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Meet the Senator
Steve and his wife, Francie, brought their family to Kansas twice. First, when Steve was a student at the Command and General Staff College, and later when he was getting ready to retire.
They have been Kansas residents for over almost thirty years and their children have attended local public, Lutheran, and Catholic schools.
While on active duty Steve served in Vietnam, Germany, and Grenada. He rose from a private to Lieutenant Colonel with tours in the 82d Airborne Division and the Third, Fifth, and Tenth Special Forces Groups. After the Army Steve started his own business but closed it when the 9/11/01 attacks happened.
He went to work as a military analyst and trainer for Northrop Grumman supporting the Army. Two of the children joined the Army and are still serving on active duty and in the reserves.
Politics is an important part of Francie and Steve's life. They have been precinct captains and district and state party delegates as well as strong supporters of Republican candidates. Steve did not just run for the Kansas Senate, he helped other candidates, worked as a delegate to the state party, was elected treasurer of the state party, and served on the local school board as vice-president.
He co-founded and is co-chair of The Leadership Series, which has trained over one hundred men in community and political leadership. He has also been active in several church, civic, and veterans' organizations.
In the Senate, Steve serves on the prestigious Ways and Means Committee, which helps craft the state’s budget each year. He is chairman of two of that panel’s subcommittees: the Corrections and Juvenile Justice Subcommittee and the Judicial and Gaming Subcommittee.
He is also a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, the Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee and the Joint Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice Oversight. He is vice chairman of the Legislative and Elected Officials subcommittee of Ways and Means.
Bill on party switch goes to gov
TOPEKA | Political parties in Kansas worried for many years that a lot of voters of an opposite party have switched their registration prior to an August primary election in an effort to influence the outcome.
To counter the tactic, the Kansas House approved a bill last year prohibiting voters from changing parties on or after the candidate filing deadline, which is June 1 of this year. That prohibition would be in effect until the results of a primary election are certified. The House vote was 72-49.
After the House passed the measure, HB 2210, it went to the Senate, where it passed recently and went to the governor for his signature.
Current law allows voters to change parties up to 20 days prior to the August primary.
Program adding new state residents
TOPEKA | The Kansas House voted Thursday Feb. 27 to expand rural opportunity zone status to four additional counties, bring the total to 77 of the state’s 105 counties.
The new counties were Cherokee, Labette, Montgomery and Sumner.
Rural opportunity zones or ROZ for short were established in 2011 for counties that lost 10 percent population during the previous decade. The initial proposal included 40 counties.
The program provides income tax exemptions for five years and up to $15,000 in student loan repayment to out-of-state residents who move to counties with declining populations.
In a recent speech in Leawood, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, said these zones were creating success stories.
“If you go to places like Oakley and Montezuma (in Gray County) you haven’t seen them with a new kindergarten class in decades,” he said. “The the first time we actually now have about an 8 percent increase in the number of kindergartners in our ROZ counties. We have cities like Goodland for the first time in decades actually adding a kindergarten class. It’s small but it’s happening.”
The measure now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Measure would allow raffles
The Kansas Senate has approved a constitutional amendment allowing many churches and charities to legally hold raffles.
While these groups routinely do so under current law, the practice is actually illegal. The constitutional measure would simply install a legal process and allow the legislature to authorize licensing, conduct and regulation of any charitable raffles by a nonprofit, religious, charitable, fraternal, education and veteran's organizations.
The constitutional amendment would include a number of limitations that would assist in any loopholes of organizations not wanting to raise money for a charitable cause. The restrictions for organizations include: A ban on electronic gaming or vending machines to sale raffle tickets; hiring a professional raffle or other lottery vender to manage the raffle; and, licensing and regulation by the Office of Charitable Gaming within the Kansas Department of Revenue.
Raffles would be defined as a game of chance in which each participant buys a ticket from a nonprofit organization, and each ticket would provide an equal chance to win a prize. Currently, the Constitution requires all forms of gambling to be regulated by the Kansas Lottery
Sub for SCR 1618 passed with a vote of 35-0. Since the measure is a constitutional amendment, and passed the Senate by the required two-thirds majority, it will now head to the House where it will need the same majority. If successful, the Constitutional Amendment would be put on the November election ballot.
Lawmakers pass Student Privacy Act
TOPEKA | A bill approved by the Legislature during its wrap-up session will provide direction on when a student’s educational record could be disclosed and who may receive that information.
The vote was 123-0 in the House and 40-0 in the Senate.
