Monday, February 24, 2014

Capitol Report: College savings, unwanted building, marriage at issue

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

GOP seeks to repeal plan to match college savings

Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee have voted to recommend repeal of the state match for a program in which low-income Kansans invest in the state’s Learning Quest post-secondary education savings plan.

Under the incentive program, up to 1,200 qualifying Kansans can have a tax-free match of up to $600 per year for contributions they make to the savings plan for their child’s college.

“From my perspective, the matching grant program is not a core function of government, something we really can’t afford at this time, benefits only a few, and can actually hurt the very people it is intended to help,” said state Rep. Pete DeGraaf, R-Mulvane, who is pushing for the repeal.

DeGraaf said the savings can be used against a family’s efforts to receive low-interest federal loans for college.

Building no one wants

The Kansas Department of Labor is seeking legislative permission to spend $115,000 to demolish an old house that the agency had used for offices just a few blocks from the Statehouse.

The structure — commonly known as the Department of Labor White House — was once an opulent home, built in 1880. It features a wrap-around porch, but has fallen into disrepair and would cost more to bring into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act than it is worth, according to Labor Department officials.

The officials said they have twice put the building up for sale, but no one has expressed any interest.

The federal government says the property must be used if it is supported by federal funding. The $115,000 cost to raze the facility will be paid for with federal dollars and fee funds, officials said.

Cheaper to marry

A proposal that would reduce the fee for a marriage license from $59 to $23.50 if the couple requesting the license completes a pre-marital counseling program is being pushed as a way to make stronger marriages.

“By giving incentive to pre-marital counseling, we have a chance to prevent the devastating effects of increased divorce in our society,” said state Rep. Kevin Jones, R-Wellsville, about House Bill 2330.

But Attorney General Derek Schmidt and the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence had some concerns with the measure because funding for crime victim-support programs comes from a portion of marriage license fees.

Janee’ Hanzlick, executive director of SAFEHOME, which helps people in domestic violence situations, suggested charging a higher marriage license fee for those who don’t participate in counseling, saying that would maintain program funding while encouraging pre-martial counseling.

Quote of the week:

“Blah, blah, blah.” State Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, reacting to suggestion from House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence, to cut the legislative session short because of Davis’ claim that the Legislature wasn’t working on anything important to Kansans.

What’s next:

  • 9 a.m. Monday — Higher education budget reports before House Appropriations Committee, room 112-North.
  • 1:30 p.m. Monday — Possible action on bills previously heard, including Senate Bill 196, creating the Kansas public charter school act, and Senate Bill 335, drug screening of school district employees; before Senate Education Committee, room 144-South.
  • 7:15 a.m. Tuesday — Higher education budget reports before Senate Ways and Means education subcommittee, room 546-South.
  • 8:30 a.m. Tuesday — Hearing on Senate Bill 392, amendments to the Kansas pet animal act, before Senate Agriculture Committee, room 159-South.
  • 10:30 a.m. Wednesday — Higher education budget reports before Senate Ways and Means, room 548-South.