The Kansas Legislature adjourned in the early morning hours of May 3, making this the shortest legislative session in 40 years. State lawmakers passed a budget and approved funding for courts and schools, but failed to address the state’s falling revenue due to deep tax cuts passed in 2012 and 2013. Sharp declines in revenue are causing the state to quickly burn through its reserve funds, leaving some to wonder if the next Legislature will be able to fund critical state services.

The following bills are updates from the previous legislative update:

SB 286 – This bill establishes a Local Food and Farm Task Force, essentially meaning a plan for local food will be developed, then presented to the 2016 Kansas Legislature. The task force has seven members with three appointed by the Governor, one member from K-State Research & Extension, one member from the Kansas Department of Agriculture and two legislators of different political parties – one from the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and one from the Senate Committee on Agriculture. The task force members will be appointed by August 1 and the first meeting called by September 1. The Kansas Department of Agriculture will staff this task force.

S. Sub for HB 2101 – a compromise on net metering of customers who generate renewable energy. It passed the Senate 39-0, House 112-12 and was approved by Gov. Brownback on April 16.

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 was put into a House-Senate conference committee that passed it with amendments 99-22. The bill was approved by Gov. Brownback on April 16.

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 and is on General Orders. It is 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. The bill was referred to the Committee of the Whole and failed to pass with 16 yeas and 23 nays.

Senate Bill 450 – This bill would have increased 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. Thankfully, SB 450 died in committee, due to lack of support across the committee and the full Senate.

Sub Bill for 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. This bill died on General Orders.

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. The bill died on the House Calendar.

Senate Sub. for HB 2051– This bill establishes Kansas as having the sole authority to govern the management, habitats, hunting and possession of lesser and greater prairie chickens that exist within Kansas. This bill of state sovereignty negates the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. The conference committee report was adopted by the Senate 30-7, House 87-37, and was approved by Gov. Brownback on May 9.

School Funding Update
A three-judge panel ruled in early June that the Kansas Legislature satisfied the demands of a recent Supreme Court ruling to equalize education funding between rich and poor school districts. After a hearing that lasted about three hours, the judges said the additional $129 million that lawmakers added for equalization of capital outlay and local option budgets was sufficient to meet the standards that the Kansas Supreme Court handed down in March in the case of Gannon vs. Kansas.

But the court did not dismiss the equity portion of the lawsuit. Instead, the judges said they would “take no further action,” which is one of the options the Supreme Court gave when it remanded the equity issue back to the trial court. The panel also took no action on the larger, and more expensive, question in the case: whether the overall level of funding for public schools is sufficient to meet the Kansas Constitution’s mandate that lawmakers “make suitable provision” for school finance.

Plaintiffs in the case argued that the cuts fell disproportionately on the poorest districts that were entitled to the most equalization aid. Those districts either had to levy higher property taxes to generate the similar amounts of funding as their wealthier peers, or they cut funding for teacher salaries and other services, resulting in more crowded classrooms and fewer services like after-school tutoring.

Responding to the Supreme Court’s decision, lawmakers this year added about $120 million in new funding through the equalization formula. They also authorized certain districts to increase their local option budgets beyond earlier limits, and they funded a small, $14 per-pupil increase in the base state aid formula.
Most of that money will come in the form of property tax relief for districts that will now get a larger share of their total funding from state aid. Only about $35 million represents new spending authority for local districts.