The Kansas Legislature has officially reached “half time” in the 2013 Session. As of March 1, all bills had to have cleared their house of origin or been “blessed” by legislative leaders to be exempt from the deadline. How much was done?
If you consider sheer volume, the House has produced more legislation than the Senate. More than 130 bills originating in the House have been advanced for consideration now in the Senate. By contrast, just over 80 Senate bills were approved in that chamber and will now be considered for debate in the House.
In addition to spending the second half of the session considering these various policy measures, much of the legislature’s attention will be sharply focused on budget issues. The House and Senate budget subcommittees are completing their review of the Governor’s spending proposals, paving the way for full consideration of the budget by the entire Legislature. Those budget debates will occur later in March.
For KU, the budget picture is mixed. The House Appropriations Committee has given its approval to fully fund the Governor’s recommendations for KU, including the health education initiative sought for the KU Medical Center. The committee also fully funded the Department of Commerce grant program for the KU Cancer Center. The Senate Ways and Means Committee has removed funding for the health education initiative, but made no other cuts to university funding. It has not yet considered the budget for the KU Cancer Center grant.
New members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee are diving into the university and other budgets to achieve a greater understanding. This week Provost Jeff Vitter and several other leaders at the university gave detailed briefings to lawmakers. In addition, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little returned to the Statehouse to meet with legislative leaders, including a luncheon with Senate Ways and Means Chairman Ty Masterson (R-Andover). There is great pride in the university’s accomplishments and lawmakers are working to support our efforts even during these very lean budget times.
Key to the entire budget is a revenue package that will have to be enacted to fund what the Governor’s budget detailed. That package looks like it will contain a continuation of the current increased sales tax and elimination of the mortgage interest deduction for state income tax purposes. If these or other new revenues aren’t identified, substantial cuts in state budgets will be imposed.
In addition to budget and revenue issues, lawmakers will return to Topeka next week poised to give further consideration to legislation affecting concealed weapons on campus and in other public buildings. HB 2055 is scheduled for action in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee Wednesday. As now written it would uphold the status quo for universities facilities for four years. But amendments being developed, if passed, would strike the exemption for public universities and hospitals. KU and other Regents institutions are working to uphold current policy as it relates to security on our campuses, as our university law enforcement officers advise that concealed carry on our campuses complicates their important responsibilities.
March 27th is the next key deadline for Kansas policymakers. That’s the “drop dead” date for all bills to have been approved by the opposite legislative body. Once differences are ironed out in conference committees, measures will find their way to the Governor for enactment or veto. Any vetoed items can be further considered for legislative override during a brief “veto” session of the Legislature in early May.
But for March, look for long days of windy debate on budget and taxes. We’ll remain grateful for the thrills of KU basketball to give us all a great diversion from the hard work at the Statehouse.
Director of State Relations