2010 Session: 8th Week

Dear Constituents,

Preparing for a long, difficult stretch of decisions that soon await, most of the work this week in the legislature took place in committee—with little substantive debate on the floor. Legislators remain cautious to pass measures with any potential cost to the state. As a result, there has been a timid tone in the legislature until it becomes clear where our numbers stand and what decisions we face.

While the Senate cleared a substantive and critical unemployment insurance fix (the SUTA bill from the House side), for small businesses and unemployed Kansans, the highlight of the week was perhaps the Friday press conference from the Governor announcing his response to last week’s shocking report that state revenues for February were projected to be $70 million below estimates. That saddles the state with $106 million in unexpected debt to recover before June 30.
In response, the Governor announced a series of six measures to reduce the 2010 budget by $85 million. The plan includes $28 million cut to the highway maintenance funds, $16 million in federal Medicaid payments, $15 million from temporary assistance to needy families savings, $10 million through passage of a primary seat belt law, $12 million in KPERS payment deferments, and a $4 million managed care privilege fee fix from the Department of Insurance. While the cuts fill a void, 4 of the 6 require legislative action and we will still face tremendous difficulty if revenues continue to fall over the next few months.

As I mentioned, most work took place this week in House committees, where members have defined the major priorities for the rest of the year and are holding hearings to get bills passed out to the full body for passage. The status of the child welfare system in Kansas was the topic in Federal and State Affairs committee for the entire week and it will continue on into Monday and Tuesday as well. This committee covers a variety of different social issues that are often hard to talk about and children-in-need is one of those difficult and emotional subjects. During this hearing of four proposed bills, grandparents along with foster and natural parents spoke to us concerning their problems with the current privatized system of adoption and foster care in the state. SRS (Social Rebiliation Services), judges and other supporters spoke on behalf of the agency and that the state of Kansas is used as a role model for other states’ legislation due to the organizations success with its five partners - KVC, DCCCA, Youthville, St. Francis and TFI. In Ag and Natural Resourses, Kansas Wildlife and Parks proposed SB 380 which would allow the department to adjust and set fees charged on the 75 cabins located in Kansas State Parks, state fishing lakes and wildlife areas. Twenty three cabins are planned to be added in 2010 and two of those (hopefully without delays) are to be located at Cloud County’s Jamestown wildlife area with the suggested rate of $60.00 per night. Secretary Svaty spoke to the committee on Water Law in Kansas and noted that the first regulated well was permitted in 1945. More water debate continues with discussion on SB 510 dealing with water conservation in closed areas rather than the practice of “use it or lose it”.

Angela Champlin and Donna Trost from Concordia along with members from Abilene representing Parents-As-Teachers visited with me during their day at the Capital on Tuesday. They brought me a new paperweight made of blocks which I will use in my office and remember the children they teach at home. I was very honored to have Kent Otott with Teens for Christ from Concordia, as my guest on the House Floor as the Chaplin of the Day. Kent spent the day with me attending committee meetings and had the opportunity to meet with the Governor before session. His prayer on March 4, 2010, will be printed in the House Journal and will be bound in a book at the end of the year – a recorded part of Kansas history.

Next week, I’m expecting to see some substantive floor action. The headliner will likely be the debate on a tax exemptions bill. This is notable because the bill will be amendable to nearly any tax proposal. For all purposes, I’m expecting this to be the major tax debate of the session, and a very challenging topic. The results of this debate also serve a functional purpose in providing our House Appropriations committee with an indication of what financial resources might be available to them in crafting the 2011 budget.

In two weeks, action will move almost exclusively to the House floor, where we will be debating and voting throughout the day—and sometimes into the night. It’s an exciting time of the year and as the weather continues to improve I hope to see you in the Capitol. I always enjoy visitors, but if you are unable to make it to Topeka, please feel free to contact me if you have questions about any state issue or have an idea on how State government can better serve the long term best interests of our community and state.

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