The Kansas Legislature wrapped up its regular session Sunday, April 6, two days later than originally planned, following a controversial debate and passage of a school finance bill.  What should have been a clean bill to fund poorer school districts turned into one that narrowly passed both houses after divisive debate over policy issues thrown in at the last minute.

Both the House and Senate passed HB2506 – a bill that would put $129 million toward addressing inequities to satisfy a March 7 Kansas Supreme Court ruling to boost aid to poor districts. The House’s vote was 63-57, the minimum needed to pass. The Senate’s vote was 22-16, one more than the minimum needed to pass. HB2506 would eliminate public school teachers’ right to due process hearings that was established by a 1957 Supreme Court case, and would provide tax breaks for corporations that donate to scholarships for private schools. The bill also deletes some funding for higher education such as longevity bonuses and the 1.5% classified salary increase in order to pay for the $129 million increase to K-12, and also allows districts to levy additional local property taxes to supplement their state aid to get more funds into classrooms. The bill now heads to Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk for his signature.

On the tenure issue, under existing law, after three years on the job, a teacher who’s facing dismissal must be told why in writing and has the right to challenge the decision and have a hearing officer review the case. Starting July 1, tenured teachers would be considered non-tenured and would only have any administrative protection listed in their individual contract or was listed policy by their school district. This radical change came from an amendment on the Senate floor by the President of the Senate, a change that was never introduced in bill form and fully vetted in a Senate or House Committee.

Base Student Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP)–that should be funded at $4,432 but is only funded at $3,883–will now be ‘artificially’ set at $4,492 to give school districts more funding from their local option budgets (LOB) derived from local property taxes. The maximum LOB is now set at 31% and can be raised to 33% but only by a mail election concluded before August 1. This keeps this election off any primary ballot.

The following are other bills we are currently watching:

S. Sub for HB 2101 -a compromise on net metering of customers who generate renewable energy. It passed the Senate and House, and now sits on the Governor’s desk, awaiting his signature.

S. Sub. for HB 2482 – the energy efficiency investment bill requested by Kansas City Power & Light. The bill has been amended to be more acceptable to the natural gas companies. It passed the Senate 40 -0 in emergency final action and will be put into a House-Senate conference committee.

Senate Bill 323 – repeals perpetual conservation easements. This bill would limit the duration of a conservation easement so that it ends with the death of the grantor. It passed out of Senate Natural Resources committee, but did not pass the full Senate, so it will be considered dead. It was being sought by a handful of landowners and a tea party group, but is opposed by many other landowners, the Governor’s Military Council, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

S. Sub for HB 2118 – epeals the Kansas Non-Game and Endangered Species Act. It passed Senate Natural Resources committee and sat on General Orders until March 31, when it was announced it would be relegated to Suspended Animation Status for the remainder of this legislative session.

House Bill 2210 – This bill prohibits a person from switching parties between June 1 and Sept. 1 in an election year. It wouldn’t apply to new voter registrations, those who reregister after a move, or those choosing a party when previously unaffiliated. The bill passed both houses, was signed by the Governor, and takes effect on July 1, 2014.

S. Sub for HB 2014 – RPS repeal bill. Despite the fact that the Kansas Senate voted in favor of repealing the state’s 20% by 2020 renewable portfolio standard (RPS), the Kansas House voted to reject the bill with a bi-partisan vote of 77-44.

Senate Bill 450 – This bill would increase the statewide assessed valuation of agricultural land in Kansas by about $2.45 billion, or nearly 170%. SB 450 would significantly change the use-value calculations, including a repeal of allowing real estate taxes as an expense for calculating the landowner’s net income. It is estimated SB 450 would yield an additional $49 million for the state’s education budget, all of which would be generated by property tax increases on agricultural land. There would be an additional shift of local property taxes from residential and commercial property to agricultural landowners if SB 450 became law. Word around the Statehouse is this bill doesn’t have much support at this time, only from a few Johnson County senators. KFU will continue to closely monitor and provide input on SB 450, as it could significantly impact our membership and their rural communities.

Senate Bill 202 – This bill would grant a sales tax exemption for the construction, reconstruction, enlarging or remodeling of a livestock facility costing in excess of $50,000. Last year’s push was for the expansion of corporate hog, dairy, and poultry farms, and this year is no different. Plain and simple: It’s an all-out assault on family farms. We’ll be watching this closely, as well.

Senate Bill 276 – This bill would declare non-migratory species off limits for federal assistance. With the Lesser Prairie-chicken being designated as a federally Threatened species, there will be additional federal and industry investment to provide incentives for landowners to manage their rangelands with lower stocking rates and habitat conditions for nesting and brood habitat for the Lesser Prairie-chickens. There could be additional incentives for landowners to maintain or increase their Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreages through the Farm Services Agency. Passage of SB 276 could jeopardize many of these benefits to landowners.

Before legislators return to Topeka for the veto session on April 29, many will be holding town hall meetings across their respective districts. We recommend you attend these meetings, ask questions, and educate yourself on what is happening in Topeka.

For more information on these bills, and their status, go to www.kslegislature.org