In Kansas Legislature, a bad year for freedom and liberty

It was a bad year for economic freedom in the Kansas Legislature. There were the big votes that most people know of — the big-spending budget, the increase in the sales tax, and the statewide smoking ban — but the legislature passed — and the governor signed — many other laws that chip away at personal liberty and economic freedom. The following list contains many of these bills.

This list was produced by Bob Corkins of Kansas Votes, a project of the Kansas Policy Institute. It contains only bills that were enacted into law. There were, of course, some bad bills that didn’t make it all the way through the lawmaking process.

Corkins said that 2010 was the worst session for personal liberty that he could think of in more than two decades of working in the Kansas Statehouse. In many cases these bills had broad support among conservatives.

Some of these bills are concerned with what people might consider to be minor, unimportant matters. But the legislature thought they were important enough to be the subject of legislation. And while some might seem to chip away at personal liberty and economic freedom in small, insignificant ways, taken together over years, it all adds up.

Further, when lawmakers pass laws like this and no one complains, and when they get re-elected year after year, it emboldens them to take on bigger challenges to personal liberty and economic freedom, like increasing sales or other taxes. It hardens their resolve to block expansions of economic freedom like school choice programs.

An example of a bill contrary to personal liberty and economic freedom is House Bill 2130, which requires every occupant of a car to wear a safety belt. Now I happen to think seat belts are a great idea. I always wear mine and ask everyone in my car to wear theirs. But it’s a different matter when the state requires their use. It’s an example of lawmakers trying to protect us from ourselves. Once they start down this road, it’s very difficult for them to stop.

I’m aware of the argument that says because automobile accidents produce serious and costly injuries that drive up the cost of health care for everyone, and seat belt use reduces the severity of these injuries, we ought to regulate the behavior of people by requiring use of seat belts. We can expect to see arguments made like this more often as our nation moves towards greater collectivization of health care and its costs. What we ought to do, however, is reverse this trend in health care.

An example of a move away from a uniform tax system is House Bill 2554, authorizing the PEAK (Promoting Employment Across Kansas) program. This program allows certain employers to keep most of the withholding tax their employees pay. Programs like this are contrary to economic freedom because, in this case, we have the state deciding how to direct resources. An alternative that is in harmony with economic freedom is to rely on free markets for this guidance. Besides being contrary to economic freedom, there is scant evidence that economic development programs like this work, in terms of increasing overall prosperity.

Don’t think for a moment, however, that conservative Kansas legislators rose in opposition to this bill and its intervention into free markets. In the Senate, the bill passed 40 to zero. In the House, the bill passed 109 to 12. Of the 12 votes in opposition, eleven were from Democrats who mostly have far-left voting records. Brenda Landwehr was the only Republican to vote against this bill.

Another example of government intervention in markets is Senate Bill 430, which restored and boosted a historic preservation tax credit program. In my testimony to a House committee on this bill, I said “We must recognize that a tax credit is an appropriation of Kansans’ money made through the tax system. If the legislature is not comfortable with writing a developer a check for over $1,000,000 — as in the case with one Wichita developer — it should not make a roundabout contribution through the tax system that has the same economic impact on the state’s finances.”

Principles of economic freedom and personal liberty contend that the state should not be spending this money, whether through direct appropriations or the tax system. Very few conservatives voted against this bill on these principles.

The following list of enacted bills is ordered, Corkins says, from the “most atrocious to the merely very bad.” Each bill is linked to its page on Kansas Votes.

Senate Bill 572 (Propose state budget for 2011)
to approve a state budget that would authorize total spending for the current 2010 fiscal year of $5.416 billion in State General Fund spending (SGF, that portion of the budget paid primarily with state-imposed sales and income taxes) and $14.414 billion from All Funds (including SGF, federal aid, and state agency fees), and for spending $5.621 billion SGF and $13.685 from All Funds in fiscal year 2011.

House Bill 2360 (Increase state sales, income taxes)
to enact a state sales tax increase from the current 5.3 percent up to 6.3 percent, amend the Kansas Taxpayer Transparency Act, expand the food sales tax rebate program, and expand the state earned income tax credit (EITC) program.

House Bill 2221 (Ban smoking in public and workplaces)
to ban smoking in enclosed areas, including all public places, any placy of employment, taxicabs, hallways and more, but would not apply to outdoor areas, private residences, hotel or motel rooms, tobacco shops, certain private clubs and casino gaming floors.

