Daily Archives: March 15, 2011

House panel advances resolution requiring casino lawsuit

TOPEKA — A House committee advanced a resolution Tuesday requiring the attorney general to sue over the state awarding the Sumner County casino contract to Peninsula Gaming.

The resolution will now go to the full House. It would call upon Attorney General Derek Schmidt to file suit to resolve two questions:

–Whether Peninsula Gaming met contract stipulations. Opponents of the casino complained that the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission approved a contract with Peninsula Gaming in January even though the Mulvane City Council did not approve the final zoning for the casino until last week.

–Whether a Kansas Expanded Lottery Act stipulation that elected officials cannot involve themselves in the process is constitutional.

“This is an effort by the committee to get rid of the cloud hanging over the casino regarding a number of different questions,” said Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Bel Aire.

By law, the attorney general is required to represent the state in court if either house or the governor calls upon him to do so.

If the bill passes, House Speaker Mike O’Neal said, the attorney general will be required to take an action in quo warranto, which he called “a way to challenge the way a government commission acted.”

The Attorney General’s Office is waiting to see if the bill passes the House before commenting or saying where the suit might be filed, said Jeff Wagaman, deputy chief of staff for Schmidt’s office.

O’Neal said the state Supreme Court, which has original jurisdiction in such cases, might be where the case would begin, but that is up to the attorney general.

Driving the resolution are issues regarding drainage and traffic around the casino, which some claim were not sufficiently resolved before the contract was awarded.

Another motivation, Brunk said, are misdemeanor charges against two Peninsula Gaming executives accused of illegally funneling $25,000 in campaign contributions to the former governor of Iowa.

–Todd Fertig

Bill would allow other groups greater access to teachers

TOPEKA — A bill that would allow associations other than the Kansas National Education Association greater access to teachers  has passed a House committee.

House Bill 2229 would open up more opportunities for unions and associations to communicate with teachers, who in Kansas are largely represented by the KNEA.

Opponents of the bill called it a threat to the KNEA’s exclusive bargaining rights with the state.

Among the bill’s provisions:

–Communication with teachers by way of mailboxes and electronic mailboxes cannot be allowed for one education association without making it available to other associations.

–If an association is permitted to attend teacher orientations to recruit new members, all other associations must be allowed the same right.

–No school may endorse one employee association over another, nor may it give any preferential treatment to any association.

“This is an end-run around the Professional Negotiations Act,” said Rep. Judith Loganbill, D-Wichita. “This is a big, huge slap in the face of every teacher in the state.”

Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Bel Aire, said that he didn’t think the bill was in conflict with KNEA’s exclusive bargaining rights, but simply allowed for other associations to communicate with teachers.

Loganbill, like several other members of the committee, is a teacher.

Another teacher, Rep. Amanda Grosserode, R- Lenexa, said she chose not to join the KNEA because she didn’t like some of its political activity. She said that she was not made aware of any other association but the KNEA at her school.

“If you take this down to the lowest common denominator — the teachers — and you want them to have access to liability insurance, then you need to have something available to those who do not agree with the union’s stance on issues,” said Grosserode.

The bill will now go to the full House for consideration.

– Todd Fertig

House bill would cut $85 million from schools

TOPEKA — The House today passed legislation to cut about $85 million in aid to schools this year in an attempt to set aside about $35 million for a head start on next year’s budget.

Supporters of House Bill 2374 say the cuts in the legislation would be instead of, not in addition to, the $50 million in school cuts that Gov. Sam Brownback ordered Friday — part of the $56.5 million in overall cuts he made to balance the budget by the end of the fiscal year in June.

Brownback wanted to cut more and carry about a $35 million ending balance into next year, when the state faces an estimated $500 million shortfall. But the governor is legally limited to cutting only enough to balance the budget without legislative approval.

The bill passed by the House, which was approved on a voice vote pending final approval Wednesday, essentially follows the governor’s original plan, said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Mark Rhoades, R-Newton.

Rhoades said he does not expect the Senate to agree to the cuts in the bill the House approved today. House and Senate negotiators were earlier unable to reach agreement on a single plan for cutting the budget for the remainder of the fiscal year.

The Senate negotiators said they thought they were close to a deal on an ending balance of about $21.5 million, but then House negotiators backed away.

House negotiators said they offered to let the compromise go to the floor in their chamber, to demonstrate that the members wouldn’t approve the smaller ending balance.

The senators rejected that, saying the compromise would have little chance of passage without the support of the House negotiators.

The cuts Brownback announced Friday will reduce the average base aid per student by about $22 a year, from $4,012 to $3,990. The House-approved measure would cut it by about $75, officials estimate.

The House deliberations were marked by a tense exchange between two Sedgwick County lawmakers.

Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said the proposed cuts are too deep and would fall especially hard on students with disabilities.

