2011 Session: Week 4

This week our state was hit by another winter storm that caused the legislature to be suspended for two days, an action which has not been taken in over 20 years. As a result, several bill hearings and the budget freeze debate had to be rescheduled. This included HB2003 which is the beginning of the legislative process of renaming a portion of Highway #18 in Lincoln and Ottawa Counties after WWII hero Donald K. Ross, Medal of Honor Recipient. The hearing has been rescheduled for February 8th in the Transportation Committee.

Next week the House is expected to debate and vote on House Bill 2014. This legislation, as proposed by Governor Brownback, freezes the state budget for the 2011 fiscal year and makes an additional $120 million in cuts and transfers. If passed in its current form, the bill would create a $35 million surplus in the State General Fund for this fiscal year.

On Monday, the House Appropriations Committee scaled back an earlier proposal to cut the pay of state employees by 7.5 percent. The new proposal cuts just the salaries of certain state officials, including elected officials, agency heads, university leaders and state employees making $100,000 by 7.5 percent. Assuming we’ve seen the worst of these winter blasts, I anticipate final action on this budget sometime next week.

Winter Storm Response
As I’m sure you’re aware, Kansas was one of many states affected by the massive winter storm this week. Approximately 53 counties were declared disaster areas by Governor Brownback and teams are currently accessing the extent of the damages to see if Kansas qualifies for federal disaster assistance.

Traffic across the state was down considerably and this allowed crews to treat the roads more efficiently. A team of 1,250 snowplow operators worked over 30,000 hours and plowed 21,000 miles (some twice) on 600 snow plows. I’d like to join our Governor in commending those responsible for keeping our streets and highways clear. The frequency of these storms forced workers to spend long hours in dangerous conditions to ensure our safety—and these efforts certainly do not go unnoticed.

House Rules
The major issue of note this week was the adoption of House rules. Typically, this is not controversial as the rules are adopted early in the session and without much fanfare. Most of the rules in House Resolution 6004 are technical and merely solidify the long standing practices in the House of Representatives. This year was different though, as the House aimed to craft rules that would alter one of the fundamental rules governing our budget building procedure.

The new rule, commonly known as PayGo, requires any amendment to an appropriations bill to be cost neutral. If a legislator proposes an amendment that requires additional spending, their amendment must also include a way to pay for that specific expenditure. This eliminates the ability for members to propose new spending measures without a viable funding mechanism.

This rule is unprecedented in Kansas, and has never been adopted by either chamber in the Kansas Legislature. The final vote on the HR 6004 is expected early next week. Adoption of the rule is a first step in re-thinking the way we budget as a state. Strained resources will continue forcing us to place an emphasis on prioritization of funds and realistic budgeting practices. PayGo will assist in this regard–and I’m convinced it will have an impact on the way we assemble our state budgets each year.

As it was a short week, I was able to catch up on e-mails and letters from my Topeka house due to the nearly 10” inches of snow which shutdown most of the city for the two days. However, two of my committees did meet at the end of the week. We heard from the Kansas Water Bank with the Kansas Water Office in the Agricultural and Natural Resourses on Thursday. This bank operates in western Kansas and is yearly reviewed to gauge it’s success with water conservation. A Louisburg large animal vet, John Lenz, of the Unwanted Horse Coalition testified about the problem of unwanted horses in the US. Currently due to federal law, the majority of unwanted horses are now shipped to Mexico or Canada for processing. The safe homes or ranchesare becoming over crowded by people giving up horses for many reasons including the economy downturn, urbanization, lameness, age or simply just not being wanted. There are no easy answers to the issue however the horse associations and animal welfare organizations are working together on solutions which include buy rather than breed and adopt rather than buy. Expect to hear more about this issue in the future. Rex Buchanan with the Kansas Geological Survey testified on the last year’s activities and future studies from this State Agency. The Survey has a tour around different parts of Kansas every summer and visited north central Kansas two years ago with a stop at the Jamestown Wildlife area. Social Service Budget heard from the Kansas Guardianship Program and supported the Governors budget recommendation for the 2011 and 2012 budgets. The committee also toured the Kansas Neurological Institute grounds and hearings will be next week in the committee on the proposed closure of the facility.

I hope you are tracking the legislature’s work in Topeka and, 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