Politics & Government

House OKs bill to help study infant mortality

TOPEKA — The House of Representatives has given final approval to a bill to allow health surveyors to gather more data from mothers to try to cut high infant-mortality rates in Kansas and especially Sedgwick County.

House Bill 2454 will allow the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to access birth-certificate information to find and survey mothers of infants that die in the first year of life.

The idea is to gather data on issues such as nutrition and access to medical care, said Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, who carried the bill on the House floor Wednesday.

"We'd like to find out what are the factors leading to this high infant-mortality rate in an otherwise healthy state of Kansas," Colloton said.

The national infant mortality rate is 6.6 deaths in the first year of life per 1,000 live births.

In Kansas the rate is 7.2 per 1,000.

Overall, Sedgwick County has a rate of 8.93 and among African-American county residents, it's 21.57 per 1,000.

Rep. Melody McCray-Miller, D-Wichita, said some of the worst numbers are in her northeast Wichita district.

In the 67214 ZIP code which she represents, the infant mortality rate for African-Americans is 26.50 per 1,000 births, according to health department statistics.

With HB 2454, "we can hopefully get some key information about what's going on in the background here," McCray-Miller said.

She said that previously KDHE was not allowed to access birth records to try to find mothers of children that die in infancy.

The survey interviews will be kept strictly confidential and language in the bill requires background checks on employees who will handle any personal information, Colloton said.

The additional surveying will be paid for with about $200,000 in grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The House vote for the bill was 114-7.

The Senate had already approved the measure, which now goes to the governor's desk.

911 telephone tax

TOPEKA — A continued tax on telephone services to pay for 911 emergency systems that can locate mobile phones won final approval in the House on Wednesday.

It now heads to the governor for a signature or veto.

House Bill 2582 sparked some bad feelings between the House and Senate in part because Senate negotiators wanted to change the way the tax is collected on prepaid mobile services.

At present, providers estimate the amount of tax owed for the prepaid services. Under the Senate's proposal, the tax would be paid at the point of sale, like a sales tax.

On Tuesday, Sen. Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, said the estimation in the current law leads to substantial undercollection of taxes. Changing to a more precise point-of-sale system would nearly triple income from the tax to about $1.2 million a year, he said.

He said the income is critical for small counties that can't afford the high-tech gear needed to allow emergency responders to find accident victims by their cell phone signal.

At one point, Bruce compared House conferees to 2-year-olds who couldn't get along in day care. He later retracted the remark and apologized, and the Senate passed the bill 40-0.

The House passed it Wednesday on a 121-2 vote.

If no action had been taken, the tax would have gone away later this year.

Sex-with-inmates bill

The state House gave final approval Wednesday to increased penalties for guards and other corrections employees who illegally have sex with prisoners.

On a 123-0 vote, representatives approved a House-Senate conference report on Senate Bill 434.

The centerpiece of the bill raises illegal sex with an inmate from a level 10 felony to level five. The practical effect increases the sentence from a presumption of probation to a presumption of prison time.

The bill also increases penalties for corrections workers who smuggle weapons, drugs or other contraband into a facility.

It also would require the Parole Board to review the cases of some prisoners who were incarcerated before 1993, to determine whether they would be eligible for release under sentencing guidelines that have been revised since then.