House Happenings Week 6

The pace of business in the Kansas House of Representatives saw another noticeable uptick this week as we debated 25 bills in anticipation of our first major session deadline. Next Friday marks the official halfway point of the 2012 session, known as “turnaround.” All bills, apart from specific exempt bills, must be passed out of one chamber by turnaround in order to be considered for the remainder of the session. If non-exempt bills have not passed out of the House or Senate they can no longer be considered. Committees are doing a great job of sending bills to the full House for further consideration and I expect we will have a substantial workload next week in advance of the turnaround deadline.

The Concordia American Legion and Auxiliary were represented this year by Laura and Damon Christensen, David Hazelwood, Charles Myers, and Lisa Valcoure at the Annual American Legion/VFW Legislative Reception. Kansas Livestock Association hosted their yearly event this year at the Manor Conference Center. Cloud County Community College Trustees and staff attended the Phi Theta Kappa All-State Academic Team ceremony on Thursday. Students Melissa Bekemeyer and Kristen Harris represented the Concordia campus. Dana Hauck from Delphos joined me for the dinner. A long-horned steer head is mounted and hangs today in the conference room at the KLA headquarters here in Topeka. Oscar was raised and lived a long life on the Hauck ranch in Ottawa County. The mount is very large and he was estimated having weighed nearly 1800 lbs in his prime.

House Tax Policy Proposal (HB 2747)
One of the most pressing issues facing the Legislature this session is strengthening the state economy. The House has been focused and committed on developing favorable tax policy that enables employers to create jobs, entices new business to relocate to Kansas and ensures residents will continue to live and work in our state. A variety of broad-scale tax policies have been proposed and each must go through the legislative process to ensure our end result is responsible, equitable, and affordable. Research shows Kansas has among the highest tax rates in the region and we are consistently losing workers to nearby states with lower tax rates. Our State has a diverse economy which presents a considerable challenge for any type of major tax policy changes. Regardless, alteration to the current tax code will not come without exhaustive study and deliberation. This week the House Taxation Committee held two days of hearings on HB 2747 to give members ample time to comb through the details, projections and to get public input on the proposal. Other tax proposals are also under review and I anticipate work will begin on a final product to send to the full House for further debate and consideration. In addition to all of these measures in play, it’s important to keep in mind that the House has already passed a substantive reform package, SB 1, which still resides in the Senate Tax Committee.

State immigration policy is quickly becoming one of the major topics discussed in the Statehouse this session. Parties on both sides of the issue agree this is the responsibility of the federal government but those in Washington D.C. have failed to address the problem, forcing states to consider ways we might address change in our communities. A number of proposals are under consideration and committees are actively working on this issue to determine the best way to move forward. This week alone, multiple days of hearings were held on several, vastly different immigration bills.

Redistricting Kansas
This week the House Redistricting Committee met to begin considering congressional district maps. The main sticking point with the congressional map, similar to the House map, is to make the population deviation for each district as close to zero as possible to ensure one person equals one vote. The goal is to get 713,280 persons in each congressional district. However, the task at hand is a daunting one because the first congressional district is under the target by 57,970 persons and the other three congressional districts are above the target by 3,233 (second), 54,289 (third), and 6,912 (fourth).

Kansas Water Policy Reform (SB 272 and HB 2516)
Impacting many communities in the western half of the state, Kansas water policy has become one of the main focuses of the 2012 legislative session and the executive branch priorities. Without careful planning, we risk endangering the livelihood, and ultimately the economic stability, of Kansas’ agricultural economy. SB 272 allows for multi-year flex accounts to assist irrigators, landowners and other affected parties in periods of drought. This would give parties flexibility in using their water allocation over a five year period. Years where individuals use more water than allocated can be set off by other years where the full allocation is not used. HB 2516 extends the availability and permanency of the Water Bank Act. In the late 1990’s, the Legislature passed the Water Bank Act allowing for two water banks in the state. A person with water rights can deposit a portion of their usage rights into the water bank for purchase. Currently, there is only one bank operating in central Kansas and it has not been put to great use. However, the potential for fracking in Kansas makes this a useful tool in ensuring oil producers have the water they need for the fracking procedures.

The Ogallala aquifer is the primary source of water in the western third of Kansas. Counties located above the Aquifer account for approximately two-thirds of the state’s agriculture economy and preserving the Aquifer is key to the economic future of Western Kansas and entire state. Without water from the Aquifer, agriculture and related business would not be sustained, manufacturing would slow and towns in the area of the Ogallala would struggle to survive.

Keeping in Touch
I hope you take the time to track the Legislature’s work in Topeka over the course of the 2012 session. Although early, policy proposals on the above issues, and many others, are quickly forming and I believe it is an important part of the process to keep my constituents updated. Committee schedules, bills, and other helpful information can be easily accessed through the legislature’s website at I encourage you to let me know your thoughts on the issues discussed by the legislature and others which might be affecting you. Please feel free to call or e-mail 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