Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories about Saturday’s Legislative coffee in Hoisington. Today’s article looks at the remarks of Sen. Mitch Holmes and Rep. John Edmonds. Part II will cover the question and answer period.
HOISINGTON — Coming off the busiest week so far in the 2013 Legislative session, Sen. Mitch Holmes and Rep. John Edmonds attended a legislative coffee Saturday morning at the Hoisington Activity Center.
Edmonds, R-Great Bend, noted this was his first time to visit Hoisington as its Representative, because for many years Hoisington and Great Bend were in different districts. “I’m coming back to you as the new guy in your district and in some ways a new guy in the House,” he said. Edmonds was a representative from 1994-2006, but retired after being diagnosed with cancer. He successfully ran again last November.
“In my view the most important work that the Legislature does every year is to fund the budget,” Edmonds said. “This year’s budget is very driven by tax policy.”
Edmonds said the plan to reduce and perhaps eventually eliminate state income tax doesn’t add up when one looks at the full picture, including raising sales taxes and eliminating tax deductions. “This plan is a net tax increase,” he said. “A net increase of $685 million in taxes. I have trouble with that. It looks to me, in the House, at least, the appetite to raise taxes is not there.”
Another tax issue is found in HB 2285, a bill that defines commercial and industrial machinery and equipment. The legislation stems from a dispute in Montgomery County, where a nitrogen fertilizer refinery’s trade fixtures were taxed as part of the company’s real property, not machinery and equipment. (Machinery and equipment acquired after 2006 are exempt from property tax in Kansas.) Kansas Chamber of Commerce believes the law should clarify the fixtures as machinery, or many businesses will face big tax hikes.
Edmonds said the big tax hikes will fall on individuals, and to some extent farmers, if “fixed fixtures” are not taxed as real property. Community colleges, for example, will have to cut their budgets or raise the mill levy to make up for what amounts to a $500 million reduction in taxes.
In a third issue dealing with taxes, Edmonds said he has been appointed to chair a subcommittee looking at how Kansas boats should be taxed.
Holmes, R-St. John, said the senate dealt with 37 bills last week, in what is known as the “turnaround week,” since the Legislative session is roughly halfway over. The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee on Tuesday approved SB 199, which would create the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center in Kansas City, Kan.
“This is kind of exciting,” Holmes said. “The potential there is just incredible. This uses KU as a center for bringing the research and clinics together. ... We want the technology to move forward, and we want Kansas to be the center of it.”
On Thursday, the senate unanimously approved SB 167, eliminating the statute of limitations on rape or aggravated criminal sodomy and extending the statute of limitations on other sexually violent crimes to anytime within 10 years of when the victim turns age 18, or within one year of when authorities establish a conclusive DNA link between the crime and the suspect. The House unanimously voted Friday to approve a similar bill. Holmes said the extension is important because it takes gives young victims more time to come forward and seek justice.
In discussing SB 57, concerning the animal health of poultry, domesticated deer and dogs, Holmes said it will move forward without the canine considerations. “We took dogs out of the bill,” he said. Without specifying the issues, Holmes noted the bill sparked a great deal passion on the part of pet owners.
The Humane Society of the United States had supported the bill, saying it would strengthen the oversight of animal shelters, boarding kennels and commercial dog breeding facilities.
SB 63 changes voter fraud from a civil offense to a crime, and gives the Secretary of State the power to prosecute voter fraud cases. It was passed Thursday.
SB 149, requiring drug testing for recipients of Temporary Cash Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) if they show reasonable suspicion of drug use, passed the Senate with an amendment that testing would also be required of legislators suspected of having a drug problem. “This debate got pretty ... well, it got debated strongly,” Holmes said. “We’re talking about a test with reasonable suspicion.”
SB 82, to extend the deadlines for meeting Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS’s), failed. Under current law, 15 percent of the state’s energy must come from renewable sources by 2015, and 20 percent by 2020. “I did vote against it, because it was scaring so many people, but the bill really wasn’t that bad,” Holmes said. Rather than weakening the state’s commitment to increasing renewable energy, he said, the extension would “give the wind power companies more time to get that infrastructure up.”
Other issues Holmes is watching:
• State revenue: For February it was down $29.7 million (11.5 percent) from a year ago; however, year-to-date revenue is $65.1 million above estimates.
• School finance: The court stayed the school finance lawsuit, which means the issue will go into arbitration.
• The judicial selection process.
• Tax changes.