This week in the Legislative session, we are beginning to clear out the calendar for turnaround. The calendar for next week has us on the floor all day Tuesday through Thursday and then off until Feb. 28, to allow time for all the bills to be processed and in the proper place as we crank the session back up.
The Appropriations Committee is continuing to receive recommendations from the smaller budget committees. The budget committees have scrutinized Department and Agency proposals and considered the changes, if any. Many budgets have little or no change from what was approved last year, making those easy to approve.
Some, however, have changes that raise questions concerning where the funding comes from and how much, or more details on why the funding request is decreased. Quite a number of the state agencies are almost completely funded by fees and those agencies typically do not get scrutinized as harshly as those that receive state general funding.
General funds are gathered from the normal taxes paid, mostly through sales and income taxes to the state. Although fees can also be considered taxes, a better description would be to call them user fees.
As an example, the Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism is completely operated with fee funds collected from hunting licenses or park permits. So people hunting and using the state parks actually pay for the maintenance and upkeep rather than everyone across the state paying taxes to maintain the programs. The trend for several years is toward more user fees.
An increase in pet animal facilities inspection fees passed out of the Ag Committee. Similar measures have been six years in the making but have not gotten very far. This bill simply increases inspection fees for facilities in order to keep three inspectors. It is understood that the State needs a good pet animal inspection system, but the controversy seems to be in defining who pays more.
At this point, most action in the Legislature has been in committees. One major issue on the list is cybersecurity. The breach of information at the Harvey County Courthouse emphasizes that no one is immune from hacks and making sure information is secure becomes especially important.
Obviously, the state has a lot of information, including some personal and business information, that needs to be protected from hackers. Hackers are even trying to steal tax refunds by using personal information, so please be careful and wary.
Yesterday we had a bill on the House floor that dealt with candy containing liquor. It was difficult to understand because it did not directly ban sales of this candy in grocery stores. Apparently the bill was requested by Alcohol and Beverage Control (known as ABC) so they could write regulations to ban candy containing liquor in grocery stores and other inappropriate places. Hopefully the ABC will actually get regulations in place to do that, and I hope I voted correctly. I do not favor expanding alcohol availability.
During turnaround week, both the House and Senate will spend all day, each day, on the floor working bills that committees have kicked out.
The list is quite long but what actually gets debated on the floor is determined by the Speaker and Majority leader. Any bills that are not ‘blessed’ will die after turnaround week. Blessed means they are exempt from the regular rules and remain alive for further action.
It’s always amazing how fast session moves. We are near the half-way point already and the pace picks up after turnaround. Despite the fast pace, education and the budget still remain the major issues for us to address.
Don Schroeder is the Kansas House Representative for District 74, which includes Lindsborg.