Daily Archives: May 11, 2011

Bill to restrict cities’ annexation power passes both houses of the Legislature

TOPEKA — Both houses of the Legislature today overwhelmingly passed a bill to restrict the way that cities add to their territory, despite some concerns that the proposed new rules could slow growth and economic development.

By votes of 105-17 and 31-6, the House and Senate passed Senate Bill 150, which tightens the rules for cities that want to annex property from unincorporated areas. It will now go to Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk.

The bill would require a vote of affected property owners when a city and county approve an annexation of more than 40 acres. The County Commission would need a two-thirds vote to go forward, rather than the simple majority now required.

Annexations of less than 40 acres would not require a public vote, but the commission approval would still require a two-thirds supermajority.

Cities would still be allowed to annex land without a county commission vote in some circumstances.

The bill also shortens the time residents have to wait to try to undo an annexation if they feel the city they’re added to is not providing adequate public services.

At present, the County Commission is required to hold a hearing five years after an annexation to determine whether the city that took the land is adequately providing services to residents. SB 150 shortens that to three years.

In cases where the county determines a city is not providing adequate services, the city now has two years to correct the problem before an annexation can be revoked. SB 150 shortens that to 18 months.

Sedgwick County has experienced numerous annexation fights in recent years, especially among the smaller cities north of Wichita.

In 2008 and 2009, former county Commissioner Kelly Parks was part of a movement to form a new city called “West Valley,” in an effort to stop Valley Center from annexing neighborhoods of rural residents who didn’t want to be part of that city.

In 2007, the County Commission ruled that Park City had failed to provide adequate services to annexed residents of neighborhoods just east and southeast of Wichita Greyhound Park.

Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, a supporter of SB 150, called it “a good compromise” between representatives of property owners and municipal governments.

He said extensive negotiations had resulted in legislation that put more conditions on annexation, but still gained the support of the Kansas League of Municipalities.

“We worked hard,” Huebert said. “This is one of the most significant changes in annexation law in recent years.”

Residents of Johnson County, including professional golfer Tom Watson, have been trying to get the Legislature to pass annexation restrictions for several years after Overland Park annexed about 8 square miles in 2008.

Johnson County Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, argued against the bill on the Senate floor.

“It will make annexation under certain circumstances either very difficult or impossible,” he said. “That’s exactly what this bill is designed to do, is stifle development … If you think that development is important and creation of jobs is important, you’ll vote against this bill.”

Contributing: Brad Cooper of the Kansas City Star

House votes to reduce Bioscience Authority role in funding for bioterrorism lab at K-State

TOPEKA — The House of Representatives today unanimously approved a bill cutting the Kansas Bioscience Authority out of handling more than $100 million in bonds for a major bioterrorism lab under development at Kansas State University.

Under House Substitute for Senate Bill 154, the state Department of Administration, which falls under the governor’s control, would replace the KBA to issue $105 million in bonds to develop the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.

The State Finance Council, a nine-member committee made up of the governor and leaders from the House and Senate, will have final control over the bond process.

This evening, the Senate voted not to concur with the House action, to allow the bill to go to a House-Senate conference committee.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said she wanted to discuss the changes the House made before recommending whether to approve them.

The federal laboratory will be the nation’s premiere facility for research into countering possible bioterrorism attacks and threats to the nation’s food supply.

Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Bel Aire, said the House wants to shift the bond duties to send a signal to the federal government that the state will meet all its commitments to building the $650 million facility.

He said representatives want to make sure that ongoing investigations of the KBA don’t open the door for other states to try to steal the laboratory from Kansas.

“We didn’t want any kind of hint of a problem,” Brunk said.

The Bioscience Authority is at present under investigation by the Johnson County District Attorney’s office.

While prosecutors have not released details of that criminal probe, members of the Senate Commerce Committee have questioned KBA leaders on its salary and bonus structure, travel and entertainment spending, investment policies and participation in out-of-state venture capital funds. The agency’s chief executive officer, Tom Thornton recently resigned under fire and has since moved to a job at the Cleveland Clinic.

Bioscience Authority officials have defended the agency’s business and personnel practices, which they say are consistent with similar agencies in other states and allowed by legislation enabling the authority to act more like a private business.

Board members said this week that they are unsure what the district attorney is examining.

Under pressure from the governor and lawmakers, KBA leaders have retained an accounting and investment firm to conduct a “forensic audit” into the agency’s financial operations. A forensic audit is a deep examination of an agency’s transactions designed to create a report that can be used as evidence in a court of law.

