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Phillips Files: Deadlines Approach From: Rep. Tom Phillips (tphillips3@cox.net) Sent: 2014-02-14 13:39:59
Legislative Update from Rep. Tom Phillips
For more information view my website: www.TomPhillips.org


Dear Manhattan & Riley County constituents:

The first few weeks in Topeka were highlighted by short and inconsistent work schedules. A holiday week, two snow days, a few other unexpected days off, and we are finally in our stride as the February deadlines approach for bills to be passed out of their committees and to the House floor for consideration.

Take a look at this gorgeous photo of the new Capitol in the snow: 

                           snow

Please join me tomorrow morning at 7:30 am for the Manhattan Chamber's Legislative Forum at the Sunset Zoo Education Facility.

Activities

You’ll notice the dome of the Capitol is once again copper – after 13 years of renovations, we dedicated the new-and-much-improved Capitol on Kansas’ 153rd birthday on January 29th. I endured only two years of the mazes of plywood and dust but the outcome is spectacular. If you have time to come over to Topeka, I would love to show you around the history, art, and exhibits in the Visitor Center. 

Thanks to the Riley County Farm Bureau for hosting Sen. Tom Hawk and me at their dinner. Pictured here are Ron Wilson and Lance Visser.

                 RLCO FB

Hot Topics - Federal Health Care Reform

In my last email, I conducted a poll to learn more about your thoughts on the state’s option to expand Medicaid as a component of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Of those who participated, the overwhelming results are below. Logistically, the governor of each state must make the decision for their state to participate. However, last year’s budget included wording to require legislative approval, should Governor Brownback decide to expand Medicaid.         TP Med Exp  

“Protecting Religious Freedom”

Due to recent court challenges to state constitutional amendments and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the claimed intent of HB 2453 is to protect the religious freedom of those who disagree with same sex marriage. Ostensibly, the bill would prohibit lawsuits against businesses or individuals who discriminate based on sexual orientation. The best example is a baker who is asked to create a cake for a same sex wedding and declines. The bill would protect the baker from a lawsuit. Moreover, the bill would allow employees to withhold services from those with which they disagree on religious grounds, and require the business to provide an alternative employee to provide the service. Imagine this scenario in an emergency room.

You are certain to see this vote on postcards during my summer election, but my conscience is very clear in opposing it. Unfortunately, the bill is on its way to the Senate after passing the House 72-49.

Broadband

The Senate Commerce Committee caused quite a stir last week when it introduced a bill to limit public development of broadband services similar to the Google Fiber partnership in Wyandotte and Johnson Counties. There are also numerous rural communities across the state that have invested in providing fiber-optic cable to their citizens, and this bill would stop this type of municipal investment. The bill was scheduled for a hearing this week but after media attention from across the country – and indeed around the world – the hearing has been indefinitely postponed. I will keep you updated should a hearing be scheduled and encourage you to contact members of the committee with your thoughts as this directly impacts economic development specifically in our area and across Kansas.

State of the Judiciary

Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss delivered the 2014 State of the Judiciary address a few weeks ago and considering the current tension between the courts and the Capitol over the pending Gannon decision, Nuss was creative with his words. He urged increased funding to avoid extensive furloughs of judicial employees that deny speedy trials, and made a specific comment about not deciding cases based on money, threats, or other measures.

Shortly thereafter, in fact, the first bill signed into law this year provided judicial employees (non-judges) their first pay increase in a number of years. 

    Committee Work

    Senator Jay Emler was appointed to head the Kansas Corporation Commission a few weeks ago. House Insurance Chairman Clark Shultz (and also a candidate for Kansas Insurance Commissioner) was elected by the precinct committee to replace him in the Senate. This leaves a vacancy in his House seat, which will be filled in the next week or two.

    Local Government

    To further efforts to encourage consolidation of local governmental entities, HB 2534 allows recreation commissions to consolidate with other recreation programs through counties, cities, or school districts. 

