2010 Session: 6th Week

After hours of debate on just over 50 bills, the Kansas Legislature reached the halfway point of the 2010 session on Friday, adjourning until Tuesday for a break after “Turn Around Day,” the first major legislative deadline of the year. It’s a whirlwind of activity, and the long hours are grueling—but it’s also an exciting part of the process, and one of the more enjoyable times of the session in many ways.

The bulk of our work in the House took place on Thursday. While most of the legislation originally scheduled was fairly non-controversial, we had a long list of amendments—and debate stretched to into the evening hours covering a host of hot-button issues.

The 2010 rescission budget was the most important bill to clear the chamber, but we also cleared a critically important fix for small businesses facing drastic unemployment tax increases. Aside from those two “time sensitive” matters, most of the bills we considered dealt with efficiency controls, statutory fixes, and any other budget neutral proposals.

Although the week was full of activity, as a practical matter the Legislature will remain in somewhat of holding pattern until we have fresh budget projections. The decision to either raise taxes or further reduce spending presents a serious dilemma for legislators—and consequently not one we’ll be rushing to make. Once the boundaries of our budget limitations are well defined, we’ll begin crafting the ultimate solution to our shortfall, working to minimize the pain for taxpayers and beneficiaries alike.

Committee work was thin this week because of the increased floor debate—but we had a few measures to wrap up such as the SUTA bill I mentioned above. Many Kansas employers were surprised at their new rate they were assigned by the Department of Labor in December with the bulk of the money due in April. In many cases, the increases were 400-900% over the last year. House bill #2676 will restore the percentage to the standard rate with the difference to be borrowed from the Federal Reserve at an interest free loan for a year. Other measures are being looked at in the Commerce and Labor Committee to restore the former Five hundred and Fifty Million dollar fund back to solvency and still encourage Kansas businesses to hire or rehire people back. The Taxation and the Appropriation committees continue to look at exceptions and a fair tax policy across the state however until more revenue figures come in, it will be difficult to make a lot of headway toward balancing the budget.

As a Cloud County Community College Travel/Tourism Business graduate, I am always happy to see tourism promoted in the state – Susie Haver and Tammy Britt were in Topeka representing Cloud County at the Travel Industry Association of Kansas Legislative Day on February 16th and toured the Capitol with me. Kansas Livestock Association (KLA) had their annual conference in Topeka on Tuesday and Dana Hauck from Delphos attended and joined Rep. Tom Moxley (his K-State fraternity bother) and myself for dinner. It is important to note that three people from the Minneapolis graduating class of 1967 have made a huge impact on Kansas agriculture – Dana serving as KLA President, Steve Baccus as the President of Kansas Farm Bureau and Steve Clanton serving as the President of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. Members of the American Legion and Auxilary met with legislators on Tuesday and I was honored to have Damon and Laura Christensen, Dave Hazelwood and Sgt. Jake Melhus take time to visit with me during their stay. One of my favorite yearly events is the Kansas Association of School Boards dinner. Attending from home were two of my school superintendents – Larry Combs, USD 333 and Gary Nelson, USD 298 who saved me a seat as session was late getting out Wednesday night. Cami Presler with Safe Homes (Domestic Violence Association of Central KS) stopped in my office Thursday morning before committee meetings began. I had the pleasure of meeting CCCC Academic Scholars, Scott Henry and Patrick Schulte and college staff, Dr. Jim Springer, Dan Gerber (who sat in on session earlier that morning), Kim Krull, Cathy Forshee, and Jenny Acree at the Phi Theta Kappa luncheon that day as well.

Looking forward, I’m expecting the initial House version of the 2011 budget to be rolled out within two weeks. It’s going to be an incredibly difficult process. I’m continually concerned about the distinct possibility of revenues dropping in the next two months, which would put us deeper in debt, and facing some painful realities. Regardless, I hope you will keep me informed not only of your thoughts concerning the budget, but any other measures that might impact our families and community.

We’ll have about three weeks before our next major deadline, so if you’d like to visit Topeka or get involved with legislation now is certainly the time. I appreciate the opportunity to serve you, and hope that if I might be of any assistance you will contact me.

Rep. Elaine Bowers
Phone 1-800-432-3924
Kansas State Capitol
Room: 54-S
300 SW 10th St.
Topeka, Kansas 66612
Phone: 785-296-7642
Email: elaine.bowers@house.ks.gov