Daily Archives: March 16, 2011

Measures to tweak smoking ban spark three-corner debate in the House

TOPEKA — Smoking War II started today at the capital.

Owners of bars and clubs pleaded with a House committee to allow them to once again allow smoking in their establishments.

Casino developers pleaded with the lawmakers not to take away their option to allow smoking on their gambling floors.

And anti-smoking advocates and some doctors pleaded with the committee to increase, but definitely not ease, the state’s smoking ban.

It’s been about a year since the Legislature passed a law that prohibits indoor smoking in virtually all workplaces and public establishments — with the noted exception of the state-owned gambling casinos that are springing up around Kansas under the auspices of the state Lottery.

Today, the House Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony on two bills that seek to change the status quo:

– House Bill 2039 would revoke the section of the law that exempts gaming floors in casinos — which the state calls “Expanded Lottery Gaming Facilities.”

– House Bill 2040 would allow bars that sell lottery tickets or have lottery keno screens to allow their patrons to smoke.

Since last year, many owners of bars and taverns — especially small ones — have complained of dramatic declines in business since the smoking ban took effect.

Seeking to combat an earlier study that showed little impact from the ban on alcohol taxes, Sheila Martin, a bar owner from Hutchinson, presented the committee with a sheaf of letters showing “30 to 50 percent decreases in income, for real people with real faces.”

She said far fewer people come to bars, and spend less time there, when the owners have to “throw people out in the snow for their health.”

Phil Wiggins, owner of Shooter’s, a billiards club in south Wichita, said he’s lost business from the ban and if something doesn’t change, he expects to lose more with the opening of the $260 million Kansas Star casino, which is under development at the Mulvane exit on the Kansas Turnpike.

He said he doesn’t think its fair that his club can’t allow smoking while the state-owned casino can, which gives it the competitive advantage. He said the Wichita ordinance that preceded the statewide ban, with its requirements of separated and ventilated smoking and non-smoking sections, “worked just fine.”

Several casino representatives testified that taking smoking away from them would threaten their bottom line and the income the state expects from its share of casino operations.

Casinos in Delaware, Illinois, Colorado and Ontario, Canada, all experienced dips of 20 to 25 percent in gaming revenue after smoking bans took effect, said Elizabeth Tranchina, vice president of legal affairs for Peninsula Gaming, the Kansas Star’s parent company.

“In short, a casino smoking ban will significantly reduce state tax revenues, resulting in reduced budget funding for state programs, fewer jobs and jeopardizing future capital investment in the state,” she said in her written testimony.

The committee also received testimony from several proponents of maintaining the smoking ban as is or expanding it to remove the few exemptions it contains now. Among that contingent was the Kansas Association of Family Physicians, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society.

Jen Brull, a physician from Plainville, related two recent case histories from her practice of women she believes suffered serious illness from exposure to second-hand smoke.

One was a bar owner who didn’t smoke, but allowed in her business for 40 years. She now has chronic pulmonary obstructive disease. The other was a woman with pneumonia and emphysema, whose husband smoked for 50 years and whose daughter, her primary caregiver, smokes now.

Brull said she’s confident the women wouldn’t have those problems if they hadn’t been exposed to smoke.

“Second-hand smoke is a public health issue, not just an annoyance,” she said.

Public employees rally for benefits at Capitol

About 200 state employees expressed their concerns regarding KPERS funding and other issues at the Capitol today during the 2011 Legislative Session Lobby Day sponsored by the Kansas branch of the American Federation of Teachers.

Among the group of advocates for AFT-Kansas, a union of state employees, were representatives of the United Teachers of Wichita. Also attending were the Kansas Organization of State Employees and other worker organizations.

The theme of the event was “Save Kansas Communities.” Ralliers expressed that “if you cut our services, it’s the people of our communities who suffer.”

