The weather has certainly thrown a wrench in the gears as the legislative process reaches the halfway point. The snow caused cancellation of session Thursday and Friday last week and we began session two hours late Tuesday.
I’m not complaining as snow provides some great moisture that is much needed.
Taking two days off session has upset committee schedules. That may mean some legislative issues may simply have to wait until next year. Very few items are so important that they cannot wait a year. This means things remain the same until then.
I have mentioned before the only issues that must be resolved are the budget and making the revenues and budget match up so we have a balance. Kansas, unlike the federal government, is required to have a balanced budget.
This week we have seen a flurry of bills on the House floor before turnaround over the weekend. After the weekend, most House bills not passed will remain for possible consideration next year.
Many of the bills are relatively non-controversial, but bills that address labor laws almost always bring minimum wage amendments or issues related to labor relations. Other bills that attract attention are always taxation and budget bills. We may start seeing taxation bills soon, but budget bills are still a couple of weeks away.
Two bills that were most controversial this week were changing the selection process for appeals court and rolling back the renewable requirement on electrical energy.
What occurred on the appellate selection process was that the votes were not there for a constitutional amendment to change appeals and Supreme Court appointments, so a statutory change was advanced for only the appeals court.
It only takes 63 votes for a statute change and takes 84 for a constitutional change. The appeals court change narrowly passed with 73 votes. There is negotiation under way to create a compromise constitutional amendment to also change the selection of judges for the Supreme Court, but the process is slow.
The Renewable Energy Standard in Kansas currently requires 15 percent of the electrical energy to be from renewable sources by 2016 and 20 percent by 2020. The bill we considered took out the 20 percent by 2020 requirement.
Then a motion was made to re-refer the bill back to committee, which essentially kills the bill. The motion passed narrowly and the committee can rework the bill. However, sending a bill back to committee typically has the effect of killing it. The Senate also had a bill to roll back the renewable requirement, but it was killed on the Senate floor this week.
Budget sub-committees are generally finished meeting for the session. Now the focus returns to the larger House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Ways & Means. In the end, a budget must pass the House and a separate budget must pass the Senate, which is then conferenced to create an agreed to budget.
That agreed budget must then pass both the House and Senate to be enacted.
The governor then receives the budget and can line-item veto what he does not like. The governor cannot add money to a budget, but can move it around to some degree, and can delete money which then goes to the ending balance. The budget process will not finish until the end of the session.
The ending balance is an interesting issue. State statute requires a 7.5 percent ending balance, which converts to about $450 million. The Legislature can set aside the 7.5 percent requirement, so while it is nice to have that cushion, there is always pressure to spend it on programs like education or safety nets.
After setting aside the requirement for a few years and having virtually zero ending balances, it is better to have a balance rather than to do sequestration.
Yes, the state had to reduce funding for programs at the end of the budget year for three or four years to remain in the black. Because of the large tax cuts passed last session, it is difficult to build a budget that balances with the projected revenues for 2014.
Thank-you for allowing me the privilege to serve as your representative.
The second half of the session moves quickly, so if concerns or issues come to your attention, please be sure to contact me.
Don Schroeder, R-Hesston, represents the 74th District, which includes Hillsboro and roughly the southern half of Marion County, the southeast corner of McPherson County and all but the southeast corner of Harvey County.