2011 Session: Week 3

This week as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of Kansas’ statehood it also serves as a time to reflect on the history of our state and to appreciate its role in the evolving state of our nation. For decades, Kansas has navigated some of the most challenging issues defining the United States. Famous for our role in battles over slavery, equality in schools and our involvement in a plethora of significant national issues – Kansas is indeed home to a courageous citizenry. It was my pleasure to work with Senator Mark Taddiken to bring Dr. Ferguson and his wife Bonnie to the Capitol during the Birthday celebration and the dedication of his Grandfathers tools’ which helped build the building. The four tools are on display on the 1st floor for all visitors to enjoy and appreciate the fact that the Ferguson family safeguarded the set for future generations to treasure as we do today.

As I’ve indicated in earlier updates, the main focus of this session will be addressing the $550 million state budget deficit and repairing the Kansas economy. The first step in addressing the budget comes in the form of House Bill 2014 which freezes the state budget for the 2011 fiscal year. The bill, as presented by Governor Brownback, makes approximately $120 million in cuts, orders several funding transfers and would create a $35 million surplus in the State General Fund for this fiscal year. This week the House Appropriations Committee held hearings and began working on amendments to HB 2014. I anticipate the bill will make its way out of committee soon and will be ready for a full vote sometime next week.

The process of creating a budget related bill can seem like a slow, deliberative process. However, in order to ensure all proposals are given ample opportunities for consideration, we must adhere to these established standards. Once introduced, a budget bill is sent to a committee for public hearings. After public hearings, the committee has the opportunity to amend and vote on the bill. If passed with a majority vote, the bill goes to the House of Representatives for debate, additional amendments and final vote.

Simultaneously, the Senate is working on its own version of the budget bill through a similar process. Once the House and Senate pass their respective versions of the budget, three representatives from the House and three from the Senate will meet in a “conference committee” to negotiate differences and agree on the final budget bill. This product returns to the House and Senate for each chamber’s vote of approval. If passed by both, the budget finally makes its way to the governor for his signature or veto.

While it’s certainly a long and sometimes daunting process, we must acknowledge fixing the budget involves a number of controversial measures, but I remain confident that we will find a way to improve the Kansas economy and solve this budget crisis.

Arts Commission Funding
Many constituents have contacted me to express their concern over the restructuring of the Kansas Arts Commission (KAC). There is no question the non-profit arts and cultural sector is a growing market in Kansas. However, as we continue to face astounding revenue declines we must find a way to restructure government while focusing on providing essential services. In this pursuit, we must ultimately determine whether programs under consideration preserve a “core function” of government. To provide an example, with the amount of money saved by restructuring KAC, we would keep 60 developmentally disabled children on our state wavier program – providing them the care they desperately need. The Governor’s plan to restructure the commission as a non-profit is a viable option. The State of Vermont has successfully adopted a non-profit structure for their arts commission and several other states are contemplating similar proposals. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which provides federal funding for the KAC, has threatened that federal money may not be available as a result of this action. However, the enabling legislation for the NEA has also been thoroughly reviewed and no requirement for state funding to match federal funding has been found. While this will continue to be an issue of concern, please rest assured that I am committed to ensuring the arts do not suffer. After carefully reviewing the situation, I am confident that the restructuring of the KAC will allow the commission to remain whole.

Expanded Liquor Sales
This week legislation was introduced that would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell full-strength alcoholic beverages. Currently, gas stations, grocery stores and convenience stores are limited to selling 3.2 beer and wine coolers. The bill (Senate Bill 54) would also allow liquor stores, who are currently limited to selling just alcoholic beverages, to sell food, gas and other items. This is not the first time this legislation has been introduced. Like many issues, there are two sides to this story and both have valid viewpoints. I would appreciate your opinion on this bill and how it could affect you and your community. As always, if you would like to hear more specifics on this or any other piece of legislation I’m happy to speak with you. A topic like this will usually have many layers, so it’s important to research all of our opinions thoroughly before reaching a conclusion. Your feedback always assists me in this regard. SB 54 is currently under consideration in the Senate but could make its way to the House later on in the session and I expect it to be assigned to my Federal and State Committee.

