Happenings Week 6

This week the legislature was delayed due to massive snow fall throughout the state. Thursday, the legislature canceled all orders of business to ensure the safety of legislators, visitors and all those who participate in making the process work. Other than not being able to convene on Thursday, the Senate still had a hefty agenda to work through earlier in the week. With turnaround now just a week away, committees are concluding hearings on all bills introduced in the Senate. “Turnaround” is the deadline, with a few exceptions, for all pieces of legislation to have passed its chamber of origin and sent to the other chamber. This week alone, the Senate passed 20 bills during final action. Next week will be the last days for committees to meet before turnaround. Thursday and Friday will be spent on the floor to ensure we work all necessary bills before March 1st. After turnaround, we will begin to focus committee work on hearing bills passed on the other side of the rotunda. While the legislature is certain to see a lot of action next week, this past week was also filled with committee activity and debate on the Senate floor.

Visitors from Senate District #36

This past week was another busy one with groups from the thirteen counties visiting Topeka and the Statehouse. Representatives from the National Guard Association of Kansas, Kansas Aggregate Producers, Kansas Livestock Association and the Kansas District Judges Association were in in the city and attended their annual conferences and visited legislators during the day and evening. Several groups were unable to attend due to the weather but plan on returning before session is over in May.

Two hundred and sixty nine 4-H members from across Kansas visited Topeka Sunday evening and held a banquet for legislators followed by debate and voting on their own legislation in the Capitol. I was honored to be a helper for the delegates on the Senate side with Senator Ralph Ostmeyer from Grinnell. They debated three topics – a mandate for Kansas farmers to donate to Invest An Acre, Safety in Schools – teachers carrying guns in the classroom and School Lunches – appropriate caloric intake for youth during school lunches. Several groups of 4-Hers came by my office Monday morning where we discussed my position as a Senator and my 4-H days as a farm girl in Ottawa County.

Committee Work and Senate Session Activity

Committee work is winding down but we still have bills in each committee waiting for a hearing or to be debated to send out to the full Senate committee. The Agricultural committee has heard from the Agricultural Department to enact the Kansas Farmers’ Market Promotion Act which would require venders to register (at no charge) with the department so a list could be developed for marketing and promotion of Kansas products. We continue to discuss SB 57 which deals with the dog breeders of Kansas as well as domesticated deer and poultry improvement plans. The Public Health and Welfare committee heard presentations on Medicaid Expansion and testimony on SB 160. This bill would have prohibited local health departments to seek national and standard accreditation. As it turned out, it was very unpopular with the Senator proposing the change asking that the bill not to be worked or addressed by the committee. It was proven beyond a doubt that Kansas health departments are doing excellent work and are very important to our communities. The Financial and Insurance committee heard small bills proposed by the Bank Commissioners and Insurance Commissioners offices which are minor internal adjustments to keep the agencies running smoothly.

The Senate worked its way through some heavy legislation this week beginning with SB 73, a technical fix and update to worker’s compensation law. Proposed changes under SB 73 include raising the amount an injured employee could claim from $120,000 to $130,000 for temporary injuries, and from $250,000 to $300,000 for more permanent injury. Additionally, the Senate passed SB 141, which prohibits the practice of gender-specific abortion. This means mothers or families that seek an abortion solely because of the gender of the unborn child would be denied, and practitioners discovered to practice this would be penalized. Receiving bipartisan support, the measure passed out of the Senate with a vote of 37-2. SCR 1608 proposes to amend Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution by adding the following sentence, “The financing of the educational interests of the state is exclusively a legislative power.” It was introduced to give Kansas voters the final say as to who makes the spending and taxation decisions for the state. An amendment similar to this one was passed out of the Senate in 2005. It now goes to the Kansas House of Representatives for further consideration and debate. If approved by a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate, the question would appear on the 2014 ballot. Another notable piece of legislation to pass out of the Senate is SB 27, which is a proposal that would provide veterans the opportunity to take part in the Military Service Scholarship Program. Currently the scholarship is only available to veterans who served in specifically named countries. SB 27 amended the definition of “qualified student” to include future students who may be in combat operations in countries that are not listed in current law. Our Military service men and women deserve to have the opportunity to qualify for this scholarship regardless of where they served. The Senate is proud to have passed the legislation unanimously.

Finally, as the Affordable Care Act is set for implementation next January, the Health and Welfare Committee introduced SB 163, also known as ‘mandate lite’ legislation. The measure would allow insurance companies to provide products for healthy individuals and families who plan on resisting the ACA’s requirement. Insurance companies would be able to sell medical policies that could exclude coverage of mental health, pharmacy, or chiropractic treatments to individuals who wouldn’t use them and don’t want to pay for them. The legislation will bring more certainty to the marketplace and provide Kansans with a safety net if their employer decided to drop their coverage.

Joint Committee Appointment

Senate President Susan Wagle recently announced appointments to the nine joint committees for the 2013 legislative session. I am honored to be appointed to the Joint Committee on State-Tribal Relations. The joint committee seats five senators, three appointed by the senate president and two appointed by the senate minority leader.

Governor’s Office of Appointments

This office assists the Governor with the appointment of more than 1,000 individuals to serve on Kansas’ Boards and Commissions. All qualified and service-minded Kansans are encouraged to participate in our State’s government by offering to serve on a board or commission, or by recommending qualified candidates. Serving Kansas on a board or commission is both an honor and a privilege. If you are interested or know of someone who would be a good candidate, please let me know and I will help with the paperwork and contact the office here on the second floor of the Capitol.

Legislative Forums

Representatives Susan Concannon and Troy Waymaster and I held our first Legislative Coffee in Lincoln on Saturday sponsored by the Lincoln County Farm Bureau. The next forum will be in Marysville at the City Hall with coffee and rolls at 9:00 and the forum beginning at 9:30. It is being sponsored by the Marysville Chamber of Commerce.

I hope you take the time to track the Legislature’s work in Topeka over the course of the session. As always, I will keep you up to date on the issues facing our state during this legislative session. I encourage you to stay informed on the issues under consideration by the Kansas Legislature. Committee schedules, bills and other helpful information can be easily accessed through the legislature’s website, www.kslegislature.org. You can even listen in live during Session which is 2:30 PM in the Senate and 11:00 AM in the House. Please do not hesitate to contact me with your thoughts, concerns and questions. I enjoy hearing from my constituents on the topics we are discussing in Topeka and I appreciate the perspective from those outside of the Statehouse. As the majority of my day is spent in committee meetings and on the Senate floor, emailing me at elaine.bowers@senate.ks.gov is the best way to reach me.

Thank you for the honor of serving you!

Senator Elaine Bowers
Kansas State Capitol Building
Room 223-E
300 SW 10th St
Topeka, KS 66612
785 296-7389