Commerce Committee Chairwoman Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, announced this week that she plans to seek an attorney general’s opinion to determine whether the KBA board has violated the state’s Open Meeting Act by taking action at out-of-state meetings.

Senate rejects attempt to toughen voter ID bill; Schodorf says she feels guilty about ever voting for it

TOPEKA — A cantankerous  debate to move up by a year a requirement for new voters to provide proof of citizenship failed Wednesday on the Senate floor, with one senator saying she was embarrassed for Secretary of State Kris Kobach and another admitting she felt guilty for ever voting for the state’s voter ID bill.

Legislators defeated a last-minute maneuver to concur with the House on a substitute for Senate Bill 129  15-23.  That means people registering to vote won’t have to provide a birth certificate, passport or other citizenship proof until 2013.

It also means that Kobach won’t get the authority he sought to independently prosecute allegations of voter fraud.

Sen. Kelly Kultala, D-Kansas City, said she was “starting to get embarrassed” for Kobach, who made voter fraud a big part of his campaign.

Other legislators said they were offended an effort to push up the implementation date was coming up so late in the session, which traditionally ends on the 90th day. The 90th day is today.

Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, said “I am sorry this has been brought to be concurred because I believe that we already have a system that is able to investigate reports of voter (fraud) and decide whether those cases will be charged.”

She said she regretted ever voting for the voter ID bill. She called it “chilling,” especially against people of color.

“I have felt guilty for voting on it all the weeks that we’ve been here I’d not believe there is voter fraud in this state,” Schodorf said, admitting she was getting emotional about the issue.

But Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, spoke passionately in favor of the bill, arguing the secretary of state’s office needs power to prosecute people who violate voter laws.

In response, Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, questioned Abrams about how many cases of voter fraud Kansas  had in the last five years. Abrams answered “I’ve been told there were seven.”

Owens then questioned spending $65,000, the estimate for how much the measure would have cost,  “and expanding the functions of the secretary of state to criminal capacity for what in five years has been seven cases.”

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, said her constituents wanted tougher protection in place.

“I have received innumerable e-mails expressing the concern about the 2013 date and that there are many, many Kansas citizens who are concerned about the integrity of our ballot box and how important it is that they are not disenfrachised,” Pilcher-Cook said.

Ernestine Krehbiel, president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas, told The Eagle and Kansas.com earlier this week that that group was against requiring proof of citizenship on principle but especially against moving up implementation from 2013 to 2012.

Gov. Sam Browback signed the voter ID plan into law April 18. The Senate voted for it 36-3 on March 23, and it passed the House 111-11 six days later.

Sen. Terrie Huntington, R-Fairway, who chairs the Senate Elections Committee, said the law as it stands “puts Kansas at the forefront of election laws and goes farther than any other state to prevent voter fraud.”

In a news release she sent after the debate, Huntington said  she was open to additional provisions to the law but only with due diligence.

“The last thing we want to do is make changes that haven’t been vetted by the Legislature and haven’t been opened up for public input,” Huntington said.

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said there were too many unknowns, including the cost to local elections offices.

“We owe it to taxpayers to get to the bottom of these questions before we move forward with any major changes,” said Morris. “The Legislature should have all the facts and know the tax implications for our communities before making a decision.”

Besides Abrams, area senators voting for the measure were Mike Petersen, R-Wichita; Susan Wagle, R-Wichita; Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard; Ty Masterson, R-Andover; and Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson.

Voting against it were Schodorf; Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita; Carolyn McGinn; R-Sedgwick; and Ruth Teichman, R-Stafford.

Intrust Bank Arena has operating loss in March

WICHITA — Intrust Bank Arena had an operating loss in March and lower numbers of events, attendees and ticket sales through the first quarter compared with last year, the  county said today.

Ron Holt, assistant county manager, said this year’s numbers weren’t expected to look as good as last year, which he called “a phenomenal year by all measures.”

“We do expect for the arena to be much, much, much in the black for this year,” Holt said.

Bookings aren’t always predictable and rely on how many entertainment acts are on tour, he said.

For March, net building income was down $28,390, but the arena’s year-to-date net income still showed a positive bottom line at $111,108, he said.

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Legislators make concession on interlock devices for first-time DUI offenders

TOPEKA — Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, did a talk-and-walk with The Eagle just now in the basement of the Statehouse and said conference committee members working on a bill that would toughen penalties for DUIs agreed today on a four-year sunset on interlock devices for first-time offenders.

Colloton said Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, wanted the sunset to assess how interlocks for first-time offenders affect DUIs across the state.

