After a two day break for turnaround, we are back in Topeka and beginning the second half of session. Only a month remains in regular session so the time for committee hearings, working and passing bills will proceed at a very quick pace. The plan this year is to pass only one budget bill rather than the two that has been practice in the past. Normally we pass a budget that includes only State General Fund items before break the first week of April and then a budget that includes all expenditure items during the wrap-up session the first week of May.
In looking over the items passed to the Senate, a couple stand out. I have mentioned before about the ag bill that made several adjustments to our water laws. We have also passed several changes to criminal codes that should help keep prison populations in check. A bill that is causing quite a bit of stir is defining machinery and equipment as it relates to personal or real property.
This is a serious issue and has been complicated by a lawsuit in a southeast Kansas county challenging the current definitions. The issue with this bill is that in 2006 the legislature passed an exemption for new machinery and equipment thinking that would help stimulate investment for manufacturing.
Indications are that it has spurred some investment, but generally the small business owner was not able to take advantage of the provisions of this law. Now, the traditional definitions of what constitute machinery and equipment are being challenged to try to add equipment to the exempt list that has not been allowed in the past.
The outcome in the end could be that if definitions are changed to allow more exemptions, then a large shift would occur that could cause a significant increase in property taxes for small businesses and residential property. This issue is very challenging to address and a cautious approach is needed. If done incorrectly, all local governments could see significant increases in property taxes on a much narrower tax base including homeowners and small businesses. The bill passed out of Tax Committee Thursday.
Another issue that is attracting attention is a proposal to review and possibly change the negotiation items for schools and teachers. The current system has been around for a long time and has worked pretty well, so once again a cautious approach is needed. The proposal would include changing mandatorily negotiable items. Most interested parties are engaged in the process, but it would be best if all interested parties participated to make a product that may not be perfect but acceptable.
Judicial selection is still a topic on our minds. There do not seem to be enough House votes to pass a Constitutional Amendment so apparently negotiations are occurring to come up with a compromise that could pass. Sometimes the legislative process is painfully slow but if it means we can find an acceptable solution that is what should be done even if it waits until next session. That is how the process is designed to work. Although there are many frustrations with trying to enact good policy, Kansas still has a process that works well enough.
Page 2 of 2 - There are always many more issues we deal with so if there is something that catches your attention, please let me know if you have questions or thoughts. Some Senate bills we will be looking at in the next two weeks are similar to House bills but many are new issues we have not considered. Please stay in touch on any legislative items that interest you.
Don Schroeder of Hesston represents Kansas House District 74, which includes Moundridge.