February 13, 2009

Greetings from Topeka!

This week the House experienced a notable increase in activity as we draw closer to our first legislative deadline known as “Turn Around Day” marking the end of our initial six week stretch. Turn Around Day is significant simply because it marks the final opportunity for most bills to be considered in their house of origin. As a practical matter, this means our committees are working quickly to finish hearings on bills they hope to be considered. It also tends to mark the point where our overall pace begins to pick up. It’s an exciting time and I’m looking forward to learning more about the proposals we’ll be considering this year.

As you have perhaps already heard, the House produced the first half of the budget solution for this legislative session in passing our FY 2009 budget. This was a painful and time consuming process. Both the House and Senate spent hours working to negotiate a plan that creates around $325 million in funding. This money will conceivably allow state government to operate through the close of our fiscal year, June 30.

The bill is a compromise in the truest sense, as perhaps no member was truly happy with every aspect of the accord; however, I’m confident the House and Senate conferees worked diligently to distribute the painful cuts as evenly as possible. My hope now is that our Governor allows the carefully crafted compromise to pass “as-is” so we may confidently begin work on the 2010 budget knowing our financial footing for FY 2009 is on solid ground.

All committees are in full force. Much of my Commerce and Labor Committee days have been spent creating professional standards for the newly formed Kansas home inspectors. We continue to hear updates from the Department of Labor – they have brought in more people to answer phone calls about unemployment. I have been helping people from our district each week with problems with their claims – please call me at 785 296-7644 if you are facing difficulties with the phone hold time or the online service. Federal & State Affairs is the most controversial of all committees here in Topeka dealing with issues that tend to be complex and sensitive. This is my 3rd year of listening to hearings on abortion bills with three this week. It is at the chairman’s discretion to work these bills which would be happening next week if we do so. As every agency is feeling the pinch of the budget crisis, the Department of Ag has asked the Ag & Natural Recourse committee to review their fees on programs from the dairy, fertilizer & pesticide programs and water recourses. As I have learned here, a fee is a tax and these I am very careful to watch as they are passed to us as citizens of Kansas. We also reviewed the Kansas Veterinary Training Scholarship Program from K-State. There are currently 15 scholars in this program - all who will graduate and stay in Kansas to practice as the bill dictates. The debate on the bill was what area is “underserved” – and of course the answer is “it depends”. All areas of Kansas are in need for vets for all sizes of animals – livestock to small animals. Needless to say, this is a great program for vet students and the 15 young people are the best in the nation. Kansas’ program is very unique and copied as a model for other states in their legislatures.

I was very happy to attend the Kansas Preservation Alliance award ceremony where the Parker House Hotel was recognized as the most endangered structure of the 10 selected across Kansas. Bob Lott was acknowledged for his effort and it was a pleasure to be with him and Randy as he accepted the award. I was proud to sit with our 2 table of staff and students at the Phi Theta Kappa Academic Awards – our 2 students from the Concordia campus who were recognized as All-Americans are Raela Reames from Jamestown and Deandra Schirmer from Holton. The Country Treasurers from the state held their annual meeting in Topeka on Thursday. Leah Hern from Dickenson County, Joyce Walker form Lincoln County, Pat Baccus from Ottawa all attended plus the bonus of Steve Baccus, President of KS Farm Bureau, Pat’s husband joined us. As always, I am very honored to welcome the American Legion and VFW members each year at their annual meeting. Daman & Laura Christenson and Dave Hazelwood from Post No.76 all attended this year plus the State Finance Officer, Ron O’Leary, who stills claims Concordia as his home although he is based in Topeka just down the street from the capital. Their concerns of veterans’ benefits are very important to me and I am glad to have their support and opinion about what the State of Kansas can continue to do for them.

As you know, it is very important to me to bring young people here to the capital and the page program allows me several days to do this. I do have the opportunity to add more page dates to my schedule. Middle to high school age students are welcome to do this for legislators at the same pay as I received 20 years ago when I was a page for Rep. Bill Fuller - $3.00 for the day. But of course, the pay isn’t the important aspect obviously, it is the experience. I can still remember traveling through the tunnel to the Docking building from the Capitol and can still remember the people who were legislators – busy like I am now. Please call me at 785 296-7644 and let me know of any interested students and we’ll find a date that would work with the legislative calendar.

As always, I’m interested to hear fresh perspectives and hope you’ll share your thoughts with me. Drop me a few lines at Elaine.Bowers@house.ks.gov – we receive so many emails across the state and nation even, so please include your address and phone number so I can get back with you.

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