Commentary by Rep. Bill Sutton, Gardner
Rep. Bill Sutton discusses Gov. Sam Brownback's State of the State address given Jan. 15 during the opening week of the Kansas Legislature. Bill represents the 43rd House District, which includes Gardner and Edgerton in Johnson County. (Video by Jim Sullinger Strategies LLC)
To read the governor's entire speech, click on THIS LINK. Read Bill's latest newsletter on the ISSUES page.
March 6, 2014
Topeka – Today, Representative Bill Sutton (R-Gardner) filed papers with the Kansas Disciplinary Administrator to initiate the investigation of W. Joseph (Joe) Hatley, current attorney for the Gardner-Edgerton School District.
Representative Sutton attended the February 27th special board of education meeting that resulted in the firing of three school district employees, including Superintendent Gilhaus. “I observed attorney Hatley’s behavior during the public sessions of the meeting. He was verbally combative, condescending, and bullying in nature toward a majority of the board members.” Sutton believes that type of public display is not appropriate for any contracted employee of a school district. “By all appearances, Mr. Hatley was at the meeting representing the interests of then-superintendent Gilhaus, not the school district at large.”
“I am concerned that attorney Hatley repeatedly contradicted the legal directives of the Kansas Association of School Boards,” said Sutton. “I have requested an investigation on the appropriateness of attorney Hatley repeatedly assuring the former superintendent after the special meeting that he was not fired because the meeting was illegal,” Sutton added.
In addition, the Gardner resident’s request for investigation includes the rumors and innuendo that district employees were sought out by Mr. Hatley to file charges against school board members in an attempt to stop the special meeting on February 27th.
“Based on the article I read Saturday in The Kansas City Star and my conversations with Senator Pat Apple, the legality of the superintendent’s double-dipping contract, drafted by Mr. Hatley, is not in keeping with legislative intent, contrary to IRS rules appears “pre-arranged”, and clearly skirted standard hiring practices required of an open KPERS position,” said Sutton.
“I have faith in the investigative process of the Disciplinary Administrator,” said Sutton. “The students, parents and taxpayers of Gardner-Edgerton School District deserve legal services without bias and hidden agendas. Anything less than that is a gross misappropriation of tax dollars.”
The economics behind the tax reform strategy in Kansas
LAWRENCE | What is the economics behind Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax reform strategy?
A noted Kansas economist, Dr. Art Hall of the KU business school, explained the rational for the tax effort being made now in Topeka.
He spoke April 2 at a forum on Kansas tax reform sponsored by the Douglas County Republican Party.
Hall explained that growth in the Kansas economy doesn’t come from companies moving to Kansas. Dynamic growth occurs, he said, from small businesses starting and expanding in Kansas.
The tax climate in the state, he said, must encourage that kind of in-state growth.
To hear his presentation, click on THIS VIDEO LINK. It runs for 15 minutes but is highly informative. Every Kansan should see it.
A word about the Religious Freedom Bill
(Note: The Kansas Catholic Conference published a Q&A about HB2453 on its website. It is a "must read" in understanding this bill. Here's the LINK.)
Not unexpectedly, my affirmative vote on this bill generated opposing messages. While most were reasonable and civil, some were not. Much misinformation has been disseminated and emotions have trumped facts. This makes for difficult disputations.
First some background: In 2005 the Legislature approved an amendment to the Kansas Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a women. This was passed in both chambers by a two-third majority and submitted to the voters. In 104 (of 105) counties more than 70% of voters approved and it is now the law of the state.
The small minority of those who favor homosexual "marriage" succeeded in the courts to overturn the will of the citizens and presently several states must recognize a union which is against God’s and nature’s law. The 10th court of appeals will likely find our law unconstitutional, too.
The consequences of this decision will be dire and HB 2453 is addressing some of the more deleterious ones. Examples of court decisions have forced Catholic charities in several states to shut down in order not to violate their core values in providing adoption services to same sex couples. The conscience clause, which allows doctors and nurses to refuse to participate in an abortion in violation of their religious beliefs, was overturned, making them now subject to legal persecution.
