The Advocate January 29, 2018


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The Advocate

Kansas Celebrates 157 Years of Statehood
On this day in 1861, the 36th U.S. Congress admitted Kansas to the Union as the 34th state. Happy Kansas Day!

The Brownback/Colyer Transition
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback received confirmation by the U.S. Senate last Wednesday as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Two 49-49 party-line votes required Vice President Mike Pence to cast tie-breaking votes for both cloture and confirmation. Brownback then informed Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach that he would resign the Office of Kansas Governor on Wednesday, Jan. 31 at 3 p.m.
At that time, Lt. Governor Jeff Colyer will be sworn in as the 47th Kansas Governor in the Capitol rotunda. Colyer is already a candidate for governor in a very crowded race.

General Orders
The Kansas House of Representatives closed week three of the session with a Friday morning debate of two bills, both of which were passed to final action. The first bill, HB 2439, would increase penalties for multiple DUI offenses. The second bill, HB 2482, moves the time licensed drinking establishments may begin serving alcoholic beverages from 9 a.m. to 6 a.m.
The Kansas Senate gaveled in at 8 a.m. on Friday and then promptly adjourned for the weekend. The House action Friday morning was the first time this session either chamber has gone into General Orders for the purpose of considering legislation.

In the Headlines
It wasn’t actually anything related to legislation that had the attention of policymakers and politicos last week. Instead, all eyes were on the situation involving Deputy Education Commissioner for School Finance Dale Dennis. Dennis, an employee of the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) since 1967, has found himself in the middle of a controversy involving misappropriated monies going back decades. Early in the week, Republican legislative leaders sent a letter to Education Commissioner Randy Watson calling for the suspension of Dennis while an investigation was conducted.
The problem arose after legislative auditors discovered last fall that approximately $45M over five years had been sent to a handful of schools for transportation costs. That money is not included in the school finance formula and has never been authorized by law. After further investigation, it is believed this situation has persisted for decades. In fact, Senate President Susan Wagle and House Speaker Ron Ryckman believe the amount of misappropriated money could total as much as $405M over the last 30 years.
Mr. Dennis says now-deceased former Senate Vice President Charlie Angell (R-Plains) told him back in the mid-1980’s to distribute the money this way. To date, Mr. Dennis hasn’t produced any letters or other evidence of this instruction, but many in the legislature say it’s pretty simple: we don’t do things that are not approved 63-21-1 (a reference to the requirement that it takes 63 House Members, 21 Senators and a governor’s signature for the passage of law). No one legislator, regardless of their title, has the authority to circumvent state law, and state law has been clear on how K-12 transportation money is to be distributed.
Opinions on the matter in Topeka are many and varied. Largely, conservatives typically don’t trust Mr. Dennis, while moderate Republicans and Democrats revere him. In a rare break from House leadership, however, House Education Chair Clay Aurand released a statement praising Mr. Dennis and his character. Chairman Aurand instead blamed the lawyers at KSDE and called for them to be punished.
Late Friday afternoon, in a hastily called session, the Kansas State Board of Education entered two executive sessions over a 90-minute period. At the conclusion, the Board voted 9-1 to keep Mr. Dennis and employed no repercussions. They did instruct the Commissioner of Education to share a plan by March 1 to increase transparency.

New Lansing Prison Finally Gets Green Light
After many starts and stops, the State Finance Council voted on Wednesday to approve the $362M contract for the construction and lease/purchase of a new state prison in Lansing. The Finance Council had been authorized by the legislature to sign the contract. However, it took Brownback and Colyer agreeing to shelve their planned overhaul of KanCare to get the prison contract across the line. There had been, and likely remains, great consternation of the deal for a variety of reasons, including the company building the prison, its state-of-the-art design that reduces the need and number of prison guards, and even its location.

State Transportation Task Force Bill
The Senate Committee on Ways and Means on Wednesday held an initial hearing on a bill that would create a task force focused on the state transportation plan. Roughly $400M per year has been swept annually from the state plan and into the State General Fund (SGF). Community and business leaders, along with state legislators, are alarmed at the transfers and the impact it has had on the state’s roadways and bridges. More action on the bill and the overall state transportation plan is expected this week.

Sedgwick County Urban Area Designation
Representative Blake Carpenter (R-Derby) introduced on Thursday a bill that would designate Sedgwick County as an urban area. In 1957, Kansas voters amended the state constitution to allow the legislature to designate counties or parts of counties as urban areas. The designation in and of itself does not give a county any rights or special privileges. Instead, the designation allows the legislature to pass statutes addressing certain needs of a designated county without forcing the state’s other 104 counties to also be impacted by the change.
Johnson, Wyandotte, Shawnee and Greely counties are all designated urban areas. Sedgwick County Manager Mike Scholes found that without the designation and subsequent special legislation, Sedgwick County is unable to create certain operational efficiencies afforded to the state’s other urban counties.

This newsletter is a weekly update on business-related activities in the Kansas legislature,
shared with you in partnership with the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce

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