Legislative Update: Week 1
Topeka The Kansas Legislature convened on Monday for the 2011 legislative session. As a first order of business, all 125 members of the House and five members of the Senate were administered the oath of office. Although senators weren’t up for election this year, five new members were needed to fill seats vacated by retirements, Cabinet appointments and congressional elections.
Gov. Sam Brownback, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, and statewide officeholders were also sworn in this week.
Even with a number of new faces, I am confident that members of the Legislature can solve important issues facing our state. By putting partisan politics aside, we can pass legislation that improves the lives of all Kansas families.
I am honored to serve as your senator. My office is located in room 124-E. Please feel free to visit or contact me at 785-296-7357, if you should have any questions.
Daily calendars, committee and district information are all available at www.kslegislature.org. To hear legislative proceedings, just click on the “Listen in Live” link.
Congratulations to Leavenworth High School wrestler Nathan Butler. Butler, who is ranked No. 1 in the state for his weight class, recently won the Leavenworth Challenger, the Smithville Invitational, and the Louisburg Invitational.
The U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Prisons will be hosting a public meeting on Jan. 20. The organizations will share its proposal for building a new medium-security correctional facility on the ground of the existing US Penitentiary. The meeting will start at 7 p.m. at the Riverfront Community Center.
STATE OFFICES CLOSED MONDAY
The Statehouse will be closed Monday in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. All state offices will reopen Tuesday morning.
Celebrations in honor of Dr. King will be taking place across the state. Here are several planned in our community:
Southern Christian Leadership Conference Community Breakfast
MidAmerica Nazarene University, 2030 E. College Way, Olathe
8 a.m., Jan. 17
MLK Holiday Celebration
Jack Reardon Civic Center, 5th Street and Minnesota Ave.
11 a.m., Jan. 17
Motorcade for Hunger
Mount Zion Baptist Church, 5th Street and Richmond Avenue
10 a.m., Jan. 17
7th Annual Legacy an Scholarship Awards Dinner
Overland Park Marriott, 10800 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park
5:30 p.m., Jan. 17
Bonner Springs and Edwardsville Celebration
148 Nettleton, Bonner Springs
1 p.m., Jan. 17
GOVERNOR DELIVERS STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS
On Wednesday, Gov. Sam Brownback delivered his first State of the State Address. He did so before a joint session of Senate and House members, Cabinet secretaries and dozens of state dignitaries.
In his speech, Gov. Brownback outlined several themes his administration plans to implement this year. Here are the highlights:
- Increase private sector jobs and eliminate 2,000 unfilled state jobs;
- Eliminate corporate tax subsidies;
- Allow Kansas businesses to deduct a higher percentage of investment costs;
- Waive state income taxes for individuals relocating to counties with a double digit percentage population decline in the last 10 years;
- Build the Holcomb Power Plant;
- Transfer $200 million from the Kansas Dept. of Transportation to help defray the increased costs of Medicaid;
- Expand wind energy projects;
- Update policies that govern wireless and broadband access;
- Reform the current school finance formula;
- Establish an Office of the Repealer;
- Freeze the state budget;
- Fight federal health care
I was pleased to see that jobs and the economy were core themes. The Kansas Legislature has made tremendous strides in the last decade to ease the burden facing workers and small business owners. But if we are going to position Kansas as the best place in the nation to work and do business, we must stay united in our efforts.
We must focus our attention on job growth, retention, and good benefits for hardworking Kansans. We must create an environment where businesses look to Kansas as a land of opportunity and every willing Kansan has the chance to be gainfully employed.
I also appreciate that Gov. Brownback addressed education funding. Our current school finance formula passed with bipartisan support, and provides a quality education to every Kansas child. It also expands resources for low income, at-risk, special education and bilingual students – including many in this district.
As a result, student achievement has improved. In the last four years, reading scores have increased more than 8 percent. Math scores have increased more than 10 percent. We’re clearly on the right path. We must not turn back now.
In the 2011 session, we must maintain our commitment to public education without making crippling cuts to local schools.