If Senate Bill 6 is passed, Kansas will join 11 other states that require interlock devices for all DUIs. Interlocks test a driver’s alcohol level. If the driver fails to blow a clean test, his or her car won’t start.

Haley had been reticent about requiring interlocks (drivers with clean records convicted of a first DUI would have to drive with them for six months; people convicted of a first DUI who have three or more moving traffic violations in a year would have to drive with them for a year) on a first offense. He expressed concerns about the cost of the devices and people being caught in a “wide net.”

The House Corrections and Juvenile Justice and Senate Judiciary conference committee also learned that state law limits fines for misdemeanors to $1,000, so that will impact a plan to raise all DUI fines by $250.

One conferee, Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, has not yet signed the bill, Colloton said, so the committee has to wait for him to sign it to bring it to both chambers. She expects that to happen Friday.

Legislators seem to be getting closer on budget, meeting again at 5 p.m.

TOPEKA — Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, and head budget negotiator for the House, pitched his chamber’s offer to the Senate this afternoon that would leave the state with an ending balance of $51.7 million.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, made an immediate counteroffer, which the House plans to consider this afternoon.

The Senate is asking for $7.5 million for Kan-Ed, a program that provides high-speed Internet access to schools, universities, hospitals and libraries. The House is offering $5 million.

Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, said $5 million isn’t enough for the Kansas Board of Regents program, which he said is crucial for rural areas of Kansas that don’t have Internet access.

“The Senate feels very strongly we should not kill Kan-Ed at this time. We will do harm to our school districts if we kill Kan-Ed,” Vratil said.

Vratil said $7.5 million would be meeting halfway with the House wanting to fund $5 million and the Senate initially shooting for $10 million.

But Rhoades said the House felt it was meeting the Senate halfway with $5 million, and he said he had heard the program already had $2 million. Vratil said that money could come 18 months after the program applies for federal aid.

“It’s not excess money,” Vratil said. “It’s not reserve money.”

Negotiators also are haggling over e-filing for Kansas courts. E-filing would allow lawyers to file cases electronically instead of at courthouses across the state. Vratil said an e-filing system would “pay big dividends in future years and great efficiencies in government.”

It also would help Kansans who file court cases because they’d pay less in hourly fees to their lawyers since lawyers would only need to “press a button” to file a case, Vratil said.

The Senate is offering $2.1 million for e-filing; te House has offered $2.9 million.

Negotiators are also apart on bringing state salaries up to market pay.

In the latest round of offers, the Senate would give $1 million to the Center of Innovation for Biomaterials in Orthopaedic Research, or CIBOR.

Asked if she thought conferees would reach an agreement today, McGinn aid “I sure hope so. We’re really running ahead of time.”

Earlier today, Rhoades said he thought conferees could finish today, sending the budget to the chambers on Friday.

It’s looking likely that legislators will be here Saturday,

Lead budget negotiator for House remains hopeful agreement will be reached today

TOPEKA — Rep. Marc Rhoades, R-Newton, met briefly with reporters after an 11 a.m. budget conference committee was canceled as legislators hash out three or four key sticking points.

Budget conferees now are shooting for meeting back up at 1 p.m.

“I’m hopeful,” Rhoades said of reaching an agreement today.

Issues to be resolved involve Kan-ed, a Kansas Board of Regents program focused on technology solutions for K-12 schools, higher education, libraries and hospitals; judicial services; and an effort to increase the number of engineers in Kansas.

Even if negotiators come to a meeting of the minds today, the budget still has to go to both floors of the legislature. Rhoades said he hopes legislators can go home Friday night, but it’s looking like they could be here still on Saturday.

Sedgwick County approves higher funding for Project Access

WICHITA — Sedgwick County commissioners approved $250,000 in funding for Project Access by a 3-2 vote this morning.

Project Access helps connect the poor in Sedgwick County with access to health care.

Three weeks ago, the commissioners deadlocked 2-2 on an agreement with the Central Plains Regional Health Care Foundation and Wichita to cooperate on the project. They had voted last August to increase funding for the program from $182,000 to $250,000, a 37 percent increase.

This morning’s  agreement solidified the commitment.

Commissioner Richard Ranzau continued his objection to the increase voted in August. He said funds should come from the private sector at a time the county is trimming its budget.

Ranzau made a motion to fund the program at last year’s level of $182,000, but the motion failed. Karl Peterjohn  was the only other commissioner to support Ranzau’s motion.

Jim Skelton, who was absent for the first vote, supported the $250,000 in funds, as did Tim Norton and Dave Unruh.