The 2018 legislative session is underway and things are getting busy under the dome. Last week, I had the privilege to honor Megan Nagel, member of the 2018 Teacher of the Year team from Newton Sante Fe, on the Senate Floor. Megan and seven other teachers across the state had great stories to share about how they are impacting our students in a positive way in and out of the classroom. Congratulations to Megan and the rest of the team!

I hosted a meeting to provide updates on the Amtrak Southwest Chief and Heartland Flyer. It was well attended with over 75 legislators and local officials, who mostly represent tracks that run through their district. The purpose of the meeting was to connect people interested in preserving and/or expanding rail corridors in their regions from the local level to the national organizations.

At that meeting, the Kansas Department of Transportation reported that they will be doing a study on the Heartland Flyer to learn more about the infrastructure of the tracks between Newton and Oklahoma City and gauge investments that would be needed to fill the gap for passenger rail to Texas. Wichita Council member Pete Meitzner has been communicating with elected officials as well as the department of transportation from Oklahoma and Texas and the support is encouraging.

On Thursday, we had a presentation on the Mental Health Task Force. Secretary Keck, Department for Aging and Disabilities Services, and Amy Campbell, Kansas Mental Health Coalition provided input. Jason Miller, Newton provided testimony about his journey as an adoptive parent trying to help children in mental health crisis situations. His testimony focused on the gaps and break downs in the mental health system that have increased in recent years. The areas of focus from both the task force and Jason’s testimony were crisis stabilization, inpatient care and continuum of care for children and youth, and workforce.

Earlier in the week, we received an update and proposal from a collaborative group from Sedgwick County led by Sheriff Easter, that confirmed many of these needs. Our local jails and emergency rooms are struggling to keep up with the many challenges of people with mental health issues coming through the doors. People who have a mental health crisis do not do well in these types of settings and cost local government more money in the long run, when there are better ways to address these issues. Another issue that came up at the Sedgwick County presentation and in the Senate Ways and Means committee was regionalism. How does a family help a loved one get back home if the only place for respite bed and psychiatric care is three hours away? We have many issues before us this session, as well as opportunities to serve our communities better by addressing mental health issues facing us today.

Other issues from last week dealt with a lease purchase agreement that hires a private company to build and maintain a new prison in Lansing. This decision was made by the State Finance Council, of which I am a member. I voted no. As you may know, the U.S. Senate voted this week to approve Governor Sam Brownback as ambassador at-large for international religious freedom. He will resign effective January 31st, with Lt. Governor Jeff Colyer being sworn in that day. There has also been much news about a directive from legislative leadership to remove Dale Dennis from his position at the Department of Education due to what is believed to be an unauthorized allocation of transportation dollars. I would first like to make it clear that the Legislature does not have any authority when it comes to personnel decisions in our state agencies. The State Board of Education, Friday, voted to direct the Commissioner of Education to keep Dale in his current post. An audit is the best way to get to the bottom of this. It is my hope moving forward the Legislature will focus on our duty to provide an adequate and equitable funding formula for Kansas schools.

If you have any children, grandchildren, friends or family between the ages of 11-17 and would like to be a page, please contact Joyce in my office, 785-296-7377. It is a pleasure to serve all of you and I appreciate all the visitors who have already been to my office this session.

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 — Carolyn McGinn is a Republican member of the Kansas Senate, who has represented the 31st District including Harvery County since 2005.