The second week of session began with a day off for Martin Luther King holiday. That makes the week short with only four days left to work on legislative issues. Apparently House and Senate leadership does not want a lot of distracting issues brought up anyway.
There are a number of bills being introduced. I don’t know the subject matter of most of them, and that really does not matter at this time. It’s when committees begin hearing the bills that it’s time to start paying attention. A couple of the higher priority bills introduced have to do with electric cooperatives and municipal utility companies. There are some issues with service territories, especially when cities annex areas into their city limits, creating conflicts in those territories. Most of the time agreement is reached, but there seem to be a couple of areas that are having difficulty.
Appropriations committee received some interesting information regarding the history of the education section of the Kansas Constitution. The part of the Kansas Constitution that seems to cause most disagreement between the Supreme Court and the Legislature is Article 6, subsection 6(b) where it talks about suitable funding for education. The current wording has been in place since 1966, but was not the recommended wording at the time. Of course there is much more to the history, but it can be beneficial to understand the background of issues before moving ahead.
Additionally in the Appropriations Committee, we are hearing reports from various departments. One report that always draws interest is from the Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT). The bottom line is that their budget for roads is to the point that very few new projects will be done and the focus will be on maintenance. Even with few new projects, the KDOT budget will become very tight in the next two or three years as they begin paying back bonds that become due. The realistic expectation is that Kansas highways will begin to deteriorate in the next several years as funding continues to be pulled for use in the State General Fund.
Other issues making the rounds are things like medical marijuana and raising taxes again this year. The medical marijuana runs the gamut as to how to accomplish that. There are those that would like to see a closely regulated medication without THC, which is the component that makes an individual ‘high’. In early testing, medication without the THC seems to be as effective as with THC. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those that want be able to grow their own and to use it at their discretion. It is unknown what the Health committee may do with this issue.
The issue of raising taxes does not seem to have much energy at all after what was done last year. Of course, election year for House members figures into that equation as well. How everything comes together in the end is unknown at this point. Satisfying the Court and not decimating other needed and basic services in the State generates a lot of discussion, and will continue to generate discussion throughout the session.
So far the session is going fairly slow, but then we are only past the second week. There is a little talk about possibly changing the session calendar to better accommodate some of the time frames and deadlines that need to be met. It remains to be seen if that actually happens.
I am planning several Legislative Coffees again. Normally the dates are published locally, but I will also include them in articles. It is always good to hear what is on your mind as the session grinds on. Please join in the discussion if you can. The Senator will also join us if available.
—Don Schroeder is a Republican member of the Kansas House of Representatives, representing the 74th district. He has served since 2007.