House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, talks about the Kansas Jobs First proposal at the Statehouse Tuesday.TOPEKA — State Democratic leaders presented a series of bills this morning that they say would produce thousands of jobs, improve education and repair aging infrastructure by setting new rules that help workers and by expanding gambling to southeast Kansas.
The “Kansas Jobs First” proposal includes 14 bills lawmakers plan to introduce during the 2012 legislative session, which begins Jan. 9. House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, acknowledged that his party’s plans face an uphill battle in the Republican-dominated legislature, but he and others said they believe their proposals will get bipartisan support.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said there has been a lot of attention focused on school finance, Medicaid reform, tax policy and others. ”But there’s no more important issue, we believe, for the legislature to spend its time on than the issue of creating jobs for the people of Kansas,” he said.
Hensley said the economy has begun to recover from the recession, but more than 50,000 Kansas workers are still unemployed.
“Families are still struggling to keep a roof over their head, to pay for their child’s doctor bills, to keep their gas tank full,” Hensley said during a news conference in the Statehouse. “Workers are stuck in low-wage jobs because they lack the money or time to obtain the skills that will help them find work at a higher wage.”
The proposal calls for state gambling laws to lower the $200 million investment threshold required to open a casino to $100 million. Democratic leaders say that $200 million minimum has prevented Southeast Kansas from getting a destination casino. The plan would also modify thresholds for slot machines at racetracks to help re-open racetracks in Crawford, Sedgwick and Wyandotte counties.
One proposal would use some gaming revenues for repairs at state universities and to fund city and county infrastructure projects, such as repairing crumbling sidewalks and aging sewer systems. Under the proposal, 50 percent of the state’s Expanded Lottery Act Revenues Fund money would pay for deferred maintenance projects at Regents facilities and 20 percent of the cash would go toward city and county infrastructure.
Another bill would accelerate projects in the T-Works program, which Democrats say is slated to spend $440 million next year and $237 million in 2013 on road projects across the state. Their bill would push forward at least $50 million of that work by putting out for bid in February any projects that already have engineering complete.
The Democrats’ full set of proposals would cost $11.1 million from the state’s general fund in fiscal year 2013. But it is projected to generate $5.4 million in 2014 and $15.4 million in 2015.
Among other bills proposed:
Hire Kansas First Act: A proposal to require any contractor or subcontractor working on a state contract worth at least $100,000 a year to ensure at least 70 percent of employees working on the contract are Kansas residents. That would exclude lease agreements, lease-purchase agreements, contracts that aren’t only for acquiring goods, projects that require expertise not readily available in Kansas and local government contracts. It would, however, include companies using several tax incentive programs to have 70 percent of their workforce from Kansas. Incentive programs include Promoting Employment Across Kansas Act, High Performance Incentive Program, Business and Jobs Development Tax Credit and the Sales Tax and Revenue Bond Program (or STAR bonds).
In their proposal, Democrats say Kansas needs to do more “to keep projects like the Ambassador Hotel, which sent $2 million worth of electrical work to an out-of-state firm; the Fairfield Inn being built by a Utah contractor; and the runway upgrade at McConnell Air Force Base given to a Florida-based company, here in Kansas.”
Application discrimination: This bill would ban employers from using applicant’s credit history when deciding who to hire. There are exceptions for some positions that require employees to have regular access to personal or financial information. It would also prohibit employers from advertising a preference for applicants to be currently employed. Similar bills have been passed in other states.
Immigration accountability: It would require state and local government agencies and contractors and sub-contractors under contract to verify their employees’ residency using the federal E-Verify system.
Worker classification: The idea would increase penalties for employers who intentionally misclassify an employee as an independent contractor from a class A nonperson misdemeanor to a nonperson felony.