The weather has certainly thrown a wrench in the gears as the legislative process reaches the half-way point. The snow caused cancellation of session two days during the snow storm, and we began session two hours late Feb. 26. I’m not complaining as snow provides some great moisture that is much needed.
Taking two days off session has caused committee schedules to be upset. That may mean some legislative issues may simply have to wait until next year. Very few items are so important that they cannot wait until next 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 will see 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. Most 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. Two bills that were most controversial 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, but the process is slow.
The Renewable Energy Standard in Kansas 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. While the motion passed narrowly, the committee can rework the bill.
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 passes 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.
Page 2 of 2 - 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 always is 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.
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 represents Dist. 74 in the Kansas House.