Monthly Archives: January 2010

Pay raises for state employees unlikely, lawmakers say

TOPEKA – State employees shouldn’t expect bigger pay checks this year, Republican legislative leaders told a group of Friday.

“It would be highly unlikely that there will be pay increases,” Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg said at the Kansas Chamber’s Legislative and Congressional Summit.

Emler, who chairs the Senate Ways and Means Committee, spoke along with House Appropriation Chairman Rep. Kevin Yoder, of Overland Park, Senate President Stephen Morris, Hugoton and House Speaker Mike O’Neal, Hutchison.

Lawmakers were telling state agencies how much to cut but not how to go about decreasing costs, Emler said.

O’Neal suggested the state look at its highest paid worker for the cuts, “we should be looking at the ones at the top,” he said.

That way the lowest paid state workers would not be harmed, he said.

Lawmakers are looking for ways to plug a $400 million gap in the 2011 state budget, which begins July 1. Gov. Mark Parkinson has said the state cannot afford to cut more from the budget and proposed a three year 1 cent increase to the state sales tax and an increase on cigarettes and tobacco products.

The tax increases have met with a tepid response.

Friday, the legislative leaders also suggested Kansas could reduce costs by reducing government and finding efficiencies in existing systems.

Yoder pointed to a recent Legislative Post Audit that found $1 million in savings that could be found at the Derby School District. He also pointed to another study about reducing the number of district judges.

“One of best ways for savings is to reduce waste,” he said.

Morris also saw the potential for reductions in local government – there are 4,000 units of local government, he noted.

“It’s sort of over the top,” he said.

Public sector jobs and government growth has come at the local government and school districts, he said.

It would be a hard political fight, but maybe Kansas could do with fewer levels of government such as townships, he said.

Later this evening, U.S. Senatorial Republican candidates, U.S. Reps. Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt will be jointly speaking to the group. The two are jockeying to be the Republican nominee for Republican U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback’s seat.

Brownback is stepping down and running for Kansas governor.

Check back later for an update on Moran and Tiahrt’s appearances.

UPDATED: Senate Judiciary panel passes bill to eliminate the death penalty

TOPEKA – The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill Friday that would abolish the state’s death penalty for crimes committed after July 1.

By a vote of 7-4, the bill now goes to the full Senate for discussion.

Senators had considered two bills: Senate Bill 208, which was debated last year, and Senate Bill 375, which replaces the death penalty with the crime of aggravated murder. The new crime comes with a mandatory life without parole sentence.

The committee tabled the first bill and moved forward Senate Bill 375.

Voting yes were Republican senators Dwayne Umbarger, Thayer; John Vratil, Leawood; Mary Pilcher Cook, Shawnee; Les Donovan, Wichita; Chairman Tim Owens, Overland Park, and Democratic senators Laura Kelly, Topeka and David Haley, Kansas City, Kan.

Voting no were Republican senators Jean Schodorf, Wichita; Derek Schmidt, Independence; Julia Lynn, Olathe and Terry Bruce, Hutchinson.

Schodorf said she was voting no in committee because she already knew she would vote that way on the Senate floor.

Schmidt, who is the chamber’s majority leader, urged the senators not to move the measure forward pointing out it was unlikely to succeed this year.

“The question is not is the death penalty going to be repealed this year,” he said. “The question is at what point does it stop this year.”

Others disagreed.

“People need to be able to review something as serious as a death penalty consideration because this is truly life and death we are talking about,” Owens said.

For more, read Saturday’s Wichita Eagle.

New tracking system to be implemented for journal entries

jailpaperworkSedgwick County will begin tracking how long it takes to complete an essential report required before jail inmates can be moved to state prison.

Chief Judge James Fleetwood told members of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, a group charged with reducing the jail’s population, he has asked for the tracking to speed up the completion of journal entries, which are taking 60 to 90 days to be turned into the sheriff’s office.

He is doing so in response to reporting by The Eagle.

Judge Clark Owens said he could have passed a polygraph the day before The Eagle’s story Sunday that journal entries took about a week to complete.

