TOPEKA — Local officials say new limits on the ability to raise property tax revenues from one year to the next are hamstringing Kansas cities and counties as they attempt to cover rising health insurance costs for their employees.
Officials representing local governments voiced their concerns about the new law Thursday to an interim legislative committee, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.
The law is commonly known as a property tax lid because it generally caps how much of an increase in property tax revenue cities and counties can levy from year to year at the rate of inflation, unless they get voter approval.
“Our member cities are still very strongly opposed to the tax lid. We think it’s an infringement on the very idea of representative democracy,” said Trey Cocking, deputy director of the League of Kansas Municipalities, which represents city governments. “Our members were elected to make these decisions, and we obviously think these decisions are best made at the local level.”
Cocking said cities throughout Kansas are facing increased costs for such things as employee health insurance, and that the tax lid prevents them from keeping up with such costs.
“We are hearing from cities that, this year, have had their health care costs go up anywhere from 10 to 58 percent,” he said. “The city of McPherson is facing a 10 to 13 percent increase in health care costs, and that’s after they increased their deductibles by 250 percent.”
Some lawmakers have said the cap is more like a sieve because of exceptions to the rule, such as taxes raised to pay for enhanced law enforcement, or taxes raised to pay the cost of complying with state or federal mandates.
The committee will review other tax issues before voting on what to include in its final report to the 2018 Legislature.
Filing: Men accused of bomb plot want Trump voters on jury
WICHITA — Three men accused of plotting to bomb a mosque and apartment complex housing Somali refugees asked a federal judge Friday to include prospective jurors from rural western Kansas because they are twice as likely to have voted for President Donald Trump.
A defense motion argues that plans to only summon citizens in the more urban counties closest to the federal courthouse in Wichita is a discriminatory practice that excludes rural and conservative jurors. The trial begins March 19.
Gavin Wright, Patrick Stein and Curtis Allen are charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against civil rights for allegedly planning to detonate truck bombs in the meatpacking town of Garden City the day after the November 2016 election.
Wright also faces a charge of lying to the FBI.
The three men, who were indicted in October 2016, have pleaded not guilty.
“This case is uniquely political because much of the anticipated evidence will center around, and was in reaction to, the 2016 Presidential election,” defense attorneys wrote.
They also argued the case will require jurors to weigh whether the alleged conduct constitutes a crime or whether it is constitutionally protected speech and assembly and the right to bear arms.
The U.S. attorney’s office said in an email that it was “evaluating the motion.”
Prosecutors have argued the men formed a splinter group of the militia Kansas Security Force that came to be known as “the Crusaders.” Wright is quoted in a wiretap transcript as saying he hoped the attack would “wake people up” and inspire others to take similar action against Muslims.
Stein’s former attorney told the court in an earlier hearing that his client believed then-President Barack Obama would declare martial law and not recognize the validity of the election if Trump won, forcing militias to step in.
Kansas on track to launch delayed license system
TOPEKA — Officials with the Kansas Department of Revenue say a long-delayed driver’s license computer program is on track to launch next month.
The second phase of the department’s computer system replacement is expected to go live Jan. 2. The program will replace part of a decades-old system that was used to issue drivers’ licenses, identification cards and commercial licenses, and process motor vehicle titles and registrations, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
The project was supposed to replace the old systems in 2011 and 2012. But the first phase replacing the title and registration system launched nearly a year late, causing long lines at county treasurers’ offices.
The second phase of the system that issues licenses still isn’t online nearly six years after its initial targeted launch date. That phase is the one that officials said will go live next month.
Some lawmakers and auditors expressed concern about the program earlier this year.
Auditors placed the project on caution status in July and October reports because of changes to the scope of the project and the missed deadlines.
There aren’t any issues currently that might delay the rollout, said Rachel Whitten, spokeswoman for the Revenue Department.
“With any project there’s challenges that are presented and you work on those challenges, and (Revenue Secretary Sam Williams) has been very involved in this project — overseeing and making sure the people working on the project have the resources they need and the support to ensure the success of the project,” Whitten said.
The Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit will release another review of the program next week.
ACLU calls for school board to end complaint ban
SHAWNEE — The American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas has called for a school district in the Kansas City area to eliminate a policy prohibiting public complaints about individuals at board meetings.
The ACLU sent a letter to the Shawnee Mission School Board Dec. 6 saying a new open forum policy approved last month violates constitutional rights to free speech, the Kansas City Star reported.
The school board’s new policy requires speakers who participate in the open forum section of school board meetings to present information in a “positive” and “constructive way.” The policy says complaints against individual school board members or individual employees are considered inappropriate for the open forum and must be submitted in writing to the superintendent or board president.
Doug Bonney, legal director emeritus for the ACLU, said the First Amendment and case law give individuals the right to express “vehement, caustic and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”
The letter is the second one Bonney has sent the district regarding its open forum policy. Bonney wrote to the district in May when former Board President Sara Goodburn told a parent he couldn’t criticize another school board member by name. The parent had expressed concerns that the member had a conflict of interest when she voted on a contract earlier in the year. Bonney said the district was violating the First Amendment at that time as well.
Board members have said the restrictions related to individual employees are meant to protect the privacy of staff and prevent defamation.