House acts on KPERS, school funding, arts

4/12/2012

Last week the House only met Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. These were three very long days -- Wednesday adjournment was not until 9 p.m. This week, the House will continue to pass legislation that will be coming from conference committees after the bills have been agreed on between the House and Senate.

Some of the bills passed last week were:

KPERS: The House worked on reforming the states retirement system known as Kansas Public Employee Retirement. KPERS reform has been a legislative priority for the last two years. The Legislature developed a study commission to develop a KPERS reform plan last year.

KPERS has a high unfunded liability of more than $8 billion. This week, the House passed SB 259, which will not change the plan for those currently paying into the KPERS system, however, the bill has a new option for new hires beginning January 1, 2014. One of the options is a cash-balance plan, which provides a contribution of 6 percent from the employee and 4 percent from the employer with a 5 percent guaranteed return.

Employees will have two choices of the plan and will be allowed six months to choose which plan works best for them. New employees will have a seven-year vesting period. Retirement age will be 65 with five years of service or age 60 with 30 years of service. The other option for new employees to choose would be a defined-contribution plan. The major difference is the investment return is based on market returns with no guarantee return rate (the cash balance guarantee 5 percent). This plan is much like a 401(k) plan like many private sector employers provide.

HB 2773, Schools Unencumbered Funds: The House took action on HB 2773, which extends the authority for school districts to use unencumbered funds to backfill for the reduction in the base state aid per pupil. Last year, the Legislature passed legislation to allow schools to tap into their unencumbered funds. This will provide approximately $156 million in unencumbered funds for school districts to use, 65 percent of those funds are to be expended in the classroom as defined by KSDE.

Redistricting: There are no official congressional maps under consideration by the Kansas House at this time. Last week, the Eisenhower B map was sent to the full House for consideration. A motion was made to replace the Eisenhower map, which had concerned legislators over the design on the Big First District, which spanned from the Kansas, Colorado state line east to include Wyandotte County.

The amended map, called Capitol 1, received sufficient votes to replace the Eisenhower B map. However, the Capitol 1 map failed to gain sufficient votes on final action, Wednesday, to pass out of the House. Redistricting committee members promptly began drawing new congressional map proposals to better reflect the sentiments of the House.

HB 2766, Creative Arts Industries Commission: HB 2766 was introduced to create the Creative Arts Industries Commission in the Department of Commerce and absolve the Kansas Arts Commission and the Kansas Film Commission. The new commission would be the official state program for the arts.

Citizens for the Arts and Stakeholders from the Arts Foundation worked over the interim with the Brownback administration to reach an agreement on the future of arts and arts funding in Kansas. HB 2766 is the result of their compromise. I believe this a positive step forward in stabilizing the arts industry in Kansas.

SB 262, Grandparents Rights: This bill requires the court to consider the wishes of the parents, child and grandparent and must also review the extent of the involvement of the grandparents in the child's life. Physical and mental health of all individuals must be taken into consideration by the judge. If, for any reason, the court decides it is in the child's best interest to be placed in SRS custody the bill allows the grandparents who request custody of the child to still have preference in the placement of the child.

Rick Billinger, Goodland, represents the 121st District in the Kansas House. rick.bilinger@house.ks.gov

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