Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Kansas Legislative Update

2011 Legislative Session Overview

The budget shortfalls in the current fiscal year as well as the projected shortfall in the coming fiscal year remain the biggest topics of conversation in Topeka. Strong philosophical differences exist, so bringing these views together to create and approve a final budget has proven tricky.

While budget negotiations continue, the American Heart Association advocacy team is hard at work monitoring legislation, lobbying for policies that positively impact our mission and keeping an eye on legislation that could negatively impact the American Heart Association and those we strive to protect. Below are details on three issues that have captured a lot of our attention this session. While working on these issues we are also continuing to look for opportunities around other priorities including stroke and STEMI systems of care, CPR, AEDs and a host of other topics vital to our life-saving mission. Thanks to the support of You’re the Cure advocates like yourself, we have been able to make progress on many fronts this session!

Kansas House Votes to Strengthen Statewide Smoking Law

After 3 hours of debate the Kansas House of Representatives voted 97-26 to eliminate the exemption in the current law that allows smoking on casino floors. Multiple amendments that would have otherwise weakened or gutted the existing law were rejected sending a clear message that the current law has strong support. One very limited exemption was approved and while the AHA doesn’t support this exemption we are still pleased the bill was approved in the House.

The bill will now go to the Senate where it faces an uncertain future. Limited time remains in the legislative session for considering the bill and lawmakers must still develop and approve a budget before adjourning. Ultimately the strong vote of support for this bill shows that lawmakers understand how popular the new law is with Kansans of all political ideologies. Recent polling shows that 77% of Kansans support the new clean indoor air law. A special thanks to all You’re the Cure advocates who responded to our action alerts on this topic. Keep an eye out for an upcoming Action Alert that will give you the opportunity to thank the House Representatives that voted to protect the law.

Senate Approves Money for Coordinated School Health

Governor Brownback recommended elimination of this vital program and the House concurred but thanks to the Senate Ways and Means Committee $145,000 was approved to keep the Kansas Coordinated School Health program alive. This amount is a significant cut from funding levels of previous years, but securing any funding in a tough economic climate should be viewed as a victory.

The Coordinated School Health program originated as a way to combine resources of the Kansas Department of Education and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to promote physical fitness and health education in our schools. Today the program assists grantee schools in achieving high levels of success in meeting the State’s wellness guidelines as outlined in the School Wellness Policy Model Guidelines. Last year 64 schools in 39 Kansas Counties shared more than $234,000 in grant funds.

Senator Laura Kelly (Topeka) has been a long-time supporter of the program and was largely responsible for securing the funding. Kelly recently told the Kansas Health Institute, “Anything we can do that focuses not only kids’ attention but families’ and schools’ attention on healthy lifestyles – increasing physical activity, better nutrition – we should do. The Coordinated School Health program is one way to use that school community to at least get out the values, skills and knowledge that we used to do with physical education and health curriculum.”

You’re The Cure advocates responded to the call and helped bring this victory about through contact with their legislators. The budget must now be reconciled with the House version of the budget before it goes to Governor Brownback so a lot of work remains to keep this line item alive.

Sales Tax Exemption

As the State continues to wrestle with its budget numerous proposals have surfaced regarding tax policy. These discussions have looked at everything from tax rates, to general tax policy including how sales tax exemptions are granted. Currently the American Heart Association has a tax exemption from the State of Kansas that allows us to put more of our donor dollars into research and education instead of the State’s general fund. From our calculations the value of what we offer to the State far exceeds what the State loses in revenue.

For legislators looking at tax policy, however, they are increasingly concerned that current tax policies are not uniform. In Kansas not all not-for-profits have a tax exemption and not all services at taxed equitably, for example. During theses larger discussions the American Heart Association’s advocacy team has been actively monitoring these deliberations to keep track of what impact those discussion would have on our exemption. To date, no action has been taken that impacts the AHA but we continue to monitor legislation as events can turn quickly in the closing days and weeks of session.

Help Us Build Our Advocate Network!

We are always needing more advocates like yourself to help us reach out to legislators. It is so important that they are hearing personal stories from their constituents! Please consider telling a friend to join our You're the Cure Network!