Speed limit
The House Transportation Committee held a hearing on House Bill 2034, which would raise the speed limit to 75 mph on separated highways. Three of the four states surrounding Kansas have maximum speed limits of 75 miles per hour on freeways. Proponents of raising the speed limit say Kansas' quality highways, safer engineering of newer vehicles and posting of 75 mph limits in a majority of states bordering Kansas are reasons to raise the limit. Opponents say raising the limit 5 mph on heavily traveled highways could result in more accidents because drivers would have less time to respond to emergencies. Opponents also state that another potential problem with the new 75 mph speed is that drivers will inevitably go several miles an hour above the new limit, transforming a 75 mph limit into a 78 mph or 79 mph for some drivers. A brief history on the changing maximum limit in Kansas: the speed limit in 1957 was 70 mph during daylight hours and 60 mph at night. In the 1960s, the Kansas Turnpike had a maximum speed limit of 80 mph. The limit dropped nationally to 55 mph in 1974, but was modified in Kansas to 65 mph in 1987 and to 70 mph in 1996.

National Credit Solutions Scam
This week Attorney General Derek Schmidt warned of a new scam from an organization calling itself National Credit Solutions. The reported scam contacts individuals by mail or telephone to inform them they owe late fees to Hollywood Video. Most of those contacted have not owed fees to Hollywood Video. If you receive a call or mail from National Credit Solutions please consider reporting it to the Consumer Protection Division in the Office of the Attorney General at 1(800)432-2310 or www.ksag.org.

Committee work
All three of my committees are now meeting regularly as the session starts to move faster. Even though we haven’t had a hearing on any bill in my Ag and Natural Resource Committee, we are having Agency heads update us on their functions and future plans. We were introduced to Dale Rodman, the new Kansas Agriculture Secretary who we learned has a business background and for many years worked for Cargill.
His major objective for field inspectors (think restaurants, hotels, meat processing) is to have each crossed trained so that only one trip is required by one person for an inspection of a business – not five visits by five different divisions by five different people. And they will be “consumer and business friendly”. He is also a fan of farmers markets as so many of us are in rural Kansas with 101 now registered at www.ksfarmermarkets.org. The first hearing in Fed and State was HB 2035 which is a bill we have heard and voted on before and sent out of both Chambers but has been vetoed the past few years. This bill is again requesting more specific medical reporting by physicians on abortions performed in Kansas. The Social Service Budget committee is still reviewing Agencies but will start having hearings on the actual dollars’ budgeted for programs next Tuesday. DS&O, Rolling Hills and Praireland Electric Cooperatives members had their yearly meeting and reception on Monday with all of my four counties represented. Twin Valley Telephone and Cunningham Telephone Company held a joint reception where I visited with Ben and Beth Foster representing their firm which is head-quartered in Miltonvale. Mike Lamm from Concordia was my guest on the House floor during session on Thursday and later visited with Insurance Commissioner Sandy Prager in her office after his Petroleum Marketers luncheon and meeting. Moriah Ausherman and Jeffrey Metzler along with his parents Becca and JP Metzler stopped by my office before their page duties began for Senator Brungardt on Wednesday. The Ferguson Tool Dedication was included in the 150th Kansas Birthday Festivities on Friday with the tools officially unveiled in the Rotunda on the 1st floor. Governor Brownback had a special viewing before he left for another Kansas event however auctioneer Greg Askrin along with the staff of the Kansas Historical Society and State Architect, Barry Greis were recognized during the ceremony. Judie Deal from Concordia also drove in to help with the celebration. The Fergusons were presented with a Senate Resolution and a House Certificate in memory of Nels Ferguson and his stone-mason tools. To learn more about the tools which were stored in Cloud County for so many decades go to the research section at www.kshs.org and find the “cool things” tab for more details on the Ferguson Family.

It is a special honor to serve as your State Representative and I value and need your input on the various issues facing state government. As always, I hope you are tracking the legislature’s work in Topeka - you can also follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org. If possible, take the time to visit this session. If you would like an individual meeting, I’d be happy to arrange one. In the meantime, I’m always anxious to hear your thoughts on how the issues discussed in Topeka affect you. Reliable feedback is very important in making sure I’m accurately representing my friends and neighbors here in the district. Please feel free to call or email and I’d be happy to discuss any topic you are interested in. Thank you for the honor of serving you.

Rep. Elaine Bowers
Kansas State Capitol Building
300 SW 10th St.
Room 54-S
Topeka, KS 66612