“That is wrong. That is not what Kansas wants,” he said. “Shame on you. Vote no.”

Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, said that when all spending is taken into account — not just base aid — “we’re spending more on education this year than we did last year.”

“To say ‘shame?’ I’m sorry, give me a break, are we campaigning in here?” he said. “Let’s cut the rhetoric.”

Rep. Ed Trimmer, D-Winfield, predicted that the proposed cuts would lead to layoffs and reduce the buying power of school employees, further stressing an already shaky state economy.

He also criticized the Legislature for reducing state revenues by passing business tax cuts in the last few years, that were supposed to stimulate growth and jobs. He said that pro-business groups have reported that private-sector job creation remains flat.

“I would say that is not a good use of our money,” Trimmer said. “Businesses need economic development, but people also need money to purchase (their products).”

Senate committee moves bill to limit unions’ political donation options

TOPEKA — As a Wichita senator walked out in frustration, the Senate Commerce Committee today moved forward a bill to reduce the political influence of unions by changing the way they can collect donations from their members.

“I find this bill highly offensive to working people,” said Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, “to teachers, who haven’t gotten a raise in two to three years and firefighters and police who put their lives on the line.”

Schodorf stalked out of the committee meeting just before the final 6-3 vote, after being on the losing end of a series of 6-4 votes to table or amend the bill.

Eric Carter, a former lawmaker and a lawyer now representing the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, argued for the bill in the hearing. He said it protects workers from union coercion to make political contributions and is “basically saying the state is not going to be assisting” unions in their political activities.

House Bill 2130, which has already cleared the House, would prohibit unions from collecting donations for their political action committees through voluntary payroll deductions by union workers.

The final vote in the House touched off a noisy protest from the viewing gallery by unionists shouting “Vote No.” Since then, an offended House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, has banned one union lobbyist from the House gallery for the rest of the session.

At the Chamber of Commerce’s request, the Senate committee did pass an amendment to allow private-sector unions to continue to get payroll-deducted contributions from members, although it would require the union to get written permission from each donating member annually.

Public employees would be prohibited from using payroll deductions to donate to their unions’ political action committees.

The bill has deeply angered unions, which point out that its only named supporters are corporate interests, who they say do not have ordinary workers’ best interests at heart.

The only supporters who offered testimony in the Senate today were the Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, a political action group founded and funded by executives of Wichita-based Koch Industries.

“Paycheck protection laws reflect the defense of liberty, perhaps best articulated by Thomas Jefferson when he said: “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propogation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical,” Americans for Prosperity Executive Director Derrick Sontag said in written testimony submitted to the committee.

But Jane Carter, executive director of the Kansas Association of State Employees, said nobody’s compelling anybody to do anything.

She said that because Kansas is a “right to work” state, no employee — public or private — is required to join a union or contribute to its political fund.

She showed the committee a copy of her union’s enrollment form, which has a check box where employees can choose to have money withdrawn from their paychecks for their union dues.

It has a separate check box where workers can authorize withdrawal of contributions to the union’s political fund, along with a line to fill in how much they want deducted for that.

Also among the opponents was Rep. Ann Mah, R-Topeka. She said the only purposes she could see for the bill were to “silence middle-class workers and make sure corporate PACs (political action committees) get an edge in 2012.”

“The only support for this bill comes from the state Chamber and the Koch brothers,” she added.

Cold medicines shouldn’t need prescription, Senate panel says

Medications such as Claritin-D, Zyrtec-D and Advil Cold & Sinus should remain available without a prescription, a Senate committee decided today.

After listening to two days of testimony regarding drugs that contain pseudoephedrine — a key ingredient used in meth production — the Senate Committee on Local Government voted against adding pseudoephedrine to the state’s list of schedule III controlled substances.

After just a few comments from members of the committee, Senate Bill 131 was rejected by a voice vote.

“Clearly this methamphetamine issue is a serious one and is a public health concern, not only for the people who imbibe of the drug, but for the environmental danger and the community danger that results from these labs,” Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina said.

“But I’m afraid we’ve gotten to the point where we’re just contemplating going a step too far in our zeal at the cost of consumer convenience and upset to the normal commerce of things,” Brungardt said.

Those in favor of the bill, primarily law enforcement officers, had hoped requiring prescriptions for pseu-doephedrine would combat the practice of “smurfing” — the purchase of non-prescription drugs containing pseudoephedrine in small quantities to avoid suspicion.

Opponents of SB 131 argued that a computer tracking system called N-PLEx will start in April to log all purchases of medications that contain pseudoephedrine and will be helpful to law enforcement in the pursuit of meth producers.

The House had a similar bill in its Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee. House leadership chose not to con-sider it, preferring to allow the tracking system a chance to work.

By Todd Fertig