Hello from Topeka! The weather much like the Kansas legislature can be a bit of a challenge, as there have been several days of bitter cold, icy streets and snow only to give way to bright sun shine and temperatures near 50 degrees. Inside the statehouse, there has been much anticipation of several bills being introduced, but it looks like they may wait until next year, as the deadline for individuals to introduce legislation has passed, but there is still time for some select committees to do so if the need arises.
Probably the highlight of the last week was on Wednesday when Chief Justice Lawton Nuss delivered the annual State of the Judiciary in the courtroom of the Kansas Supreme Court. The Chief Justice spoke about the pay of district court judges, recognizing six district court judges who attended the address (Judge Mike Ward, El Dorado; Judge Bruce Gatterman, Larned; Judge Kelly Ryan, Olathe; Judge Mary Christopher, Topeka; Judge Sally Pokorny, Lawrence; and Judge Jeff Dewey, Wichita).
The Chief Justice shared positive progress for the Judicial Branch, focusing on e-filing, which enables court documents to be filed electronically. The Judicial Branch is working to connect e-filing with a centralized electronic case management system (eCourt). This integration will give judges, court staff, and attorneys “immediate, statewide electronic access to case information and records provided by the Kansas Courts. One of the many benefits cited by the Chief Justice is to: increase efficiency and effectiveness by streamlining some activities and automating others–like improving the ability to process electronic payments. The first “Go-Live” of this system will be in June in the 8th Judicial District (Dickinson, Geary, Marion, and Morris counties) and the 21st Judicial District (Clay and Riley counties).
Other successes mentioned by the Chief Justice were: the committee that investigated the state’s municipal courts, which came back with 18 recommendations; recently formed task force studying pretrial detention practices in district courts (“to see that no person is unconstitutionally or unnecessarily deprived of his or her liberty before a decision is made on guilt or innocence). Also cited were the Self-Help centers set up in the courts of five counties: Ellis, Miami, Johnson, Shawnee, and Wyandotte. Additionally, the Supreme Court has increased access to justice by increasing the number of lawyers who can provide pro bono, or free, legal services.
Also last week, the Family First Prevention Services Act, an important piece of Federal legislation, was signed into law. The Act aims to prevent children from entering foster care by allowing federal reimbursement for mental health treatment, substance abuse treatment, and in-home parenting skill training. In addition, the Act focuses on improving the well-being of children already in foster care through an incentive to states to reduce placement of children. The basic premise is to keep children safe and supported at home and ensure that children in foster care are in the least restrictive appropriate settings.
The House Children and Seniors Committee and the House Appropriations Committees discussed how Family First would be implemented in Kansas. The Children and Seniors Committee heard HB 2103. Under the Family First Prevention Services Act, states will have the option, beginning on October 1, 2019, to use Title IV-E funds, at a 50% federal match rate, for certain evidence-based prevention services and programs. Most of the changes that are required by the Act for the state of Kansas to receive the additional federal funding will be made on a policy and regulatory level by the Kansas Department for Children and Families.” There are statutory changes that need to be made so that Kansas can qualify for the new funds.
Testimony from the Department of Children and Families note that the Act allows states to use Title IV-E (in Social Security Act) funding for time-limited prevention services for children at risk of being placed into foster care, for the children’s parents and kinship caregivers, and pregnant and parenting youth. The Act allows children who need special services and treatment to be placed in a Qualified Residential Treatment Programs (QRTPs), with specific requirements in place so that Kansas can receive federal reimbursement. A joint committee of members of the Kansas Supreme Court Task Force on Permanency Planning and the Judicial Council Juvenile Offender/Child in Need of Care Code Advisory Committee studied the Federal Act and HB 2103 results from their efforts. Further action is planned for the bill.
The House Appropriations Committee heard Tuesday February 5 from Laura Howard, interim Secretary for Department of Children and Families and Department of Aging and Disability Services. She presented an agency overview and budget summary for the Department of Children and Families. She indicated that the Governor included funding for 26 FTE positions in child welfare in the FY 19 budget and an additional 26 FTE positions in the FY 20 budget. In relation to the Family First Prevention Services Act: $8.8 million AF is budgeted for FY 20 for evidence-based prevention programs; $36K FY 19 and $73K FY 20 for children at substance abuse treatment; $502K FY 19 and $452K FY 20 for 3 FTE, background checks, and licensing.
This past week, Kansas Farm Bureau had their day at the statehouse and was glad to welcome: Myndi Krafft and Doug Zillinger from Phillipsburg and Chris Tanner from Norton and Miranda Atchison from Kirwin. There were also days focused on economic development and tourism, it was good to see Roger Hrabe from Rooks County. Speaking of Rooks County, the group from Stockton made their annual trip to Topeka and I believe had a productive couple of days. Also, Leading Edge Kansas held meetings and we were able to catch up with Jay Shelton from Norton and Amber Atkisson from Stockton.
I enjoyed being co-host of “SportsTalk” with Tad Felts Saturday morning on My Phillips County Online and saw lots of friends at the Phillips County Livestock Association Annual meeting and banquet in Phillipsburg.