Thursday of week seven marked a critical deadline known as “turnaround,” marking the official halfway point of the 2017 legislative session. By “turnaround,” a bill, with few exceptions, must have passed its chamber of origin in order to be considered by the other chamber before session is finished for the year. So far, the Senate has passed 58 bills this session, and the House has passed 99.
This week, the Legislature is in recess so members can travel to their districts and meet with constituents about issues. When the Senate returns to Topeka on March 6, we will hit the ground running to craft a new budget balancing plan and we will begin work on bills the House has passed and sent to the Senate.
The big issue of the week was an attempt to override the governor’s veto of budget bill HB2178. Last week, the Legislature sent HB2178, a tax bill, to the governor’s desk. At the time, he indicated he would not sign the bill but was ambiguous about a possible veto. On Tuesday evening, at the Kansas Chamber annual dinner, Brownback announced his intentions to veto the tax bill that had passed the House and the Senate. On Wednesday morning, the governor made it official at a press conference where he signed the veto message.
When the governor signed the veto message, the Legislature had two options: 1) accept the veto and move on; or 2) try to override the veto with a two-thirds vote in each chamber. Soon after the governor officially vetoed the bill, the House acted to override his veto. The bill then was sent to the Senate to be considered. The Senate, after much debate, moved forward with a vote to override the governor’s veto. The measure was three votes shy of the necessary two-thirds majority to override the veto. Therefore, the veto was sustained and this tax bill was dead.
Many senators who voted no on the override expressed concerns about a provision in the bill that would retroactively increase income taxes, on W2 wage earners, meaning the income tax increase included in the bill would be back dated to Jan. 1, 2017. This would affect Kansas’ employees’ paychecks and bumped withholding rates by 37 percent. However, removing the provision would have resulted in an immediate $149 million shortfall in fiscal year 2018, which starts July 1, 2017.
In addition, some senators did not like adding a third tax tier. Many senators who voted yes on the override expressed their desire to fix the Kansas budget issues and noted the need for long-term solutions. I did vote in support of the tax bill and also voted to override the governor’s veto. I had the same concerns over the retroactive increase on W2 wage-earners’ income taxes and believed we could address that with a trailer bill.
As I mentioned in my last newsletter, I believe it is imperative the Legislature come up with a structural and long-term solution. This is one of the first steps in the process in attempting to craft the best budget for Kansas. For the Senate to be considering tax policy in February is unusual; normally taxes are done in late May or early June.
I am happy to report Sub SB74, Joey’s Law, which I sponsored, was passed out of the Senate and will go to the House for its consideration. This bill is named after Joey Weber, a young man with autism-spectrum disorder, who was shot and killed in Hays last year. The bill will provide a person with cognition issues including, but not limited to, a person with autism-spectrum disorder to apply to the Division of Vehicles for 1) a placard that can be attached to the visor or the dash of a vehicle; 2) placement of an indicator on the driver’s license or non-driver identification card that the person needs assistance with cognition; 3) authorization of a decal that can be affixed to the license plate; 4) the information would be included as part of the vehicle’s registration. Any of the four provisions are optional. In order to qualify, a driver would need a letter from a qualified medical professional.
Rick Billinger, R-Goodland, represents the 40th District in the Kansas Senate.