The participants in the rally took a particular interest in state contributions to the KPERS pension fund. They argued in a written statement that the legislature has failed to fund the employer contribution to KPERS at the appropriate level.

They asked legislators to oppose House Bill 2311, which would establish contribution plans like a 401(k) to replace the current benefit plan. They argued that the contribution plan is subject to the volatility of the stock market. They also said that West Virginia, who had a contribution plan, changed back to a defined contribution plan because it saved the state money.

The House Pensions and Benefits Committee indefinitely tabled that bill today.

Ralliers also opposed House Bill 2333, which would increase the retirement age and reduce the “multiplier” that is used to determine a KPERS member’s retirement benefit.

Mindy Brissey said employees of the state universities, public schools, law enforcement agencies and many other organizations were in attendance.

–Todd Fertig

Senate panel votes down bill to deny resident tuition to undocumented students

Maria Magdaleno

TOPEKA — A Senate committee today killed a bill that would deny eligibility for in-state tuition to undocumented students at Kansas universities, colleges and trade schools.

House Bill 2006, which easily passed the House, hit a wall at the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, which voted overwhelmingly not to recommend it for passage.

Current law allows undocumented students to qualify for resident tuition at Kansas colleges if they attend a Kansas high school for three years, graduate and meet the academic qualifications for college admission. They can receive no federal or state financial aid, but can compete for private-sector scholarships.

It’s likely to stay that way. The vote was unanimous with two absent: Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, who did not attend the hearing, and Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, who questioned some witnesses but left before the vote.

The senators voted after an often teary hearing, featuring several young women who were brought to the United States as children, graduated from Kansas high schools, and attended Kansas colleges.

Maria Magdaleno of Wichita was one of those yound women. She came to Kansas illegally with her family as a 2-year-old; her family was low-income and at times, they lived in a rented U-Haul truck, she said.

She attended Wichita schools from pre-K to graduation, and is now one class short of an associate degree at Butler County Community College, a paraeducator in the Wichita school district, and a volunteer with Sunflower Community Action.

She testified that when she was a high school student and all of her friends were excited about choosing a college, “I began to see no future options other than flipping burgers and living in what considered to be ‘the hood.’”

She said the bill allowing in-state tuition for undocumented students, passed in 2004, changed her life — and now she wants that opportunity preserved for her own students.

“I work in a classroom full of children ready to learn,” her written testimony said. “We encourage them to strive for higher education. I look at the faces of my students aspiring for greatness. I wonder how many will be lost if we close this window of opportunity.”

Other opponents of the bill, testifying in person and in writing, included the Board of Regents, Kansas Association of School Boards, and the bishops of the Catholic, Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran and United Methodist churches of Kansas.

Rep. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, a freshman lawmaker who co-sponsored the bill in the House, was the only proponent to address the committee in person. She said allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition flouts federal law.

“Currently, the law favors persons who have not obeyed the law over persons who have obeyed the law,” she said.

She also argued that it’s unfair to students from Missouri border regions who attend Kansas high schools but can only get in-state tuition from Missouri colleges.

Under tough questioning from the senators, she acknowledged that she hadn’t spoken with any students who had benefited from the tuition policy — or any other illegal immigrants.

But she said that she did speak to foreign students who had legally entered the United States for their studies and that they objected to having to pay high out-of-state rates, while students illegally in the U.S. could qualify for in-state rates.

Intrust Bank Arena nets more money this January than last

Intrust Bank Arena made more money in January than it did its first month in January 2010.

The arena’s net profit for January was $68,137, assistant Sedgwick County manager Ron Holt told commissioners this morning. There were 15 performances that month.

In January 2010, total gross building income was higher, but net building income was lower at $23,456.

“We’re off to a great start from a financial perspective,” Holt said.

The arena is playing host to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament next week. Commissioner Tim Norton said the tournament is an inspiration to local female athletes with dreams of college competition. Commissioner Karl Peterjohn noted that his sister was the most talented athlete in his family.