Since two weeks ago, the pace in Topeka has had its peaks and valleys. On Wednesday, February 21, Governor Colyer signed his first bill into law, SB 262, which authorizes the construction of a statue honoring President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The statue, a replica of one displayed in the U. S. Capitol rotunda, will be permanently displayed in the northwest quadrant of the Capitol grounds in Topeka. All funds for the project came from private sources.
Of particular note is a similar project in the planning stages for Eisenhower National Airport. The display could encompass items from the Eisenhower Library in Abilene or a similar monument. The City of Wichita staff is currently evaluating options and the potential for a fundraising drive to cover the full cost of the exhibit.
From Thursday, February 15th and forward, the House worked and performed final action on over 60 bills in preparation for Turnaround Day, in which the originating Chamber forwards on to the other Chamber their bills for consideration and action. This past week, which concluded with a Pro Forma on Friday, March 1st, two additional bills were debated and will have Final Action on Monday, March 5th when the House convenes at 11:00 AM.
One particular bill, HB 2419, is one I crafted original language for in HB 2340 during the 2017 Session. This bill establishes a process for all state tax receipts received above monthly estimates to be transferred from the the State General Fund (SGF) to the Budget Stabilization Fund. There are some requirements in the new version in HB 2419 which must be met regarding historical revenue averages and a maximum established on fund balance. In any case, the intent of my original bill and what HB 2319 provides is to shelter these “excess” funds from being spent in SGF. With upcoming debt repayment obligations, its important, in my view, to instill some discipline and set aside funding for obligations which must be paid on time. We must stop our tendencies to “kick the can down the road” when it comes to funding KPERS and other obligations which, if delayed, saddles a future legislature with the burden.
Two hot topics: gun control and school finance. The Florida tragedy continues to cultivate the debate on how to make schools safer. Action at the federal and state level shouldn’t be delayed or set aside once a few days have passed.
I did a simple survey of 100 constituents last week regarding both gun control and additional funding for schools. Of the 20 responses to date, 80% were fully opposed to arming school staff. The usage of professional personnel including SROs and cops were recommended. Teachers are there to teach and not to be called on to act in a very tense situation where they lack experience and the necessary training. Their armed presence could be more of a deterrent than benefit. Those in favor of arming staff believe active shooter/shooters could be taken out before major harm is done. Also, the “bad guys” will avoid a community if they know that school staff is “packing heat” routinely.
Thus far during this session, The House and Senate have dealt with the legal age for possession of a firearm, lowering the age from 21 to 18. Also, Kansas would reciprocate with several other states on allowing out of state residents to possess firearms in Kansas with proper permit. The issue of conceal/carry on college campuses was addressed in these discussions on age limit. While exempting conceal/carry on Kansas Regent universities is not possible for now, the permit to carry on campus is part of new law assuming both chambers can agree on final language. I support this legislation. It’s a step in the right direction.
As we all anticipate the report from Dr. Taylor on March 15 regarding school funding level recommendations, I hope that all my colleagues in the Legislature will remember the thousands of students that will be impacted. I wrote a Letter to the Editor at the Eagle and it was published this past Tuesday: http://www.kansas.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor/article202468034.html
My point in the letter was that generations of Kansas students have been prepared by all stakeholders (Board of Education, Legislature, etc.) and these organizations always had the student’s back. I would offer that a large number of our Kansas lawmakers are Kansas high school graduates and should share their positive experiences regarding how they were prepared for college, careers, etc.
Is Gannon V the last of the lawsuits regarding school finance and adequate funding? Most people hope so. Some of my colleagues see a constitutional amendment as the solution. I need more information on what the amendment language would contain. Do you pull judicial authority entirely out of the equation? I have viewed the Supreme Court as the final backstop or referee in shaping a final policy. Some agree and some don’t. The method by which Supreme Court Justices are chosen continues to be a sensitive subject in Topeka.
On funding the recommendation from Dr. Taylor, many of you have supported another income tax increase. Others suggest using gas tax revenue. One offered a safety tax by taxing ammunition and weapon accessories. Few, if any, would support a property tax increase. The House Tax Committee has considered a tiered increase in the school mill levy, which you recall was reduced from 35 mills to the current 20 mill levy. Personally, I wish that we were further along with crafting funding scenarios rather than waiting on the numbers from Dr. Taylor and her research team, West Ed.
Governor Colyer has chosen Tracey Mann as Lt. Governor. Lt. Governor Mann grew up in Quinter and is a 5th generation Kansan. He worked the family farm with his grandfather, father, and brother. He left the farm operation to start a commercial real estate firm based in Salina. He and his wife Audrey are very active in the Salina community.
This past week, I hosted pages from Andover Middle School, Coleman Middle School (Wichita) and Home school students from Topeka including my grandson, Brody. I was impressed with the students’ grasp of government function and their views on issues. Unfortunately, the volume of bills being debated was low compared to the flurry we had the previous week. I encourage any of your middle or hign school students wishing to visit Topeka and become a House Page to contact my office, 785-296-7476.
On Thursday, March 1st, we celebrated Aviation Day at the Capitol. I was able to recognize the many fine companies which represent South Central Kansas before the House Body. The exhibits were well attended and the momentum that we have in the Air Capital for additional successes is astounding! The job opportunities in aviation and aerospace for our region are great! The collaboration efforts among all stakeholders for providing a skilled labor force to the many employers is impressive and essential for the continued growth we all anticipate.
I will close with thanking each of you who participated in my mini survey or have
sent emails or made phone calls. I am always available to know your thoughts on any issue. My goal is to respond within 48 hours of your inquiry. It is my honor and privilege to represent you in the 87th District.