TOPEKA | This is for folks who enjoy the twists and turns of legislative tactics. So, follow along.
The leadership of the Kansas Senate, for example, has herded a bill through that chamber that it really wants to become law. But there is a problem. There aren’t enough votes in the House to pass it.
What to do? One possible avenue is known as bill “bundling,” a practice that has gone on for many sessions and is practiced by both the House and Senate leaderships.
The Senate and House often pass bills in different forms and, at the end of the annual legislative session, three House leaders and three Senate leaders (normally a committee chairman, vice chairman, and ranking member) meet in a “conference committee” of six to work out those differences. Their product is known as a conference committee report or CCR for short.
The CCR then goes to both chambers for a final vote and them on to the governor.
Now, here’s how that problem Senate bill gets passed. The three Senate leaders put four or five bills (or more) into one CCR. Several are bills that House members really want to become law. But among them is the Senate measure the House dislikes.
Visitor Center opens in the Capitol
TOPEKA | Gov. Sam Brownback participated in the ribbon cutting today Jan. 2 marking the formal opening of the Kansas Capitol Visitor Center, located on the ground floor of the State Capitol.
“It is truly a pleasure to stand here today in this beautiful place that will welcome visitors to the Kansas State Capitol, not just today, but for years to come,” he said in a statement. “An enormous amount of effort has gone into creating a visitor center that truly shares the Kansas experience with guests. This visitor’s center is a magnificent gateway to the Capitol.”
He said the new center celebrates the history of “our great state and its people.”
The map of Kansas permanently built into this floor reflects the commitment of those who came to settle this land and build homes, families and businesses, he added.
“Just as the limestone we stand on is strong and enduring, so too are Kansans,” he said. “As you walk through this visitor center, take time to look at the photos along the walls that depict the history of this state we proudly call ‘home.’
TOPEKA | The Kansas House voted overwhelmingly Thursday Feb. 27 to expand rural opportunity zone status to four additional counties, bring the total to 77 of the state’s 105 counties.
The new counties were Cherokee, Labette, Montgomery and Sumner. The Kansas City and Wichita area counties are not eligible to be opportunity zones.
Rural opportunity zones or ROZ for short were established in 2011 for counties that lost 10 percent population during the previous decade. The initial proposal included 40 counties.
Cellphones added to No-Call list
In 2002, the Legislature enacted the Kansas No-Call Act but it only pertained to land-line phones and not cellphones.
Senate Bill 308, however, will add cellphones to the act and allow the Office of the Attorney General to enforce the Kansas law against telemarketers who call a consumer’s listed cellphone number in violation of the law.
The Senate approved the bill on Feb. 20 on a 38-0 vote and the House adopted it last week on a 117-0 vote. The measure now goes to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
Senate approves health care transparency bill
TOPEKA | Undergoing a medical procedure can be tough, especially when patients receive huge bills in the mail that they have to pay but were not expecting.
Sen. Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, wants to help. He’s introduced a bill (HB 2668) in the Kansas Senate allowing hospitals and doctors, in non-emergency situations, to have their computers query the insurance companies’ computers to determine the patients total out of pocket expenses for a procedure before they have it done.
On April 2 the Senate approved the bill 38-2 and sent it to six-member House and Senate conference committee for consideration.
“This will stop the surprise bill arriving 30 days after the procedure was performed,” Denning said.
KanCare produces dividends for disabled Kansans
TOPEKA | More than 650 Kansans with disabilities are able to receive new access to Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) because of the KanCare program.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, M.D., and Secretary of Health and Environment Robert Moser, M.D., announced that savings from care coordination under the new KanCare Medicaid program will bring in-home services to hundreds of additional people with physical and intellectual/developmental disabilities.
“This commitment will allow an estimated 250 developmentally disabled and 400 physically disabled Kansans to begin living more independent and fulfilling lives in the community,” Brownback said. “It is something Kansans are proud to support.”
