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Dear Friend:
As of Friday, May 4th, the 2017-18 legislative session is adjourned Sine Die (without day), which means we are done for the year. That is, unless the school finance plan we forwarded (discussed in my last newsletter) is deemed insufficient by the court. We could very well be back for a special session in June. Fingers crossed that will not happen – especially for my House colleagues who will be campaigning again this summer. 
The lack of strategic direction, information sharing, and infighting among our leadership made this a particularly frustrating year for someone who is still working in the private sector and spent many years in the business side of academia. Even before that, as a former teacher, I kept thinking someone needed to use their “teacher voice” to get things back on track. The statewide elections caused much of the angst as many of my colleagues are running for those offices or Congress. I am hopeful next year will be more productive on the Senate side and I look forward to working with my colleagues on more great policy to help Kansans.
The Kansas Legislature passed the budget bill, House Substitute for Senate Bill 109, on Thursday, May 3rd. The legislation includes a 5% raise for employees who were not included in the 2017 pay raises and a 2.5% raise for employees who received a pay increase last year. The budget also includes a 5% adjustment for correctional staff and a 2% raise for judges.
Highlights include:
  • Department of Health and Environment
    • $3 million for the Medicaid regular medical program for the teaching hospitals associated with the Wichita Center for Graduate Medical Education program.
    • $1 million for the tiny-k program. 

Senate District 11 Resources:

  • Board of Regents and Institutions
    • $15 million to restore approximately 64 percent of the 4 percent allotments taken in 2016. 
      • This includes $2.6 million for KU, $1.9 million for K-State, and $2.1 million for KU Medical School.
  • Department of Education
    • $5.2 million for early childhood programs, including $4.2 million for a Pre-K Pilot and $1 million for Parents as Teachers. 
  • Department of Transportation
    • Established the joint legislative transportation vision task force to evaluate the state highway transportation system and correlating funds 
    • Reinvested funds enabling the completion of 23 T-Works programs
  • $1.4 million for disaster relief. 
  • $2.7 million for information technology modernization.
  • $22.1 million for an increase in nursing facility Medicaid reimbursement rates.
  • $5.5 million, including $3.3 million from the State General Fund to increase payments for foster care kinship placements (when a family member serves as a foster parent) from an average of $3 per day to an average of $10 per day. 
  • While I supported the House effort to prevent the state from paying fines levied for contempt of court charges filed against Secretary of State Kris Kobach, that language was removed, so it looks like your tax dollars will be paying for his court problems.
The bill also includes funding for other priorities that have been neglected, such as water projects and state hospitals. It passed the House (98-23) and the Senate (26-14), and awaits the governor’s consideration. I voted yes.
We finally passed the telemedicine bill (S Sub HB 2028), which provides parity for insurance coverage for medical appointments held via telehealth versus in-person visits, including speech pathology and audiology. All insurance coverage mandates in Kansas must first be applied to the state’s Medicaid program, after which a report is delivered to the legislature on the program’s effectiveness and cost, along with recommendations to move forward for implementation across all Kansas insurance plans. 
While this bill is very important for health care access in rural Kansas, many of the participating doctors will be from right here in Johnson County, so we will see a benefit as well. It passed the House (107-13) and the Senate (32-6) and awaits the governor’s consideration. I voted yes. 
You may have noticed the wide range of candidates running for statewide office in general, and for governor, specifically. HB 2539 addresses out-of-state and non-human candidates, as well as sets age and qualification restrictions. However, these changes do not go into effect until January 1, 2019, and therefore do not impact this year’s races:
  • Requires every candidate for the office of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Treasurer, or State Commissioner of Insurance to be a qualified elector of Kansas by the deadline for filing. The bill would also require candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor to be at least 25 years or older. It would also require a candidate for Attorney General to be licensed to practice law in Kansas. 
  • The bill also includes provisions to assist disabled voters: 
    • State verification of the voter’s signature by the county election official on an application for an advance ballot shall not be required if the voter has a disability preventing the voter from signing. 
    • Allows voters with disabilities that prevent them from being able to provide a signature to request assistance in signing an application or the form on the ballot envelope. 
  • It passed the House (70-52) and the Senate (32-4); I voted yes. 
HB 2579 will provide compensation for wrongful conviction and imprisonment. A claimant entitled to damages would receive $65,000 for each year of imprisonment, as well as no less than $25,000 for each additional year served on parole or post-release supervision. The bill passed the House and Senate unanimously.

Just about the time we begin to dig out from under the 2012 tax breaks, the Senate spent hours debating another tax cut. Yes, the revenue picture is looking much sounder due to last year’s tax restoration bill, but the state continues to fall short of conducting the basic functions of government at all, let alone doing them efficiently, effectively, or well. Examples include the foster care system (children missing), corrections (high officer-to-offender ratios), a multi-billion dollar unfunded debt in our pension system ($7B and counting), not to mention underfunding in our classrooms. 
Furthermore, after days and days of debate, we still had no official “fiscal note” on the bill. Fiscal notes detail the cost, as best estimated by each affected department. The closest estimate (see matrix below) was more than $200 million over three years, but those estimates are based on incomplete impact numbers from our 2017 tax plan and the unknown short or long-term implications of the federal tax plan. S Sub for HB 2228 passed the Senate on a 21-19 vote; I voted no. It failed in the House for lack of the required minimum of 63 votes: 59-59
The organizations that operate foster care and adoption programs across Kansas receive reimbursement from the state and are therefore subject to state discrimination laws. Religious-based organizations also currently offer these services, but because they do not have contracts with the state, can discriminate against parents seeking to foster or adopt based on the organization’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” (this is the language in the law). Senate Bill 284 would allow the state to contract with these organizations and receive state money (your tax dollars), while continuing to disallow certain parents from fostering or adopting through their organization. The state of foster care in Kansas is not to the point where we can be turning foster parents away at the door simply because they are single, divorced, or are in a same-gender relationship. The bill passed the House (63-58) and the Senate (24-15) I voted no.  

It is an honor to serve you in Topeka. 

Very truly yours,

John Skubal
Senator, 11th District
913-469-6641 (H)

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