“I had no idea it was an issue,” he said.

Fleetwood said he will tell all judges to order the district attorney’s office to expedite journal entries for inmates awaiting transfer to prison.

Inmates awaiting transfer to state prison make up fastest growing jail population

inmatestransferRecords shared this morning at a meeting of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, a group charged with reducing the population of the Sedgwick County Jail, show that inmates awaiting transfer to state prison made up the fastest-growing population from July to December.

The Eagle reported on Sunday that journal entries — reports required before the jail can transfer an inmate to prison after sentencing — are taking 60 to 90 days to make it back to the sheriff’s office.

On the latest population snapshot of the jail, taken Dec. 17, there were 113 inmates awaiting transfer to prison, or 7 percent of the jail’s population. In July, inmates headed for prison made up 4.6 percent of the jail’s population.

“To be fair, the largest percentage of these are people who are waiting for a journal entry,” Sedgwick County District Court Chief Judge James Fleetwood said.

Inmates facing trial on felony charges make up the jail’s biggest population, 35 percent in December.

Senate Judiciary takes up texting ban

textphoneTOPEKA – The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to tackle a ban on texting while driving this morning.

Senate Bill 351 creates the crime of involuntary manslaughter while texting and bans the use of a handheld wireless device, such as a cell phone, for text messages or emails while driving.

A similar bill has already had a hearing in the House Transportation Committee last week. That bill would create a $100 for texting while driving.

Nineteen states, the District of Columbia and Guam ban text messaging for all drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

“Any action that would reduce driver distractions will result in fewer deaths and injuries on our roads that is the reason we think SB 351 is a good bill,” wrote Warren Chip Woods, president of the Kansas County Highway Association in submitted testimony.

For more read Friday’s Wichita Eagle.

Senate passes cuts to 2010 budget, including 10 percent cut to Medicaid provider payments

TOPEKA – The Senate passed the governor’s recommended cuts to the current budget with few changes.

The measure, Senate substitute for House Bill 2222, passed 36-4 and now goes to the House for debate.

The bill encompassed the cuts recommended by Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat,  in November.

Senators rejected, 16-24, an amendment, by Sen. Jeff Colyer, R-Overland Park, a practicing plastic surgeon, which would have restored the governor’s 10 percent cuts to Medicaid providers.

Medicaid provides health care coverage to low-income adults and children. The cuts would affect providers such as doctors, nursing homes and those that care for the developmentally disabled. Many worry the cuts could make it more difficult for patients who rely on Medicaid to access services.

“The governor’s choice is a wrong choic,e first for the health care of Kansas and second for the economy of Kansas,” Colyer said.

He noted that the $22 million Kansas would save with the cut would mean losing about $77 million from the federal government.

Most of the almost two-hour debate focused on Colyer’s amendment.

Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, said it was “disgraceful to use the disadvantaged of our state to pressure us to increase taxes.”

Most senators disagreed though, and said restoring the cuts to the latter half of fiscal year 2010, which ends June 31, would cause bigger problems in the future.

“If this would happen, I believe we will be in further trouble than we are now,” said Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan, a physician.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said the vote was a very difficult decision for her since her district encompasses the second highest number of nursing homes, which will be affected by the cuts.

“I’m more concerned about what is going to happen next year,” she said.

In committee, the Senate did restore some money to the legislative budget to would allow lawmakers to have a 90-day session.

Brewer, other mayors go to Topeka

TOPEKA — Mayor Carl Brewer and his counterparts from Overland Park and Kansas City, Kan., appeared before legislative budget committees Wednesday,  pledging to work together and seeking lawmakers’ cooperation.

“The significance of our joint appearance today is that is symbolizes our commitment to working in support of each other, even though our respective agendas are different,” Brewer told the House Appropriations Committee.

The three mayors said they hoped to work to show the Legislature the challenges local government faces.

“And, in turn, we need to understand and appreciate the huge challenge you face in these tough economic times,” Brewer said.