Sutton Resolution honors Catholic Schools Week
Rep. Sutton introduced a resolution in 2013 (HR6005) in the Kansas House honoring Catholic Schools Week.
Click on THIS LINK to read a copy of the resolution, which passed the House Feb. 1, 2013.
Bill attended the bill signing ceremony for a measure extending insurance coverage to hundreds of children with autism. Also there was Jennifer Smith, Executive Director, Autism Society of the Heartland. (Photo by Jim Sullinger Strategies LLC)
Governor signs autism insurance legislation
A compromise bill that provides health insurance coverage to Kansas children with autism was signed into law Wednesday April 16 by Gov. Sam Brownback.
The signing ceremony was held at the KU Edwards Campus in Overand Park. Lawmakers who back the bill along with many parents of autistic children attended the event. Rep. Sutton was a strong supporter of the legislation.
To read an explanation of the bill prepared by the Legislative Reseach Department, click on THIS LINK for a pdf file.
“I have championed this cause since I have been in the Legislature,” said Rep. John Rubin, the bill's author. “I co-sponsored and carried similar legislation in 2012, and took the lead in 2013 and this year to draft this legislation, serve as lead co-sponsor, and work with the Kansas health insurers on a compromise acceptable to all parties to get this passed this year, so that 250 additional Kansas kids with autism will be covered as of 2015, and 750 in 2016."
Coverage would be subject to the following limitations: 1,300 hours per calendar year beginning with ASD diagnosis and no later than age five for any covered individual for the first four years following diagnosis. And then, 520 hours per calendar year for covered individuals less than 12 years of age.
Rubin said it was politically impossible to cover every child with autism because the federal Affordable Care Act requires the state to pay for any new mandate added to health plans sold under the law. There are an estimated 8,400 children in Kansas suffering from autism.
He said the bill didn’t cover as many children as he wanted but that support from the insurance industry was necessary for the bill to pass. Without it, the measure would die, he added. Kansas is one of seventeen states that does not mandate some form of autism coverage.
The bill, HB 2744, was the product of lengthy negotiations by Rubin with the state’s health insurance industry. He said the bill had the support of House Speaker Ray Merrick.
Facts about the Kansas economy
Here are just some highlights showing growth in our economy:
For the third consecutive month, the Kansas unemployment rate was below 5 percent. This is the first time since 2008 the state has enjoyed three months in a row with an unemployment rate that low.
Building permits in Kansas have increased 22.5 percent from December 2012 to December 2013. Building equals buying.
Kansas has had back-to-back years of creating more than 10,000 jobs. This continues the job growth trend with 45,000 jobs created from January 2011 to December 2013.
Record new business formation for 2013, with 15,469 new domestic entity filings in the state.
Revenue Receipts Growing
The Kansas Department of Revenue has released its March figures:
Corporate income tax receipts were $17.8 million, or 59 percent more than expected
Sales tax receipts were $7.3 million more than estimates.
Tax revenue receipts for fiscal year to date are $130.7 million more than estimates, or 3.4 percent.
Investment in education continues, with more than 600 new teachers in Kansas classrooms since I took office.
We are building momentum in 2014 as income taxes on all working Kansas have once again decreased. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Kansas House of Representatives voted 120 to 0 to uphold the tax cuts.
Lawmakers pass new school funding bill
TOPEKA | Following days of debate and compromise, the Kansas Legislature approved a new school finance bill Sunday April 6 that provides significantly more dollars to students in poor districts.
Passage came on the heels of a Kansas Supreme Court decision in early March that found an equity problem between tax rich and tax poor districts. The measure spends $126 million to bridge that gap.
But it also contained a benefit for Johnson County districts, which are considered rich based on the state’s funding formula. The bill allow for districts to increase funding from local property tax sources, a major goal of local superintendents.
Columnist Steve Rose said this was a big win for Johnson County schools. To read his editorial, click on THIS LINK.
