2011 Session: Week 1

2011 Session Begins
The 2011 legislative session officially began this week, as usual, with ample fanfare and pageantry. On Monday, Sam Brownback was once again acquainted with Kansas winters as he was inaugurated as the 46th Governor of Kansas. As we all know, Kansas is a great place to live but sometimes the weather can get in the way and in this case, guests from home were unable to attend the swearing in ceremonies. With 6 inches of snow on the ground outside and falling steadily, the Legislature welcomed the Governor and other statewide office holders inside Hall of Representatives instead of the traditional south steps of the Capitol. All 125 House members stood for election in 2010 with the result was a significant number of new legislators arriving at the Statehouse for the 2011 session. I was privileged to speak to the new “freshman” at their orientation session with a talk entitled “What I Wish I Had Known as a Freshman” and was assigned as a mentor to a new legislator from Johnson County. It is interesting to note that since my swearing-in ceremony in 2007, fifty of these legislators no longer serve in the House with me. Many have moved on to other elected offices or state agencies; some were defeated in elections or have retired.

The primary focus this session will be on the $550 million state budget shortfall and repairing the Kansas economy. Multiple proposals and ideas will be considered, debated and voted on in an effort to address these issues. Other issues regarding voter identification requirements, immigration, abortion, the smoking ban and gaming are anticipated to emerge. Early in the legislative session, most of our time will be spent in committee learning about the issues facing our state, and beginning the process of determining which legislation we’ll focus on in this first year. After learning more about these issues, we’ll pass them out of committee and begin voting sometime in the next two weeks. As the session progresses, we’ll move from committee activity to floor debate and final votes. When we begin this phase, I’ll continue working to keep you updated on the issues we’re hearing about and I hope you’ll keep me informed of your views. House Bill 2003 is a pre-filed bill which I introduced to honor a World War II hero, Donald K. Ross from Beverly in Lincoln County. A hearing should be scheduled next week in the Transportation committee and I will have people from District #107 testify for the renaming of a section of Highway #18 in Ottawa and Lincoln County in honor and memory of Lt. Ross.

On Wednesday, Governor Brownback appeared before a joint session of the Legislature to give his first State of the State address. Captain Aaron Isaacson, the Legislative Liaison for the Adjutant General’s office, attended the State of the State Address as my guest for the speech. The Governor’s main priority is to revitalize the Kansas economy by improving rural and urban private sector growth; creating a three-year, $105 million initiative to enhance job growth in key economic sectors like aviation, cancer research, animal health and engineering; and by allowing Kansas businesses to immediately deduct from their expenses a higher percentage of their investment costs. The Governor also called on the legislature to adjust the state tax code to encourage investment, income growth and job creation. One issue of particular importance in his view is eliminating corporate tax subsidies and lowering the state income tax rates.

The Governor’s budget for the 2012 fiscal year is approximately $750 million dollars less than the current fiscal year (FY ‘11). Figures show a significant portion of the FY 2012 budget revolves around increased costs for SRS caseloads and additional federal mandates regarding Medicaid. Much of the savings will be realized through the issuance of executive orders that call for the structural elimination of state jobs (2,000 which are currently unfilled); the abolition of eight state agencies; and the merging of several programs and functions where duplication is occurring.

Concerning the overall budget, anticipate the legislature to quickly get to work on a measure to freeze state spending. Governor Brownback expects a bill on his desk by the end of January, and this legislation would create a budget surplus of $35 million. The other major task he’s handing to the legislature will be working on the unfunded liability of KPERS, which currently stands at $8 billion. It’s an issue that impacts our budget in a very dramatic way, and it’s appropriate to begin taking a serious look at this as we begin reforming.

My three committees this term (my third) are Agriculture and Natural Resources, Federal and State Affairs and Social Service Budget Committee where I will serve as the Vice-Chairman. All of my committees meet daily beginning at 8:00AM with Session at 11:00AM in the House Chambers. I now sit in seat 70 North on the Speakers left hand side. My office is still 54S on the Garden Level – just off the walkway from the parking garage and very easy to find. My intern this year is Jody McCready, a 2001graduate from Chapman High School and Ottawa University with a Psychology degree. She will graduate this year from KU with her Masters in Social Welfare. If you know of a young person, age 10-18, who might be interested in being a Page for me for a day (or morning), please call me – I have days assigned to me but I can always request more dates. I was a page 30 years ago for Representative Bill Fuller who is the father of Superintendent Bev Mortimer in Concordia. I have the black & white photo in my hanging in my Topeka office with Rep. Fuller and Governor John Carlin – today the pictures are color and will be taken with Governor Brownback who the students will personally meet and have a few moments to chat with him.

As always, I hope you’re tracking our work in Topeka. While the snow probably prevented many visitors this week, I hope you’ll be able to visit at some point in the session. I’ll be happy to arrange a time to meet with you individually, but in the meantime I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on what you’re hearing in our district. It’s very helpful for me when I have reliable feedback. “Vote your district” is a term we often hear in Topeka, but I can’t do that without your input. Please feel free to call 785 296-7642 or email elaine.bowers@house.ks.gov or plan a visit this beautiful working museum – your Capitol. I’ll be happy to explain more on any topic you’re interested in. I appreciate your interest in our work, and I’m honored to serve you. Thanks for reading!