The last week of regular session started slow but ended with many conference committee reports to vote on before first adjournment. We had two days off last week while conference committees were supposed to meet. Few conference committees took place so that simply put more work into this week.
The only regular committees that continue to meet are the exempt committees, which are Appropriations, Fed and State and Taxation. Primarily, only the Appropriations committee meets occasionally as they continue to iron out the budget. Fed & State and Taxation will meet only as needed to help get the budget and revenues to come out so the budget is balanced.
The conference committee process has been in full swing this week. Senate Ways and Means and House Appropriations meet often to iron out differences in the Senate and House budgets, but will not finish before the break. The House budget spends somewhat less than the Senate budget and both are below the Governor’s recommendation.
There is give and take as to which position is eventually taken between House and Senate budget proposals. Normally what happens is that the Senate or House conferees offer a package that includes several items to be taken, or rejected, as a group. With hundreds of items to negotiate, this is the most efficient way to make progress as quickly as possible.
House and Senate Tax conferees are working to reconcile tax bills passed in each chamber. While agreement has been made on some minor tax issues, the big issue still remains. The big issue this year is whether or not to retain the 1 cent sales tax that was put in place three years ago. The promise three years ago was that .4 cent would remain with the Transportation Department to pay for T-Works projects on the State Highway system and the other .6 cent would be repealed. Some are hoping to keep the sales tax at the higher rate and continue to reduce income taxes while others would prefer a slight rollback of the income tax cuts.
The Agriculture committee conferees finished meeting for the session and came to agreement on all the major bills affecting Agriculture. Those bills had final votes taken before first adjournment with only a little opposition. Of several bills affecting Agriculture, adjustments to water laws and the ‘freedom to farm’ adjustments attracted a few no votes. Freedom to farm basically says that the farm was there first and should be allowed to operate as they always have despite the fact that housing developments have sprung up nearby. The Corporate Farming bill is not in play anymore for this legislative session but will likely be back next year.
This is just a small smattering of the conference committee actions. Fed and State conferees have negotiated gun measures along with other minor issues. The Judiciary conferees ironed out issues primarily with the legal and court processes. Of course, Insurance and Financial institutions have a few banking and insurance issues to work out. Needless to say, any bill that passed either the House or the Senate is eligible to be put into a conference committee report that has an up or down vote.
Page 2 of 2 - Sometimes it’s a little worrisome when we are required to vote on something that has not been on the House roster until the conference committee report comes up for a vote. The rules say that any bill can be put in a conference committee report if it has passed one chamber. Sometimes that means things are put into reports that have not even had a hearing in a House committee. So, it can be disconcerting to vote for something that has not been seen at all in a committee or on the House floor.
This will be my last report until wrap-up session beginning May 8. The budget and tax issues are not settled and apparently will not be until we return. By then we should have our new revenue estimates and the finishing touches can be made to the budget and help provide resolution on the revenue needs.
The Kansas Constitution requires a balanced budget before we are finished, so things may go smoothly during the wrap-up, or perhaps not. Time will tell.
Thank you for the e-mails, letters and calls during session. It has been very challenging with many unexpected twists and turns. It is always an honor to serve as your representative in Topeka.
Don Schroeder of Hesston represents Kansas House District 74, which includes Moundridge.