By John Celock
A proposal to fund new troopers for the Kansas Highway Patrol was sent back to a legislative committee for further review after a floor amendment caused confusion over the final plan Thursday.
The state House of Representatives voted to refer the bill – which would have raised the state’s vehicle registration fee by $2 to fund new troopers – to the House Appropriations Committee after an amendment was pushed that would have redirected existing funds to the KHP and provide a cut in the vehicle registration fee. The original bill came out of the House Transportation Committee and is part of an ongoing effort to address a shortage of troopers in the state.
“It is obvious with the confusion in the body, this is why we don’t try to amend bills on the floor,” Rep. Pete DeGraaf (R-Mulvane) said.
The original bill contained a $2 increase in vehicle registration fees that would be dedicated to the Highway Patrol to help hire new troopers. This would include funding a new rank and pay plan established last year by lawmakers. Kansas has been suffering a trooper shortfall dating back to 2006. The state currently has 399 troopers with 510 authorized. The number excludes 20 that graduated from the training academy last year.
Rep. Virgil Peck (R-Tyro) offered a floor amendment which would have changed the funding mechanism for the trooper expansion. Peck’s proposal would have addressed a $4 part of the vehicle registration fee that was put in place to fund technology modernization programs in the state Division of Vehicles, dating back to 2008. Peck’s amendment would have taken $2 from the amount to fund the trooper expansion with the remaining to fund a $2 decrease in registration fees.
The Peck amendment came as part of an overall debate over whether or not the KHP should be funded through user fees or through the state general fund. The KHP is currently funded through the state highway fund. Democrats noted they wanted to see the general fund pay for the Highway Patrol, noting that the state’s revenue shortfall would not allow for the funds.
House Transportation Committee Chairman Richard Proehl (R-Parsons), who was carrying the KHP bill, opposed Peck’s amendment saying that his committee had already cleared the original bill. He said the amendment from Peck, a former Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee chairman, would hurt the state highway fund through the cut.
“We fully vetted the original bill in transportation and we’d lose another $12 million in KDOT funding,” Proehl said.
Proehl motioned to divide Peck’s amendment into two questions, which resulted in the confusion and the motion to send the bill to the Appropriations Committee. Lawmakers voted to adopt the $2 for the KHP from the $4 in the first half of Peck’s now divided amendment, with the second half regarding the cut to the fee causing confusion with the wording of the division.
Lawmakers said they agreed to send the bill to the Appropriations Committee, which could see the impact of Peck’s amendment on the overall budget long term.
The bill had gained general support during the debate prior to Peck’s amendment, with lawmakers saying that they may not support the overall funding mechanism with the fee, they supported the highway patrol.
House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee Chairman J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), who developed last year’s rank and pay plan which delivered pay raisers to troopers, noted the success of last year’s effort. He said that the training academy in Salina has had larger class sizes with last year’s class of 20 dwarfing the previous six-member class.
Claeys noted that 128 people are going through background checks to be in the next KHP academy class and the next class would likely be around 40. He attributed the success to the rank and pay plan.
“It is working and it is solving the problem,” Claeys said.