February 06, 2009

Greetings from Topeka!

This week’s balmy spring-like temperatures had a bit of a thawing effect on the previously frosty 2009 legislative session. On Wednesday, after weeks of preparation and careful consideration on a very difficult ’09 budget, the House passed our version of the “recession bill” making just over $300 billion in cuts. This bill is now in conference committee where undoubtedly more “tweaks” will be made. The adjustments will all be made prior to June 30, which marks the end of our fiscal year in Kansas.

This was a tremendously difficult process; however it pales in comparison to the work we now face in finding a solution for the projected $1.2 billion shortfall in 2010. To give you some perspective, this shortfall comes out of an annual budget of around $6.4 billion. Sometimes it’s easy to get carried away while listening to Congress and national media outlets throw around the astronomical figures that are being debated in Washington, but the reality is Kansans are going to be facing devastating shortfalls in the coming year and this is BILLIONs and not MILLIONs.

We also passed a resolution in both the House and Senate dealing with an issue receiving national attention and threatening to impact Kansas. As you may know, President Obama recently chose to close the terrorist detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Since then, the Military Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth have emerged as a potential candidate for re-location. I am strongly opposed to this terrible idea. The heart of the Midwest is not fit to be the home for the world’s most dangerous criminals. Additionally, I find it highly inappropriate to force our soldiers and service members to be in such close quarters with those they’ve fought so vigorously to defend against. I dearly hope the decision makers in Washington soon realize the scope and danger of this decision and reconsider.

Aside from those actions, committee work is in full gear. With just a little over a week left for committees to meet, there are a number of important issues to tackle before hitting those deadlines. I have mentioned, Commerce and Labor is a very important committee this year. The Secretary of Labor updated us on the agencies call load of people who are for filing unemployment in the state. New longer hours and 10 new people have been hired to keep up with the high volume of calls. Please call me at 785 296-7644 if you are experiencing difficulties in reaching the department. The new hours are 7-7 weekdays and Saturday 8-5. Several interesting facts from the Board of Regents Workforce Development were presented to us – 89% of Kansas college graduates remain in the state and 89% of Kansans in the work force have an Associates Degree. Technical and community colleges such Cloud County Community College place a big part in these numbers and are essential to the economy of the state. The Motor Vehicles Division updated the Federal & State Affairs committee on the security of our Drivers Licenses which ranks one of the highest in the nation. We heard a bill on Hunter Safety being taught in schools as an elective in Agriculture. The bill was table until the school board has a chance to weigh in and more questions are answered - the Department of Wildlife & Parks does work with 18 schools in the state with a similar program. The committee would like to have more facts and is trying not to burden the schools with another requirement even now as their budgets are being reduced. As the bill was written, the classes would be taught by a volunteer (as the program is ran currently by KDWP) - my main concern is that it is a local choice by the school boards to offer it or not – no mandate from the state. The Department of Agriculture has several bills coming up next week concerning fees and subcommittees are being set up to review the requests as fees play an important part of their budgets.

It has been my pleasure to request certificates for citizens in the District #107. A certicate is a signed document by the Speaker of the House and approved by the House members recognizing citizens of Kansas for special accomplishments and events. The award is recorded in the House of Representatives Journal and is bound in to a book at the end of session each year – a recorded event in Kansas history. The certificates were awarded to: Doug Moore for induction into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, City of Glasco for winning the Kansas PRIDE Award, Adele Lewis celebrating her 100th birthday, Linda Houser for the Leon Gennette Volunteer of the Year Award, Verletta Moon for the Concordia Chamber of Commerce Business Person of the Year and Dalton Buckland for achieving the Eagle Scout Award.

As always, please feel free to contact me; I appreciate your comments and calls.

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