It is day 37 out of 90, making us one-third of the way through the 2020 legislative session. As with all sessions, the issues vary. However, the one thing that remains the same is, we must pass the budget. Generally, things start out a little slow, but this year we debated a constitutional amendment on abortion in the Senate on Kansas Day.
There are many other bills and issues taking the stage this year: the continuing discussion on Medicaid expansion, passing a 10-year transportation plan, the sale of raw milk and labeling.
First, I want to visit a little about the budget and some of the initiatives being worked on in my subcommittees. The budget is very stable this year in comparisons to the last decade. My first word of caution is, we still need to be frugal. The governor submitted, with a few exceptions, a fairly conservative budget. Instead of coming up with magical formulas, we are finally getting back to basic budgeting. Revenues identified to fund certain programs are going where they belong.
So far, the committees have been adopting the governor’s recommendation, with the exception of funding for mental health and water. In the area of mental health, we have many legislators coalescing around a regional mental health model. This model would provide crisis beds across the state and regional beds. The motivation for this is for families to be closer to their loved ones who may be in crisis and aid them to return back home. Having these beds will also help reduce the number of individuals who revolve through our emergency rooms and jails. Jails are the last place we need to have individuals in need of mental health treatment. The pressure on our local jails only impacts local property taxes.
The slowdown to the possible debate of Medicaid expansion is due to not passing a constitutional amendment to allow the Legislature to create laws restricting abortion after a ruling from the Kansas supreme court. The concern is that Medicaid expansion could be used to fund abortions. An amendment to the bill would prevent this, but at this time, we will wait to see what comes first. I believe both could pass with language adjustments. We still have time.
The issue of being able to buy raw milk has stirred up a very passionate group of individuals. SB 300, heard in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee would prohibit the sale of raw milk from the farm to individual consumers. The greatest concern from proponents of the bill is because pasteurization on milk became law for food safety reasons. Concerns from many dairies was that if people became sick, it would have a negative reflection on the dairy industry. The opponents of the bill provided information stating that we have not had an illness for almost 10 years. I heard a lot from the smaller dairies who have a market that helps them offset their costs on the farm.
The transportation hearings were held in the Ways and Means Committee, which I chair. Both Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s meetings were packed with proponents and neutral testimony. Kansas has had a 10 year plan for the past 30 years. Having good planning and engineers to look at how to improve safety, traffic flow and ensure maintenance is the reason why we have good roads today. Safe and efficient roads cannot be developed over night, long-term planning is a must.
This plan also looks at other modes of transportation such as public transit, aviation, rail and walkable communities. The bill will be worked in the next couple of weeks and sent to the Senate floor for consideration from the full Senate.
It is a pleasure and honor to serve you. While I may not have addressed an issue of key importance to you; please know your letters, emails and calls are greatly appreciated and your input is important to me. If you have a child or grandchild between the ages of 11 and 17 that would like to serve as a legislative page, please call or email Joyce in my office at 785-296-7377 or email@example.com.