Senator Steve Fitzgerald, a Leavenworth Republican, discussed the immigration issue in this Time Warner-Comcast Newsmakers segment.
Cuts to education spending were all made under Democrat governors, before Brownback even took office (January, 2011). Since then education spending has risen every year. See the chart on the Photo page.
House approves compromise autism bill
TOPEKA | A compromise bill that would provide health insurance coverage to Kansas children with autism was approved Friday March 21 by the Kansas House.
Coverage would be subject to the following limitations: 1,300 hours per calendar year beginning with ASD diagnosis and no later than age five for any covered individual for the first four years following diagnosis. And then, 520 hours per calendar year for covered individuals less than 12 years of age.
The bill, HB 2744, was the product of lengthy negotiations with the state's health insurance industry. The vote was 114 to 3. The measure now moves to the Senate for consideration.
TOPEKA | Gov. Sam Brownback and legislative leaders responded Friday to the Kansas Supreme Court ruling on the Gannon vs Kansas case.
"We have an opportunity for progress," Brownback said. "My commitment is to work with legislative leadership to address the allocation issue identified by the court. We will fix this."
The court has set out steps for the legislature to end the lawsuit by July 1, 2014. It affirms the Constitutional requirement for education to be "adequate" and "equitable."
To read a more detailed analysis of the Gannon decision, click on THIS LINK.
Tax receipts reveal an improving Kansas economy
TOPEKA | The Kansas treasury registered positive revenue growth through the final six months of last year, showing continued growth in the Kansas economy.
The six month period YTD tax receipts were $7 million or .2% above budget estimates. The Kansas fiscal year runs from July 1, through June 30.
The large Kansas personal income tax cuts effective January 1, 2013, are working to help grow the economy and jobs. Unemployment is down and job creation is up. With the headwinds coming out of Washington finally subsiding we have Kansas in a good spot to grow jobs and reinvest in business for growth.
It is noted that following the tax cuts in 2013, actual tax receipts were down 9.1% compared to the same time last year. This is trending positive given the 20% personal income tax decrease. We are committed to funding state core services while spending within our means.
- Kansas tax revenues for 2014 were very strong in the first two months of the year.
- January beat estimates by $16.8 million, while February was $100.7 million above expectations.
- Most importantly, February withholding taxes were higher than collected during the same time last year. That is a large indicator that more people are working or have received raises since this time last year.
- The Kansas Department of Commerce reports companies grew by 6.46 percent in 2013.
- The state’s exports have rebounded in the past three years, nearing 2008 levels and recorded $12.45 billion in exports for 2013.
- Kansas is in the national spotlight as a leader in tax reform, as highlighted in this Daily Caller article.
- Our state was also named by Site Selection Magazine as one of the top five in the nation for economic development projects.
This is a strong positive direction for our state, and one that we expect to continue because of tax cuts and responsible fiscal spending.
Leavenworth program gets state grant
TOPEKA | The Alliance Against Family Violence in Leavenworth has been awarded a $73,181 grant from the 2014 Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault program fund, according to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
The governor recently announced $4.1 million in state general fund grants to community-based programs that provide support services, outreach, and training for victims of sexual and domestic violence.
Special Session fixes “Hard 50” law
TOPEKA | A bill fixing problems with the Kansas “Hard 50” sentencing law passed both chambers of the Legislature this week, ending the two day special session that began Sept. 3.
The measure was originally contained in a preliminary report by the Special Committee on the Judiciary and would change the way the sentence is imposed.
The Kansas House approved the measure Tuesday by a vote of 122 to 0 and the Senate followed suit Wednesday Sept. 4 in a 40-0 vote.
A judge can hand down a Hard 50 sentence under current law. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that method unconstitutional in June and stated that the sentence of 50 years without parole must be determined by a jury.
In cases where a defendant is convicted of premeditated first degree murder, Kansas’ “Hard 50” sentence allows a court to impose a life sentence without eligibility for parole for 50 years, rather than 25 years, when it finds one or more aggravating factors are present.
Rep. John Rubin of Shawnee, a committee member, said there are eight specifically enumerated aggravating factors set out in current law, including murder for hire, firing into a crowd and conviction of a previous felony in which the defendant inflicted bodily harm, disfigurement, dismemberment or death to another. It also includes first degree murder committed in an especially heinous, atrocious or cruel manner.
