitution to require partisan election of Supreme Court judges.
  • HCR 5004, which would place the Court of Appeals in the state constitution and change the membership of the nominating committee to include four attorneys, five members appointed by the Governor and six members appointed by Legislative leaders. (Merit selection with the “4-5-6” plan.)

The committee could begin voting on these proposals as early as Wednesday.  Many conservative legislators support a change in the selection of judges – partly as a result of opposition to recent school finance decisions.  However, changing the Supreme Court selection process requires amending the state constitution, which takes a two-thirds vote of both House and Senate and approval by the people in a statewide election.  Expect a push to get an amendment on the April school board and local elections ballot, but it is unclear whether there will be a two-third majority for such any change, especially in the House.  KASB supports the current merit system and the KASB Board of Directors voted to endorse the “4-5-6” plan as a compromise to address concerns that the current nominating process is too dominated by attorneys.

Taxes.  Last session, the Governor signed HB 2117, which reduced state incomes taxes by about 25 percent.  In his state of the state address, he called for continuing to reduce the income rate to zero.  His budget proposes extending the state sales tax at the current rate and eliminating the mortgage interest deduction to offset some of the lost state revenue and avoid deep cuts in state programs.  (Both proposals were part of his tax package last session.)  Committees start looking at tax policy issues next week, including “dynamic scoring” of tax cuts (Tues, H. Taxation), the Governor’s proposals (Wed, S. W&M), and the definitions of real vs personal property (Thurs, H. Tax).  The last issue is critical to a debate over tax treatment of so-called “trade fixtures” that could substantially increase business tax exemptions and reduce local government revenue.

Education.  The House and Senate Education Committees held three joint meeting this week to review the Gannon school finance case and the workings of the school finance formula.  Joint meetings continue next week with a presentation by the Kansas Teacher of the Year team (Tues), the Board of Regents and Department of Education (Wed) and organizational perspectives from KASB, Kansas National Education Association and Kansas School Superintendents Association (Thur).

Elections.  Several committees also look at election issues next week, including agency presentations before Senate Elections and Local Government (Tues, Wed), and hearings in House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development on a bill to prohibit any  professional employees’ organization which exists in whole or part to negotiate with local school boards to  use  any  dues,  fees,  assessments  or  any  periodic  payments deducted  from  a  member’s  paycheck  for  the  purpose  of  engaging  in political activities, basically defined as attempting to influence state or local elections. We also expect introduction of a bill to change the election date for local school board members.