We must fund education without implementing a budget freeze or shifting the burden onto local property taxpayers. At a time when so many families are struggling to make ends meet, we can’t shirk our constitutional obligation.
A full transcript is available here.
As is tradition, the party not in power presents a response to the State of the State. This year, the response was given by Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley.
Working together and protecting Kansas values were overriding themes. “We must work together – not as Democrats and Republicans – but as Kansans – to continue moving our state forward while protecting the values we cherish most,” Hensley said.
The response included a number of initiatives supported by the Democratic caucuses. These include:
- Fund the current school finance formula without passing the buck to local property taxpayers;
- Increase access to affordable higher education;
- Protect the safety net for older and disabled Kansans;
- Maintain our commitment to the jobs-creating transportation plan;
- Insure adequate benefits for Kansans laid off because of the recession;
- Provide fair workers compensation for Kansans injured on the job;
- Implement a tax structure that is fair to families and small business owners
If there is one value all Kansans hold dear, it is education. But students cannot succeed in the schoolhouse if we fail them in the Statehouse.
Democrats believe that it is the legislature’s constitutional duty to fund public education – not property taxpayers. Therefore, we have proposed that the state continue funding the current finance formula. If we don’t, local schools will suffer crippling cuts and school boards will be forced to increase their local option budgets.
Democrats also propose that the state look for ways to improve higher education. Addressing the growing cost of tuition, improving retention and graduation rates, and increasing work-readiness will all be needed.
All Kansans should have access to affordable higher learning opportunities. Whether it’s at one of our regent’s universities, community colleges or technical schools, Kansas students should have an opportunity to fulfill their academic dream.
Protecting a safety net for disabled and older Kansans is also a priority for Democrats.
Safety net providers deliver an invaluable service, offering health care and home care to thousands of Kansans. In rural communities especially, these providers help to keep patients in their own home as long as possible.
As we debate the future of health care in our state, we need to recognize the limitations placed on these growing populations.
To ease the burden facing Kansas families, Democrats propose that the state maintain its commitment to a comprehensive transportation plan. This plan will create 175,000 jobs in the future and make new investments in every Kansas county.
For unemployed Kansans and those injured on the job, Democrats propose a safety net that insures adequate benefits. Without unemployment or workers compensation, many of these struggling Kansans would be unable to put food on the table or keep a roof over their head.
All too often in the past, the issues of unemployment and workers compensation have divided Democrats against Republicans, labor against business. These issues are too important for the working men and women of Kansas to allow this divisiveness to continue.
BUDGET RECOMMENDATIONS OUTLINED
Gov. Sam Brownback presented his budget to members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Thursday. It will take several days for me to read through all of the details of the 429-page proposal.
In general, I am concerned that his budget will be detrimental to local public schools and social services. The budget presented to us will cut funding to schools by $332 per student in the next two years; $75 cut in the current budget year, $157 cut in 2012 budget and $100 cut in the 2013 budget. It also eliminates Early Head Start.
Gov. Brownback’s proposal eliminates state aid to mental health centers, eliminates developmental disability grants, and reduces general assistance by $3.5 million.
I look forward to working in a bipartisan manner to pass a responsible state budget. But, we must do so without causing harm to essential state services or public schools.
o access the Governor’s Budget Report in full, visit the Kansas Division of Budget’s Web site.
APPLY NOW FOR LIEAP
Kansans struggling to afford energy costs this winter may qualify for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP). LIEAP is a federally-funded program that helps eligible households pay a portion of their winter heating bills.
To qualify, you must have paid your heating bill the last three months. You must also prove that your bill totals 10 percent of your household total income. Individuals who are disabled, elderly, or have children are more likely to receive assistance, although any Kansan may apply.
Anyone receiving SRS benefits (cash, medical, food assistance or LIEAP) will automatically receive an application packet in the mail. Applications can also be requested by calling toll-free 1-800-432-0043 or visiting here.
SRS will be accepting applications through March 31.
State Sen. Kelly Kultala is a Kansas City, Kan., Democrat.