Fitzgerald attends school dedication in KCK
A letter from Cynthia Lane,
Supt., KCK School District
I want to extend my appreciation for your interest in, and support of, the Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools. We appreciated that you took the time to join us for the rededication of Mark Twain Elementary School.
You have always reached out to understand the work we are doing to improve our student's readiness for college and careers. I thank you for your service to our community and the interest you have personally demonstrated to the work we are doing.
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March 31, 2014
• The major difference in any of the proposals from the Senate Republicans and one released earlier this month by Rep. Paul Davis is our focus on getting more funding into the classroom. While we all support local property tax reduction, and are sure to include a healthy amount in our plan, our focus is on education. With an investment of this size, we believe our kids should see as much of this money as possible.
• As we evaluate school finance plans, keep in mind that while adjusting many of the various weightings may have a negative impact on a particular district when viewed individually, it’s important to view any proposal as a whole.
• Nationally, the net impact in 2035 is that industrial user will pay out 21 percent more dollars for 23 percent less electricity than if there were no RPS. (The Heritage Center for Data Analysis)
• Households will see their electricity prices rise 36 percent by 2035, while industrial user will see their electricity prices rise 60 percent. (The Heritage Center for Data Analysis)
• Kansas unemployment remains below 5 percent for the third straight month. (Kansas Department of Labor)
Renewable Energy Standards
On Tuesday the Senate passed a measure that would eliminate a state mandate on renewable portfolio standards (RPS). Senate Sub for HB 2014 would simply remove the renewable portfolio standard which requires Kansas utility companies to receive 20 percent of their energy from a renewable resource by 2020.
The RPS mandate was part of a negotiation between republicans and democrats in 2009 when the GOP was pushing for approval from Governor Mark Parkinson on the Holcomb coal-fired power plant. In exchange for his clearance of the plant, the state would have to agree to the RPS standards. However, the plant has still not been built, and the mandates remain.
Like any government mandate, the standard is costing Kansans and Kansas businesses money. Furthermore, the mandate exists despite the fact that the industry has been heavily subsidized by the federal government. The fear amongst advocates remains that as these federal subsidies disappear, ratepayers will be left to make up the difference.
The Senate passed the bill on a vote of 25-15 Tuesday evening. Since the measure is different from the original house bill passed last session it needed to be discussed in a conference committee. The House made a motion to concur with the Senate version of the bill, but failed 44-77.
An update on the Gannon school decision
Now that we fully understand the intent of the court, there have been a number of concepts discussed with only two actually introduced in bill form, both from the House.
On Wednesday, the Senate Leadership organized a caucus to discuss their plan for equalizing the state’s education formula through the Local Option Budget (LOB) and Capital Outlay.
Our school finance formula is incredibly complex, so anytime we dig in to make substantive changes it’s a very difficult process. Overall, the proposed plan would add $134 million to school funding with a little over $77 million coming from new state general fund dollars. The Kansas education formula is made up of a series of weightings. The formula starts with what is commonly referred to when discussing the education budget, Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP).
The formula then has a series of weightings that act as multipliers for the base aid to assist with Kansas’ diverse districts- such a rural district needing more dollars for transportation, or an urban district needing more dollars for at-risk students.
This proposal would shift funding from various weightings that have proven to be antiquated, misused, or flawed; specifically: reducing additional weightings for virtual schools, non-proficient students, transportation aid, and reducing the particulars of high density weighting from pupils receiving free or reduced lunch. Each time you make an adjustment to a weighting it affects each district differently.
The proposal would also allow each school district the authority to increase their Local Option Budgets, or LOBs, through a mail ballot. The vote would allow districts to raise their current LOB state aid from the current 31 percent to 33 percent.
This option gives each school district the power to decide if they would like the additional state dollars to go toward lowering property taxes, or back to the classroom. Essentially, if the state aid percentage was not increased in a district that had previously met the percentage through local taxes, that funding is used to reduce property taxes.
The Senate plan fully funds the Local Option Budget and the Capital Outlay as specified in the Gannon ruling.
Governor signs bill affecting party switches
Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill into law last week that prohibits voters from changing parties on or after the candidate filing deadline.
The Kansas Senate approved the bill March 12 and the House voted last year to support it. The measure was authored by Rep. Keith Esau, an Olathe Republican.
The prohibition would be in effect until the results of a primary election were certified. It wouldn’t apply to new voter registrations, those who reregister after a move, or those choosing a party when previously unaffiliated.
Current law allows voters to change parties up to 20 days prior to the August primary.