Monthly Archives: January 2010

Liquor tax increase bubbles to the surface

martiniLegislation to double Kansas’ gallonage tax on alcohol was introduced today as another way of raising money to avoid deeper cuts to services.

The increased revenue would be split evenly between mental health services and services for the developmentally disabled, according to Rep. Kay Wolf, a Prairie Village Republican who sponsored the bill today in House tax committee.

The gallonage tax isn’t one that you see on your receipt at the liquor store. It’s a tax that’s levied on the manufacturer or importer, so it’s typically passed along to the consumer as part of the price. (Retailers and bars and restaurants pay a different tax).

The tax rate currently is 18 cents for every gallon of beer, 30 cents for a gallon of wine, and $2.50 for a gallon of liquor. It raises about $20 million a year.

The gallonage tax hasn’t been increased since 1977.

County mental health centers have been cut drastically since the recession prompted lawmakers to reduce state spending. And some 4,300 Kansans living with a developmental disability are currently waiting for services.

It could get worse unless Kansas lawmakers can seek to balance the budget — facing a shortfall of some $400 million — without more spending cuts.

Families ask lawmakers to create a “Gold Star Family” license plate

TOPEKA – Families who have lost loved ones in war are hoping to display their pride and sacrifice with a “Gold Star Family” license plate.

“The Gold Star Family tag would enable us to display our heritage and express our patriotism for our loss and our country,” Antoinette Ortiz-Colon, told the Senate Transportation Committee on Tuesday in support of Senate Bill 361.

Ortiz-Colon’s father Staff Sgt. John Ortiz was killed in Vietnam in 1968.

“As the 42 years have gone by, I have lived with the loss of my father but have not been able to put things to rest,” she said.

The plate would allow her and others to honor their military family members killed in action, Ortiz-Colon said.

Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, is pushing for this plate this year. Similar legislation stalled last year over concerns about who would pay the $10,000 cost of designing and distributing the plates.

This year, Kelsey has proposed the fee be paid for by private donations.

“All of us certainly want to honor those who have loved ones who have died in battle,” he said.

This year an upgrade to the Department of Revenue’s licensing computer system could delay the plate.

A department representative said with the upgrade going on, the department did not have the resources to put out the new plate – or any new licenses plate. She suggested delaying creating the new plate until July 2012 when the new Department of Motor Vehicles computer system would be up and running.

The Gold Star tradition began shortly after World War I with service banners, usually displayed in an exterior window at the homes of parents of military personnel. The original banners would show a blue star for each child in the service and a gold star for each killed in action. The tradition was cemented in World War II, when the military grew to more than 16 million personnel and 405,000 were killed, touching almost every community in the nation.

For more, read Wednesday’s Wichita Eagle.

Commissioners concerned about paperwork lag for inmates

Sedgwick County commissioners this morning said they were anxious to learn more about why paperwork to move inmates headed to state prison from the jail is taking 60 to 90 days.

The Eagle wrote about the backlog of reports called journal entries in Sunday’s paper. The reports are required to be filed before the jail can transfer an inmate sentenced to state custody. In some cases, the paperwork is taking up to 100 days. The district attorney’s office says their normal turnaround time is six weeks. From the district attorney’s office, the journal entries go to lawyers and a judge for signing and then to a court clerk for filing. In Johnson County, the turnaround time for journal entries averages about 18 days.

Commissioners said they were unaware of the problem, which is contributing to jail overcrowding.

The issue is on the agenda for the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council’s meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Commissioner Dave Unruh said those involved in journal entries need to speed up the process so “we can get off the front page.”

The council meets in the conference room of the county manager’s office on the third floor of the courthouse.

Sedgwick County to give $20,000 to Healthy Options

After learning more about Healthy Options for Kansas Communities’ financial picture, Sedgwick County commissioners today instructed staff to send the non-profit group $20,000.

Commissioners previously had approved the funding, pending more information about the group’s financial status.

Formerly called Health Options of Planeview, the group has been struggling because of funding cuts. Healthy Options provides medical and dental care to low-income patients, many of whom are uninsured.

Healthy Options has laid off some of its staff indefinitely and instituted one-day-a-week furloughs this month to try to continue services while improving its bottom line.

Commissioner Gwen Welshimer has been the group’s biggest supporter on the board. Commissioner Kelly Parks this morning noted that the county gives money for “parties and festivals” and should be willing to support a group that cares for some of the county’s most vulnerable residents.

Democrats schedule Wichita watch party for Obama’s State of Union speech Wednesday

President Obama

Pres. Obama

Sedgwick County Democrats will host a watch party Wednesday night for President Obama’s State of the Union speech.

The event is open to the public and will offer Democrats and others an opportunity to discuss the speech and how to move forward on issues the president raises, said Lyndsay Stauble, executive director of the county party.

The watch party will run from 7:30 – 9:30 p.m. at the All Ocassions Event Center, 4940 E. 21st Street North, Wichita.

The president’s speech is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.

For information or to RSVP, call 316-262-7534.

Huckabee to campaign for Kelsey in Wichita in 4th District congressional race

Huckabee

Huckabee

Former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee will come to Wichita Feb. 24 to support state Sen. Dick Kelsey’s congressional campaign.

