March 14, 2008

Dear 107th Constituents,

It’s hard to believe that we’ve already reached the middle of March, but with only a few weeks left in the legislative session time is certainly flying by. We had an excellent week as committees are taking a final look at the bills before them and focusing on the issues to cover in the back half of the session. The upcoming weeks are shaping up to be filled with major issues and debates each week. It’s going to be an exciting period, and I’m looking forward to it.
We also passed some great legislation this week. We had a landmark debate on the floor Friday that provides Kansas businesses with important tax incentives designed to keep the state competitive and our economy thriving. Those measures also included additional relief to some of the victims of the flooding and natural disasters that the state endured in 2007. I was proud to vote in favor of each one of these measures, and think that we’ll see a tremendous return on our investment the future of Kansas this week.
The other major issue this week was a substantial overhaul of the state employees’ retirement system, which included a 2.5% pay increase for all state employees. House Bill 2916, which passed the House 104-18, implements a new state classified employee pay plan for the Executive Branch and provides salary increases for all state employees in fiscal year (FY) 2009. Although the plan will obviously mean increased spending, the modest increases will help the state retain workers, which were currently being paid well below market averages.
As I had expected, this week has been very busy in my committees. We are just coming back from turn around (when the Senate bills come over to the House and the House to the Senate) so we have not only our own bills to work, but the Senates as well. Tax committee has had a very busy week staying right up until 11:00 when we go on to the house floor. These discussions have included sales tax exemptions on 501(3) © organizations and also exemptions on guided and non guided hunts. We had a hearing on the Senior Citizen Property Tax Deferral Act which would allow seniors more than 60 years of age with a Kansas adjusted gross income of less than $60,000.00 to defer taxes (with an interest the State would set) on a yearly application. The State of Kansas will pay the counties this deferred money so the county funds would not be affected which is always a concern. This program would be similar to Reverse Mortgages that are now available at banks. This may be debated yet in the Tax Committee and sent out for floor debate but this decision is up to the chairman of the committee. One other bill that would be of interest to our area is HCR5015 which would place on the ballot a vote for reclassification of water crafts which currently is at 30% property tax rate and reclassify them as recreational vehicles. I believe this one will be worked in tax and also the house floor as it appears very popular here. The Department of Revenue also testified on the benefits of E-filing income tax returns and a bill encouraging more CPA’s and accountants to use the states’ service. The huge topic in Federal and State has been immigration. It definitely will be run next week on the House floor and it definitely will be a long day. SB 327 will not mandate E-verify (which is a government database) to force businesses to use it with each new hire. This seemed to cause a large part of the discontent here at the Capitol. The Kansas Labor Department will be a 3rd. party provider and businesses will be able to contract with this agency and not sign up for E-verify themselves. Another provision of the bill is a jury trial rather than a judge’s decision of guilt as the base bill was originally written. Business licenses will not be taken away without this process which was also a big concern of the business community. This bill in its current form will be debated on the house floor Tuesday (we worked this bill in committee for five hours late into the evening on Wednesday) and will probably be amended so the bill we vote on will move to the Senate for a vote in that body and then to a conference committee. We will see this back many times before a final decision is made. My last committee of the day is Agriculture and Natural Resources. The main discussion this past week has been the transfer of responsibilities from Kansas Department of Health & Environment (KDHE) to the Department of Agriculture (KDA). One of these bills, SB527, has been assigned to me to carry on the house floor next week. I served on another sub-committee to discuss a new bill that would further specify the disbursement of the Republican River funds from Senate Bill 89 which will be in the Governor’s office to sign soon.
I had two guests from the Kansas Optometric Association visit me on Monday, Steve Bryant and Travis Sharpe (formerly of Clyde). They were able to join us on the house floor as my guests and set up front to watch the action. It was also an honor on the same day to have Pastor Jonathan Harvey from Beverly give the invocation to the full body of the house. On Tuesday, I had six pages from around the district - Veronica and Brooke Campbell from Minneapolis, Monica Cairns, Alyssa Champlin, Lindsey Widen, all from Concordia and Tesla Madsen from Tescott. They had a very busy day and told me they all want to come back! Joyce Coppoc stopped by while she was in the Capitol to see her sister win a small business award and even had time for a trip to the top of the dome. Steve Clanton, Rosalee and John Tibbits from Ottawa County helped host a “Wake Up to Kansas Ag Breakfast” on Thursday morning. They were here representing the corn growers and wheat and soybean commission. I met with Senator Mark, Lt. Governor Mark Parkinson, Dr. Rick Underbakke and Kim Krull from Cloud County Community College to discuss the new wind energy program at CCCC and future enhancements.
Every year we have the opportunity to lead the Pledge of Allegiance on the house floor. It is still a thrill to say the Pledge of Allegiance every day but even more so when called to lead it as I was on Thursday. I feel very honored to have this privilege, but even more honored to have a chance to be up front at the microphone to begin the pledge.
As I mentioned, the upcoming weeks are going to be busier than any we’ve had so far this year, with a number of our most important issues making their way to the floor. House Leadership expects to begin the budget debate next week with the goal of keeping any budget increase to 5% or below. This will be no easy task; I expect lively debate on the House floor.
As always, please contact me if you have any comments, questions, or concerns. I am serving in Topeka for YOU!

Elaine Bowers
House of Representatives
District 107th
300 SW 10th Avenue
Room 110-S
Topeka, Kansas 66612