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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.
Lawmaker seeks cost transparency for health care
TOPEKA | Undergoing a medical procedure can be tough, especially when patients receive huge bills in the mail that they have to pay but were not expecting.
Sen. Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, wants to help. He’s introduced a bill (SB 251) in the Kansas Senate allowing hospitals and doctors, in non-emergency situations, to have their computers query the insurance companies’ computers to determine the patients total out of pocket expenses for a procedure before they have it done.
“This will stop the surprise bill arriving 30 days after the procedure was performed,” Denning said.
A hearing was held on the measure Wednesday Jan. 22 before the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee at the Capitol in Topeka. Denning testified in favor of the bill.
You can view his testimony by clicking on this YouTube link:
The measure was also supported by the Kansas Medical Society, the American Medical Association and the Kansas Hospital Association.
“In this time of high deductibles and increased patient out of pocket costs, it is pertinent for the physician’s practice to be able to prepare the patients for what they will owe,” Camille Harvison of Consultants in Gastoenterology told the committee.
During his testimony, Denning used the example of a patient having cataract surgery. Using an actual patient as an example, he said slightly more than $1,000 in out-of-pocket cost was owed. He said that could amount to a house payment for many people.
“If this patient needed to wait three months to save up their $1,000, no harm done,” he told the committee. “Problem solved.”
Denning’s bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2015.
Bill would affect party switches
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 Committee on Ethics and Election, which took no action last year. However, the measure is still alive and a hearing on the bill is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 13, in room 159s in the Capitol.
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.
Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Leavenworth, discusses Gov. Sam Brownback's State of the State address given Jan. 15 during the opening week of the 2014 Legislature in Topeka. (Video by Jim Sullinger Strategies LLC)
To read the governor's entire speech, click on THIS LINK
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.
Program produces dividends
TOPEKA | More than 650 Kansans with disabilities are able to receive new access to Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) because of the KanCare program.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, M.D., and Secretary of Health and Environment Robert Moser, M.D., announced that savings from care coordination under the new KanCare Medicaid program will bring in-home services to hundreds of additional people with physical and intellectual/developmental disabilities.
“This commitment will allow an estimated 250 developmentally disabled and 400 physically disabled Kansans to begin living more independent and fulfilling lives in the community,” Brownback said. “It is something Kansans are proud to support.”
This savings will substantially reduce the time it takes for consumers to receive in-home services. The total amount of savings dedicated to the waiting list is $37 million in both state and federal funds during State Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015. Services will become available as the necessary community supports are in place to begin reducing waiting lists for eligible consumers.
Kansas offers HCBS through Medicaid waivers. These services, which are provided along with medical care, are designed to help people remain in their homes. Changes in the way Medicaid services are coordinated under the new KanCare program are allowing the state to reduce waiting lists which have existed since 2000.
Since July, approximately 70 people with physical disabilities have come off the waiting list with an expected total of 400 people by the end of FY 2014. The waiting list for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is projected to see a slightly smaller reduction, removing approximately 250 people by the end of FY 2014.
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Elimination of mortgage fee considered by Senate panel
Hearings began in January on SB 298, a measure designed to eliminate the Kansas mortgage registration fee.
The hearings were held by the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee. Advocates said the fee currently costs real estate buyers seeking financing through local institutions millions of dollars each year.
They said the fee puts home and business buyers who have to finance their purchases at an unfair disadvantage to cash buyers who don’t use traditional mortgages, as well as those using Farm Credit services.
County governments, on the other hand, said they would lose million dollars in revenue and suggested that eliminating this source of local revenue could result in higher property taxes. County officials said the free provides about $47 million in revenue to their general budget.
A general theme amongst counties blames the state for its high property taxes. Representatives from the Kansas Association of Realtors, however, offered testimony noting that local governments have raised property taxes at an average of 7.11 percent per year over the last 11 years—far outpacing this, or any other, state tax increases.
Johnson County commissioners passed a resolution Jan. 16 opposing the bill. The resolution noted that in 2012 the mortgage registration fee accounted for more than $16 million in local county revenue. Commission Chairman Ed Eilert testified in opposition to the bill.
Bill would change part of school funding formula
A bill was introduced in the Senate last week that makes a change in the way the state pays for schools.
SB 305 would shift capital improvement dollars, approved by local voters for bond issues, into the state’s equalization assistance for local option budgets (LOB).
Advocates said shifting the state funds for buildings into the LOB equalization would focus less on building construction and more on classroom instruction. School districts wouldl continue to receive state assistance to repay bonds.
However, bonds approved after July 1, 2014, would no longer be eligible for similar state aid. LOB also provides local communities with the opportunity to lower property taxes by adding these state dollars to the fund.
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.