The Kelsey campaign announced today that Huckabee, the top vote-getter in the 2008 Kansas GOP presidential caucus, will make a campaign appearance and raise funds for Kelsey’s bid to replace Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard.

Last year, Huckabee endorsed and taped a radio commercial for Kelsey.

In November, Huckabee held a book signing at Watermark Books in Wichita and drew long lines of supporters who waited 90 minutes or more to get his autograph.

Kelsey is running for the GOP nomination against fellow state Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita; Republican National Committeeman Mike Pompeo, oilman and football-team owner Wink Hartman and small-business owner Jim Anderson.

Democrats seeking their party’s nomination include state Rep. Raj Goyle, D-Wichita, and Robert Tillman, a retired court services officer.

The Kelsey campaign said Huckabee will speak at an open event from 9-9:45 a.m. Feb. 24 at the Holiday Inn, 549 S. Rock Road, followed by a 15-minute news conference.

For information, call (316) 771-7310

Mayor to give State of the City address Tuesday

Brewer

Brewer

Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer will give his 2010 State of the City Address at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Wichita City Council Chamber at City Hall, 455 N. Main.

The city wants attendees to arrive early since there could be a line at the security checkpoint.

The speech will also be broadcast and replayed on cable Channel 7. It will be aired live at www.wichita.gov as well.

Ban on using tax dollars to sue the state gets Senate Judiciary hearing

TOPEKA – Sen. Dick Kelsey wants to send a message to entities thinking about suing the state using tax dollars – don’t do it.

“In our Constitution the Legislature is clearly given the responsibly to determine policy regarding the expenditure of state funds,” the Goddard Republican wrote in testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It is our duty to decide what to spend and how to spend it, not the courts.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear testimony Monday on Senate Concurrent Resolution 1621, which Kelsey introduced. The resolution seeks to bar entities from using tax dollars to sue the state seeking more money.

“I also believe very strongly that it is wrong to use taxpayer money to sue the Legislature to get more taxpayer money,” Kelsey wrote. “If groups want to sue, let them use their own money.”

The resolution does not come with any penalties for groups that do use tax dollars to sue the state.

The group Schools for Fair Funding, which includes the Wichita district, filed a motion earlier this month with the state Supreme Court arguing that Kansas should be spending more money on public education. The motion argues the state is out of compliance with the court’s 2006 ruling that forced the state to increase funding for public schools by $1 billion.

Over the last year, Gov. Mark Parkinson and lawmakers have cut about $1 billion from the state budget which started at $6.4 billion.

For more, read Tuesday’s Wichita Eagle.

Statehouse happenings for Jan. 25-29

Below is a preliminary schedule of events for some House and Senate committees.

The schedules are subject to change and new schedules and agendas are posted daily for both the House and Senate here.

All hearings are open to the public, although seating is limited.

Monday

9:30 a.m., Senate Judiciary 548-S: hearing on SCR 1621, which would prohibit using public money to pay for lawsuits against the state.

1:30 p.m., Senate Education 152-S: hear presentations by Dave Trabert, Kansas Policy Institute president and Mark Tallman, lobbyist for Kansas Association of School Boards.

Tuesday

8:30 a.m., Senate Transportation, 152-S: hold a hearing on Senate Bill 361, which would created a specialty license plate for Gold Star families.

9 a.m., House Taxation Docking Room 783: hear from opponents of HB 2475

Wednesday

8:30 a.m., Senate Business and Labor, 548-S: hold a hearing on the impact of the 2010 unemployment tax increases on business.

Thursday

9 a.m., House Appropriations Room 346-S: hearing on HB 2442 which would create the Kansas streamlining government commission.

9:30 a.m., Senate Judiciary 548-S: hold a hearing on SB 351 which would bar texting while driving making it a misdemeanor.

10:30 a.m., Senate Assessment and Taxation 152-S: hearing and possible action on SB 378 which would replace a dollar cap on historic tax credits with a 10 percent reduction in the amount projects can access.

10:30 a.m., Senate Federal and State Affairs 144-S: hearing on SB 342 which would prohibit the sale of novelty cigarette lighters.

Friday

9:30 a.m., Senate Judiciary 548-S: final action on SB 208 and SB 375 which would abolish the death penalty.

Senate passes ban on synthetic drugs

TOPEKA – The Senate on Thursday sent a bill to the House which would ban two synthetic drugs which replicate the effects of marijuana and Ecstasy.

The measure, Senate Bill 348, passed 36-1 with Kansas City Democrat David Haley as the lone vote against the proposal.

“As our youth and others continue to search for legal ways to expand their flights of fancy I fear they will encounter more dangerous ways that what we ban here,” said Haley.

He noted that the move to ban two synthetic cannabinoids found in K2, which replicates the effect of marijuana comes as many states are expanding legal access to the plant itself.

The measure would also ban BZP which replicate the hallucinogen Ecstasy.

Kansas law enforcement officials have said high school students are using the new synthetic drugs.

Most lawmakers did not agree with Haley.

Sen. Jim Barnett, R-Emporia, who is also a physician, said he was voting for the ban after seeing first-hand the impact drugs could have on people’s lives.

“Even though it is an imitation drug it is still a drug,” he said.