House Bill 2320 (Impose nursing home tax)
to create a provider assessment tax on nearly all licensed beds within skilled nursing care facilities in the state of Kansas; deem the Kansas Health Policy Authority to be the state agency to calculate and implement the provider assessment; establish a Quality Care Fund where all assessments and penalties collected through the assessment program would be deposited; and, establish a Quality Care Improvement Panel.

House Bill 2356 (Increase state inspections of child care facilities)
to adopt “Lexie’s law” requiring the Department of Health and Environment to inspect every child care facility once every 15 months. The inspection frequency of a family child care home following an initial inspection will be at intervals that the department determines to be appropriate to assess the health, safety and well-being of children being cared for in the family child care home. In addition, to open certain records to the public regarding the identity of maternity center, family day care home, and child care facility licensees, but would allow the state to withhold such information if necessary to protect public health and safety or that of the facility’s patients or children.

House Bill 2130 (Mandate seat belts, allow traffic stops)
to amend state law to require every occupant of a passenger care to wear a safety belt. A law enforcement officer would now be permitted to stop a passenger car for any violation of the seat belt requirement by anyone in the front seat or anyone under 18. The fine for violations would be $5 until July 1, 2011, when it would increase to $10.

House Bill 2650 (Launch new state transportation works program)
to initiate a new state transportation works program, providing for the construction, improvement and maintenance of the state highway system; authorizing financial transfers between the State Highway Fund and the Rail Service Improvement Fund; increasing vehicle registration fees; increasing the borrowing authority of the Kansas Department of Transportation; and, pledging $8 million in transportation projects for each county in Kansas over the next 10 years.

Senate Bill 409 (Development of passenger rail service in Kansas)
to authorize the Kansas Secretary of Transportation to establish and implement a passenger rail service program in the state. To establish the program, the Secretary would enter into agreements with Amtrak and other rail operators to develop passenger rail service serving Kansas and other state. The agreements can include cost-sharing agreements and joint powers agreements. The Secretary should also enter into agreements with local jurisdictions along a proposed route. The bill also gives the Secretary authority to make loans or grants to passenger rail service providers for the purpose of restoring existing rail infrastructure, for rail economic development projects and the cost to initiate and operate passenger rail service. The bill does not specify where program funding would come from.

House Bill 2476 (Extend and increase court fees)
to increase a number of court fees and extend such judicial branch surcharges through fiscal year 2011 to fund non-judicial personnel working in the court system; the compromises recommended would alter specific fee increases for specific court actions with the fees ranging generally between $10 and $20.

Senate Bill 200 (Repeal partial HMO tax, apply full rate to all)
to repeal the partial state tax of 0.5 percent imposed on premiums charged against a few Health Maintenance Organizations so that the full one percent premiums tax would be applied uniformly against all HMOs.

House Bill 2582 (Extend and reallocate e-911 tax revenue to locals)
to delay for one year — until July, 1, 2011 — a provision in current law that discontinues the wireless enhanced 911 grant fee and the VoIP enhanced 911 grant fee, abolishes the wireless enhanced 911 advisory board and the grant fund, and that directs the distribution of the unobligated balance in the grant fund to public safety answering points (PSAPs).

House Bill 2554 (Expand tax incentives for hiring new workers)
expanding the PEAK program (Promoting Employment Across Kansas) by liberalizing its definitions, relaxing its requirements so that a company would be eligible if it relocated or expanded a portion of its business operations into the state, permitting qualified companies to retain 95 percent of the employees’ withholding taxes if the median wage paid to the new employees at least equals that paid throughout the county, and by requiring an independent evaluation of economic development incentives administered by the Kansas Department of Commerce.

House Bill 2226 (Change earmarks of traffic fine revenue, increase fines)
to increase the fine assessed on traffic infractions that are on the uniform fine schedule by $15. The revenue generated by the increased fines would be distributed to several justice related programs, including the Crime Victims Compensation Fund, the Crime Victims Assistance Fund, the Community Alcoholism and Intoxication Programs Fund, the Boating Fee Fund, the Children’s Advocacy Center Fund, and the criminal justice information system line fund.

Senate Bill 430 (Limit use of certain tax credits)
make a 10 percent cut in certain income tax credits permitted under current law; repeal a $3.75 million cap that had been imposed on historic preservation income tax credits; make statutory amendments needed for Kansas to remain in national compliance with the streamlined sales tax act; impose a $10 fee for delinquent taxpayers who enter into an installment payment plan agreement in excess of 90 days from the date of the payment plan agreement; and, people with intangibles tax liability would be required to file their returns with county clerks, rather than the Department of Revenue.