Read More »

Sen. Susan Wagle to push for insurance coverage of oral chemotherapy drugs

From a press release sent out today:

TOPEKA – The Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee will conduct a hearing tomorrow morning on Senate Bill 195 which would require insurance companies to cover the cost of oral chemotherapy drugs in the same manner they cover IV chemotherapy drugs. The hearing is set for Thurs., Jan. 28th at 9:30 a.m. in Room 152-S in the Kansas Statehouse

State Senator Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, author of the legislation, stated, “There are many cancer patients in Kansas who purchased medical insurance believing it would cover the cost of cancer treatment. Then, upon needing treatment, they are alarmed to discover their insurance carrier does not cover the best treatment options for their condition.”

Wagle explained, “Giant leaps are being taken in new treatments and technologies to treat cancer. Newer, more targeted therapies are being developed that do not have as many debilitating side effects as traditional chemotherapy. We have a new strain of pharmaceutical drugs that target only cancer cells; however, Kansans are finding that in many cases, their insurance will not cover the new therapies.”

Senator Wagle will testify for the bill along with Dr. Mark Fesen, MD, FACP, an oncologist and internist who graduated from Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and a Fellow of the American College of Physicians. Dr. Fesen trained at the National Cancer Institute and is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Kansas. He has been recognized nationally with mentions in US News and World Report and Business Week was recently interviewed by Wall Street Journal MarketWatch, and was a guest on the Jim Bohannon show which airs on more than 500 radio stations.

Dr. Fesen lives and practices in Hutchinson, Kan. and has recently written and published a book receiving national attention: Surviving the Cancer System – An Empowering Guide to Taking Control of Your Care.

Senate bill could reopen chance for slots at Wichita Greyhound Park

TOPEKA – Sedgwick County voters would get another chance to decide on allowing slots at the Wichita Greyhound Park under a bill before the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee today.

The bill, Senate Bill 401, would ask Sedgwick County voters if they wanted to have slot machines at the racetrack. The question would appear on the ballot only after a petition with signatures from 5,000 county voters is submitted.

“We believe it will give folks the chance to make a clear and convincing decision,” Doug Lawrence, executive director of the Kansas Greyhound Association, told the committee.

It was clear that voters in Sedgwick County did not want a destination casino, nor slot machines in restaurants, bars and gas stations, he said. But there was confusion in the vote over the racetrack, which failed by about 200 votes in 2007.

The proposal would lay out the question very clearly, he said.

A similar bill has been introduced in the House.

Both measures would also permit slots at two racetracks with short summer seasons, Anthony Downs in Harper County and Eureka Downs in Greenwood County. Neither could have slots under the 2007 law.

Additionally, the bill would lower the mandatory investment required for the Southeast Gaming Zone in Cherokee County to $100 million from $225 million. The fee to the state would be reduced to $11 million  from $25 million. The zone has struggled to find a developer.

For more, read Thursday’s Wichita Eagle.

Wichita Democrat plans to run for governor

A Wichitan says he plans to run for governor as a Democrat.

Marty Mork, 46, is disabled and living on Social Security. He has not held public office before, though he ran for Congress in 2006 and 2004 and for Wichita mayor in 2003.

But he’s got a catchy eco-devo promise: If elected, Mork promises to work to bring a Disney theme park to Kansas.

“I believe maybe as governor we could convince Disney to bring a park here,” he said. “I believe it would be beneficial to the people of the Midwest.”

Mork describes himself as anti-abortion and supportive of gun rights. He said he thinks the government spends too much and restricts too many liberties. He also thinks marijuana should be legalized and taxed.

Mork joins Herbert West III in the Democratic fray. West, a disabled paramedic and resident of Paola, ran unsuccessfully for Miami County sheriff in 2008.

Major candidates have so far eluded the Dems. Gov. Mark Parkinson insists he’s not running. Party Chairman Larry Gates opted out. And biotech guru Tom Wiggans — who moved back to Kansas a year ago — was in the race for a few weeks before backing out. State Sen. Tom Holland, a Baldwin City Democrat, says he is thinking about the race.