    We will also be hearing from Bill Bider, Director, Bureau of Waste Management from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment on the state’s waste reduction efforts after a study was commissioned last year to learn about the adequacy of such efforts.

    Press Release
    Report: Adequacy of Waste Reduction Practices in Kansas Report

    Elections

    This committee will be very busy with a number of political hot button issues. The first is HB 2227, which would move all local elections, normally held in the Spring of odd-numbered years, to the fall of those years. This would create some level of consistency whereby voters can expect a primary election in August and a general election in November every year, instead of every-other, with spring elections interspersed. I have not been convinced the move will increase voter turnout or heard a compelling argument to change a 153 years of spring elections.  At the hearing, we heard overwhelming oral and written testimony from local elected officials to not change the law.  I am once again troubled by why state elected officials believe they know best how to run the business of local governments.   

    Secretary of State Kris Kobach has a number of bills under consideration before the committee. HB 2518 would allow local elected officials to request the office of the Secretary of State to provide a ballot explainer. The intent is to ensure an easy, non-technical explanation is crafted so citizens understand what is being contemplated by a ballot issue. The bill addresses ballot language statements for local ballot initiatives whether by action of an elected body or through a petition process to be approved by the Office of the Secretary of State.

    Another controversial bill impacts complicated campaign finance policies. Commissioners on the Governmental Ethics Commission become very familiar with the intricacies of the law – and the institutional knowledge of how the law has been “creatively” used in the past. Longevity is a benefit on the commission. HB 2095 would set a 1-term limit of four years on the commission. I have no problem with limiting length of service, but would prefer an approach utilizing two, three-year terms or some derivation thereof.  I know from personal experience it takes two years just to reach a baseline knowledge of understanding the rules and how to effectively serve.  

    Children & Seniors

    The committee heard from both the Attorney General’s Anti-Human Trafficking Unit and the Department for Children and Families on their efforts against Human Trafficking in Kansas.

    I recently met with April Holman, Executive Director of the Kansas Coalition for School Readiness.  This group works to strengthen the state’s commitment to early childhood programs.  I have previously indicated I spent last year as an Early Learning Fellows of the National Conference of State Legislatures, and greatly enhanced by understanding of early learning.  I will be working over this session with Ms. Holman to better understand the strengths, weakness and opportunities to improve early learning in Kansas.  I will be sharing what I learn and what initiatives I believe the state needs to accomplish to build a foundation for achievement and success.

    Judiciary

    This is a new committee for me and the learning curve is steep. There a so many intricacies of the law and its practice that law schools should consider giving CLE credit for legislators on these committees! I feel like I’m in a 3L class most of the time. If you are involved in the legal industry and have any advice or thoughts on the bills under consideration, I would appreciate the benefit of your experience and perspective. A few of the broadly interesting bills we have discussed are:

    After a jury is given a case for consideration, HB 2490 would require all questions asked regarding evidence, jury instructions, etc. be provided to the bailiff in writing and become part of the court record. Furthermore, that information must be forwarded to the parties in the case so responses can be submitted. Any further testimony heard or responses must be held before open court with the defendant present.

    HB 2466 brings the service process of court orders into the 21st century by allowing them to be processed electronically. This might even end up saving some money by courts electronically processing orders which would normally be mailed.

    Erin’s Law (HB 2432) seeks to require specialized training for teachers regarding signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse and to provide an evidence based curriculum of study for elementary school students regarding personal privacy and appropriate boundaries. We hope this will give children greater understanding of what is and is not appropriate and give them a voice so the offender can be identified for prosecution and the child can receive counseling and treatment. More about Erin’s law.

    It is an honor to serve you in Topeka. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of service to you.

    Rep. Tom Phillips

    In Topeka:
    785-296-6014
    State Capitol, Room 512-A
    tom.phillips@house.ks.gov
    At home in Manhattan:
    785-537-2194
    tphillips3@cox.net

    Tom Phillips serves the 67th District, which includes Manhattan and part of Riley County. He has lived in the district for more than 20 years.
    Map of the 67th District
    City of Manhattan
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