TOPEKA — Even though I wasn’t sworn in again, there has been a lot of pomp and circumstance surrounding the inauguration of Laura Kelly as the state’s new governor, the inaugural ball, her inaugural address to Kansans, and then her State of the State (SOTS) address. Because the House has the larger room, it is tradition for Senators to sit with one of their Representatives for the speech. I was fortunate to sit in Rep. Greg Lewis’ (St. John) seat while he was absent for health reasons.
Around the Capitol
In this section of the newsletter, I will detail what is happening before the entire Senate. I encourage you to look at the Calendar each week to see if there are hearings on issues important to your family and business. Your voice as an expert in your field – whether it’s your profession, or a personal expertise you’ve developed in managing your parents’ finances or health care, or your children’s special needs – your legislators benefit greatly from your experience!
On the Senate Floor
The SOTS discussed above is the speech that provides an overview of the governor’s priorities for her time in office. Those priorities are laid out with more specificity in the governor’s budget. This is a document required by law to be presented to the legislature, but it rarely comes this soon. However, as my former Senate colleague, I know Governor Kelly to be an expert in the Kansas budget, so she came prepared.
Education and Medicaid Expansion are priority planks in this budget, which includes money to complete the legislature’s commitment to pay for inflationary cost increases in education funding, as well as $14 million for the state’s part of Medicaid expansion.
Improving Medicaid services is also a priority with a $7 million investment and 300 new jobs to improve the application process.
Restoring some of the damage done to our state facilities and correcting the damage done to state employees is a top priority, as the budget includes $22.3 million for state employee pay raises (a 2.5% increase) and $3 million to hire corrections officers.
You have likely heard about the critical needs in our foster care system. Funds are also included for dozens of new child welfare employees to cut down on case worker caseloads.
The budget also continues the work of restoring cuts our higher education institutions faced over the last decade.
This is a very thorough and thoughtful budget, but it is not without its faults. I look forward to delving deeper into these issues in the coming weeks as we learn more of the details. The full budget comes in two volumes, but I recommend the Budget Director’s Overview for a shorter version.
Actual bill debate on the floor always starts slow because bills must begin with hearings in committees, and once hearings are completed and the bill is debated and “worked up” (changes made) and voted on, then it is considered by the full Senate. In a few weeks, the roles will reverse and the committees will finish their work and we will get busy debating bills before the Senate.
Even though committees hold the keys to start the year by holding hearings on bills, we usually begin each year hearing agency overviews to update us on their activities since we met last spring. That lays a good foundation for the bills which will be considered by the committee that year. Again, once bills are heard, worked up, and voted out to the full Senate, or kept in the committee, then our work begins to wind down.
Agriculture & Natural Resources
Our first week back in Topeka was grains week in the committee as we hosted briefings on recent activities from the Kansas Commodity Commissions for Corn, Wheat, Sorghum, Soybean, and Sunflower. We also welcomed Ernie Minton, interim dean of K-State’s College of Agriculture and Research and Extension for a presentation on the programs he oversees.
Public Health & Welfare
We started the committee with a number of program overviews with updates from:
The K-Tracsprogram, which helps track “scheduled” drug, typically opioids and other narcotic drugs prescribed through doctors to ensure Kansans aren’t “doctor shopping” to get additional prescriptions that lead to abuse and addiction.
KanCare – status of current programs, funding, and planning
Education– Live Audio
The Kansas Legislative Research Department(KLRD) provided an overview of the Gannon VI decision and school finance. We could have spent days on this, of course, but the KLRD folks have it broken down into bite size pieces so we could move quickly in our hour-long committee.
The Legislative Post Audit Department also provided an overview of their recent audit of special education funding in Kansas.
Finally, the committee heard presentations on mental health awareness from the KS Associations for School Counselor, Psychologists, and Social Workers. A fascinating and also sad series of presentations, but I was heartened by the passion and care these critical people play in the lives of each Kansas student.
It is an honor and privilege to serve you in Topeka.
Sen. Mary Jo Taylor serves West Central Kansas. Taylor urges her constituents to complete and share her online survey in order to help her to understand the voting public’s priorities as the 2019 session gets underway. That online survey can be found here.