House Bill 2501 (Allow exemption from liability limit on mortgage insurers)
to allow the Kansas Department of Insurance to waive (at the sole discretion of the Commissioner of Insurance) the current requirement that a mortgage guaranty insurance company must have a total liability that does not exceed 25 times its capital, surplus and contingency reserve; to amend the definition of “RBC instruction” to mean risk-based capital instructions promulgated by a specified national insurance association; to prohibit firms that offer health care plans from requiring or requesting genetic tests, and prohibiting insurance companies from charging a higher premium because of any genetic test results; and, to grant rights to insurance customers in seeking special exceptions for cases in which their credit histories may affect their insurance coverage, allowing any such customer who experiences an “extraordinary life circumstance” that hurts their credit, and thereby causes an adverse insurance action, to obtain reasonable exceptions to the insurer’s rates.

House Bill 2485 (Increase evaluation period for trucking licenses)
to increase the time period from the current 12 up to 18 months for the Kansas Corporation Commission to verify a trucking company’s fitness and regulatory compliance for its continued operation.

House Bill 2472 (Specify rights in common interest communities)
to enact a set of rights and duties regarding people who live in common interest communities such as associations of apartment owners, but not owners currently and similarly bound by covenants unless they agree otherwise – setting forth duties in such communities regarding bylaws, owner voting rights, dispute resolutions, access to property, borrowing money, communications with owners, recordkeeping, and other matters; to prohibit until July 1, 2011, any city from adopting or enforcing any rule requiring the installation of a multi-purpose residential fire protection sprinkler system; and, to decrease down to 90 days, but permit a court to extend to up to 180 days, a compliance period for an abandoned property owner to carry out a rehabilitation plan where the property is brought into compliance with fire, housing and building codes and current on all ad valorem property tax owed, and to reduce from three to two years the time a person who purchases a house from an organization that has rehabilitated an abandoned property must occupy the house.

Senate Bill 389 (Compensation to dentists in health insurance plans)
to only permit a health insurance plan — including any individual health insurance policy, the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan and the state Medicaid program — to set fees for covered services (and not for uncovered services)provided by a dentist who is a participating provider in the plan.

Senate Bill 377 (Regulate retainage in construction contracts)
to prohibit an owner, contractor or subcontractor from withholding more than a five percent limit on the contract as retainage (money withheld to ensure proper work performance); to require release of retainage on an undisputed payment within 30 days after substantial completion of the project; to permit no more than 150 percent of the value of incomplete work, due to a contractor or subcontractor, to be withheld by an owner or contractor and require it be paid within 45 after completion of the work; and, to permit a general contractor to request an alternative security in lieu of retainage, such as an irrevocable bank letter or credit, certificate of deposit or cash bond.

Senate Bill 373 (Amending application of municipal court fees)
to require a $19 municipal court fee be imposed uniformly statewide in each case filed in municipal court, other than a nonmoving traffic violation, where there is a finding of guilty, a plea of guilty, a plea of no contest, or a forfeiture of bond or a diversion.

House Bill 2433 (Liberalize school purchasing process, Prison sales)
to allow all state educational institutions more independence in choosing how they acquire goods, supplies, equipment, services and land leases without the need to route acquisitions through the Kansas State Director of Purchases; and, to authorize the Department of Corrections for the next three years to sell prison-made goods to private citizens and businesses in Kansas.

House Bill 2415 (Exempt universities from surplus property law)
to exempt the six Kansas Regents universities from the current duty to dispose of any of their personal property through the terms of the Kansas Surplus Property Act. That law ordinarily makes the goods available for sale to the general public.

House Bill 2411 (Criminalize incense, “K2”)
to criminalize the unauthorized use or possession of certain chemicals known as “K2”, BZP and TFMPP that have been added to herbs and incense to produce hallucinogenic effects when inhaled or consumed.

House Bill 2353 (Ratify local sales tax vote for jail)
to retroactively validate a local election last year in Chautauqua County to impose a countywide sales tax where money raised would pay for a new county jail and law enforcement facility.

House Bill 2160 (Require state workers’ health plan to cover autism)
to require the state employees’ health plan to cover services for the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders in any covered person less than 19 years old, and to require health insurance policies include coverage provisions for orally administered anti-cancer medications.

Senate Bill 83 (Require licensure of naturopathic doctors)
to change the regulatory status of naturopathic doctors with the Board of Healing Arts from registrants to licensees and to permit naturopaths to form professional corporations; and, to include two licensure categories — “exempt license” and “federally active license” — in the Physical Therapy Practice Act.

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