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Legislators speak at well-attended coffee
new kl legislative coffee
Representative Bill Wolf, left, speaks at the legislative coffee on Saturday morning while Bob Bethell and Ruth Teichman compare notes. - photo by KAREN LA PIERRE

State of Kansas Senator Ruth Teichman, R-Stafford and Representatives Bill Wolf, R-Great Bend, and Bob Bethell, R-Alden, were in Great Bend at the legislative coffee on Saturday morning, and they all reported on a full slate of bills under consideration.

"We are voting on many things," said Wolf, opening the morning

Wolf said in a report that the Legislature has reached the halfway point of the 2012 session, and all bills, except specific exempt bills, had to be passed out of one chamber in order to be considered for the rest of the session.

Bill Wolf

Wolf discussed immigration, which the House will consider in four bills. The House is considering four bills limiting illegal immigration by making it illegal to harbor illegal immigrants, providing training for work permits and legal status, checking the citizenship status of people who are detained, and requiring state and local governmental agencies to check the status of new workers.

"A lot of them from Kansas have gone home because of a work shortage," he said. However, "the beef industry cannot operate without people."

One bill regarding unused water rights passed, HB 245,removes the use it or lose it water policy that forces water rights to be used or taken away. The bill passed the House 124 to 0.

Governor Sam Brownback has proposed numerous tax changes regarding sales tax and property tax. In his report, Wolf said that the governor had provided the legislature with a great start.

Simplifying the tax issue, Wolf said, "We don’t have near enough money."

Ruth Teichman

Another big issue was redistricting. Teichman brought several maps of what the Senate is considering, most with Barton County divided into more than one district. Most of western Kansas is declining in population. It will require redrawing of the districts.

She also discussed the Kansas Public Employees Retirement plan, which is facing a shortfall in funding, and is currently a defined benefit plan. The Senate is considering a cash balance plan where the benefit is based on the account balance. The participant would have to contribute 9 percent of pay, and the benefit is partially linked to salary growth.

They are also considering a defined contribution plan where 9 percent of pay is also contributed to the account, but much of the risk falls on the employees.

Regarding education finance, she said that because of the complexity of the bill, the Senate has subdivided it into three bills.

Bob Bethell

"So much is on the table," said Bethell. Many of the bills have multiple topics, but the legislators will have to pass a redistricting bill because of shifts in population to the eastern portion of the state, he said.

Bethell spoke against the governor’s changes in income tax. "Those who have always had do not understand those who have not," he said. The governor’s bill would result in a large percentage of increase in income tax to the state’s poorest residents.

He would like to see the Department of Aging be merged with all Long Term Care patients, including those with disabilities to save resources.

The session ended with questions from the audience.