2010 Session: 7th Week

Dear Constituents,

After a short break to reset for the second half of the session, we quickly re-focused and addressed substantial legislation this week. With long debates beginning Wednesday, the House this week cleared two substantive measures, while committees got back to work on their priorities for this key stretch of the legislative session.

On Thursday, the House concurred with a Senate measure to ban smoking statewide. The measure had become a perennial issue in the legislature, pitting personal and local freedoms vs. public health concerns. Ultimately, after a spirited debate the bill advanced to the Governor’s desk on a 68-54 vote and is expected to be signed fairly quickly.

We also spent most of our session on Friday deliberating on a number of amendments to one of the state’s most successful economic development tools. The Promoting Employment Across Kansas (or PEAK) Act provides prospective companies considering Kansas for re-location an incentive to do so by providing a window of time in which they are not obligated to pay employee withholding taxes. The incentive can also be earned by businesses with offers to re-locate a business in order to retain those jobs.

As last week was “turn-around”, we are now looking at Senate bills in my committees with hearings from the proponents and the opponents again. In high school government classes, we learned that bills have a hearing in each the Senate and the House coordinating committees then is brought to a full vote on the floor of each chamber. We are now in the process of “tweaking” each other’s bills which have passed out of each committee and survived a vote of each body. Only after each bill has received a vote in each chamber then the all-important conference committee is assigned and the two different bills are merged together and brought back to us for a full vote before it goes to the Governor’s desk for his signature to become law. If this process is allowed to happen, a bill is fully “vetted” with all 165 of us having a vote in the matter. This is exactly what didn’t happen with HB #2221 which we knew as the “smoking bill” here. This bill was introduced as a childcare bill then gutted to allow the new language to be inserted on the Senate side. A motion was made on the House floor to “concur” with the Senate which means we cannot amend or add or change this Senate bill in any way– only debate it. This maneuver (or shortcut) removed any chance of improving the bill which is an important health issue in Kansas – the effects of second-hand smoke. Under this provision, all casinos in Kansas will be exempt as will nursing & retirement homes (smoking in designated areas), VFW’s, American Legions, class A & B private clubs licensed before January 2009, tobacco shops and also private golf, hunting, fishing and shooting clubs. Calls and emails from home where equally split on this issue but there was no doubt that we all agree that second hand smoke (and smoking) is a health hazard. In my three and half years here, I have always been careful to adhere to some fundamental principles. First, the process must be allowed to work completely and that communities, local government and businesses should work out these issues without mandate from the state. This is just the same as the “one size fits all” mandates from the federal government telling the state how we should conduct our business. Many of our counties and cities have already passed their own home rule ordinances tailored and accepted by local leadership and I am very conscience of these regulations as I am with our citizens and property taxpayers’ rights and choices. And as I have always said, please email me on issues such as this and if you ever think a vote of mine is peculiar, there are so many details (and politics at work) that aren’t always brought to the surface that I am happy to discuss with you.

A bill that was introduced in Federal & State affairs would name a state grass, Little Blue Stem, as the official state grass of Kansas. School children have been instrumental in this grass choice above all native grass in the state with the help of the Kansas Native Plant Society. Several Kansas students spoke about the grass (schizachyrium scoparium) which grows in every county in Kansas and in all kinds of soil. The committee staff even brought in a step ladder for one boy to reach the microphone to testify. Whether the bills reaches the floor for a vote remains to be seen as there are number of bills ahead of it including the most important matter of the final budget to be worked on yet. Next week the House will receive a full report on projected state revenue for the month of February. However, based on some initial projections we received Friday, the numbers are going to be devastating. While many expected the $38 million hole we face this year to increase around 20-30 million, Friday’s announcement that we’re looking at an additional $60 to $70 hurled the budget into a devastating free fall. For many, it’s a development that will alter the entire perception of the 2010 session.

We’re back to our standard schedules on Monday, and for most of the next month will be churning through legislation at a steady pace. As always, feel free to contact me concerning any of the news you’re reading about. As I mentioned, this is the portion of the session when we’ll be dealing with the “hot button” issues so your feedback is always appreciated.

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