1. Corporations will be able to contribute money to a scholarship program allowing special needs and at-risk students to attend private schools.
2. School officials will be able to fire substandard teachers without going through a cumbersome and often lengthy appeals process.
3. Teachers with real-world experience in areas like math, science, finance and technical education will be able to teach without formal teacher licensing.
Gov. Sam Brownback hailed passage of the bill Sunday.
“The school finance bill passed by the Kansas legislature today fully complies with, and indeed exceeds, the requirements of the recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling for funding schools and providing equity.
“House Bill 2506 increases funding to Kansas schools by $73 million and includes $78 million of property tax relief,” he said. “The bill ensures that taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently, putting money in the classrooms to help teachers teach and students learn.”
Senate bill seeks to protect seniors
The Senate considered two bills this week that would strengthen current laws against the financial mistreatment of an elder adult or dependent.
Primarily, SB 354 gives prosecutors additional tools to indict anyone who takes advantage of a senior. Adult Protective Services, APS, stated that one in nine seniors has reported being abused, neglected or exploited.
If enacted into law, offenders convicted of monetary abuse of a person over the age of 60 could be prosecuted under the Kansas Consumer Protection Act.
Its sister bill, SB 355, strengthens Kansas’ Power of Attorney law to include more protections for anyone that is not acting in the best interest of their dependent. The Power of Attorney, if abusing their power, could be terminated and face criminal prosecution under the proposed law. Both bills passed the Senate on a vote of 38-0.
Bill would renew drivers’ licenses every 8 years
The House Transportation Committee held hearings recently on a bill (HB 2631) that would allow driver’s licenses and non-driver ID cards to be issued every eight years instead of the current six.
Under current law, these cards and licenses are issued for six years to those under 65 years of age and four years for individuals 65 or older.
The increase to eight years would apply to people who are at least 21 but younger than 70 years of age. For persons 70 years of age and older, licenses would expire after five years, or every fifth anniversary of the date of birth nearest the date of application.
The effective date of this bill would be July 1, 2014.
Bill will affect party primary switches
TOPEKA | Political parties in Kansas worried for many years that a lot of voters of an opposite party have switched their registration prior to an August primary election in an effort to influence the outcome.
To counter the tactic, the Kansas House approved a bill last year prohibiting voters from changing parties on or after the candidate filing deadline, which is June 1 of this year. That prohibition would be in effect until the results of a primary election are certified. The House vote was 72-49.
After the House passed the measure, HB 2210, the Senate approved it this year. It was later signed into law by the governor.
Current law allows voters to change parties up to 20 days prior to the August primary.
Governor upbeat on the Kansas economy
TOPEKA | A look back at the Kansas economy: 2013.
The unemployment rate has dropped to 5.1 percent in November, a decrease of half a percentage point from October.
A total of 45,600 new jobs have been created from January, 2011, through October, 2013, including 20,000 just this year.
“For Kansas and Kansans, 2013 has been a good year,” said Gov. Sam Brownback. “We are moving in the right direction to ensure Kansas is the best place in the U.S. to live, work and raise a family.”
Sutton wins Pro-Jobs title from Kansas Chamber
TOPEKA | Based on his voting record on the economy, Rep. Bill Sutton of Gardner has been named a 2013 Pro-Jobs Legislator by the Kansas Chamber.
Mike O’Neal, a former Kansas House speaker and currently the chamber's president and CEO, praised all the legislators who made the list.
“This session the Legislature tackled many tough issues and tremendous progress was made in many areas that have made Kansas one of the most economically competitive states in the region,” said O’Neal said, adding that the Pro-Jobs Legislators list identifies lawmakers who voted at least 80 percent of the time to support a wide range of business issues.
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Rep. Sutton spoke in February to a rally in support of the Constitution's Second Amendment on the steps of the Capitol in Topeka.
Click on THIS LINK to see the video
Also, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer talks about the governor's vision for Kansas on the Video Page.