Kansas pioneering unmanned aircraft systems
By Rep. J.R. Claeys (Salina)
Chair, House Transportation and Public Safety budget
This week, economic development in Kansas took a huge step forward with the announcement of Colonel Robert Brock as the state’s new director of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). As chairman of the House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee, I worked with the Secretary of Transportation and our research universities to create this new state-level position. Now we have in place a talented and experienced director who can move the UAS industry forward in Kansas and continue to build on our nationally-recognized UAS programs.
Colonel Brock brings a depth of experience to this position that will allow him to hit the ground running. A Kansas native, he commanded the first Air Force UAS squadron for special operations. His unit, the 3rd Special Operations Squadron, was recognized as the model UAS organization in the Department of Defense. Colonel Brock understands the potential UAS has and he possesses the experience and talent to direct the growth of the industry in Kansas.
Kansas stands at the forefront of the growing UAS sector, and with today’s announcement we are even better positioned to move to the next level. In addition to the UAS director position, we have initiated a new UAS research triangle between Kansas State Polytechnic University in Salina, and our research universities. The research triangle will allow our state to harness the resources of these three universities, including the nationally recognized UAS program at K-State Polytechnic, to compete for public and private sector research projects. Nationally the UAS sector keeps growing. The UAS lab at K-State Polytechnic in Salina has been hard at work in developing this kind of technology while educating and training students and commercial clients to take key roles in this growing industry.
During this year’s legislative session, I authored budget language to help set the agenda for Colonel Brock’s first year on the job. The agenda includes creating a five-year strategic plan for the UAS industry in Kansas, working with the schools in the research triangle to grow the industry, helping obtain grants to further UAS, and marketing Kansas nationally as a home for the UAS industry. In addition, Colonel Brock will be spending half his time in Salina, where he will be able to work directly with the UAS researchers at K-State Polytechnic on growing this vital segment of our economy.
The creation of the research triangle and the hiring of Colonel Brock are just the first steps in an ambitious plan to grow aviation jobs in Kansas. The next steps will lead to growth in research, engineering and manufacturing jobs in our state.
The future for the UAS industry in Salina and Kansas is strong and we are well positioned to become a national and global leader in the industry.
Welcome home, Colonel Brock!
Republicans prioritize judicial transparency
By Rep. John Barker (Abilene)
Chair, House Judiciary Committee
In 2005, a cellphone rang in a New York courtroom. The angry judge demanded to know who was responsible for this violation of courtroom etiquette. When no one came forward the judge had all 46 people in the courtroom thrown in jail. Thankfully this was an extreme situation, but as a judge myself I can tell you the position wields a lot of authority in the courtroom. To balance this power with the interests of Kansans, it’s important that the selection process for judges be as open and transparent as possible. This year, Republicans took major steps in shining a light on this process.
The current judicial selection process at both the Supreme Court and District Court level in Kansas utilizes a nominating commission that presents the Governor with a list of names to select from for the appointment. This process is controlled by a small band of lawyers and until now has been conducted in secret. Unlike a regular election, Kansans have had no idea who is selecting the majority membership of these powerful commissions. In addition to having no idea who is controlling the makeup of these commissions, their meetings have also been held in the dark as they have not been subject to the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA). This practice has now come to an end.
House Sub. for SB 128 adds new transparency measures for both the membership selection of judicial nominating commissions and the actual meetings themselves. From now on judicial nominating commission elections will be overseen by the Secretary of State’s office, the same office that oversees the majority of Kansas elections. This means that it will now be public record which and how many attorneys are actually controlling the process. In addition, the actual commission meetings will be subject to KOMA.
There are two other transparency pieces contained in SB 128 that are important to point out. In 2013 the legislature changed the selection process for the Court of Appeals, bypassing the nominating commission and allowing the Governor to make direct appointments subject to Senate confirmation. Since then, there has been controversy concerning the public release of the people applying for that position. SB 128 eliminates this controversy by making the names of all Court of Appeals applicants public. Additionally, SB 128 increases the number of nominees a district court judicial nominating commission must advance to the Governor from two or three to three, four, or five. This simple provision will go a long way in preventing a nominating commission from complete control of the types of judges from which the Governor is required to choose.
After reading all of this you are probably wondering what does this matter to me. Remember at the beginning the judge who threw his entire court room in jail? If one person has the authority to make these kind of decisions, shouldn’t everyone subject to that authority have the ability to know how that person was selected, who chose that person, and why? Kansans deserve to know whether the decision-making process was truly about finding the best person to fairly administer justice or whether other motives were in play. Kansas courts consider a wide range of issues touching on everything from the criminal code, to education funding, to the right to life. It’s vital that we have judges that will treat Kansans fairly and interpret the law as it was written. SB 128 does not solve our judicial selection problem in Kansas, but it does make the process transparent, giving Kansans more information and openness in their judiciary.
Recognizing Kansas Law Enforcement Officers
By Rep. J.R. Claeys (Salina)
Chair, House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee
The men and women of Kansas who serve in our law enforcement agencies make untold sacrifices to provide for our safety. During National Police Week we honor our law enforcement officers across the state for their dedication to serving our communities.
It is an honor to serve as the chairman of the House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee, where I get to see first-hand the hard and innovative work of the Kansas Highway Patrol, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, and the Department of Corrections, along with other important law enforcement agencies across our state.
Together, Kansas House Republicans made it a priority to recruit and retain more law enforcement around our state, along with making our agencies more attractive to work in for law enforcement personnel. We know the sacrifices that law enforcement officers make to serve our state and we want do all that we can to give them the tools they need to be successful.
The Kansas Highway Patrol has seen a decline in the number of troopers since 2006, along with stagnant wages during that same time period. Last year, the Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee worked with the Highway Patrol to devise a new pay plan for our state troopers. This new pay plan makes the Kansas Highway Patrol a more attractive place to work and helps with increasing recruitment, which will allow for more troopers to be stationed around our state. Our state troopers are the backbone of keeping our state roadways safe and investigating traffic accidents. The work they do is often thankless, but it is important, and we needed to address this shortage.
I am proud to say that as a result of our work steering a new pay plan to passage last year, the recently graduating class at the Highway Patrol Training Academy in Salina included 20 new troopers, an increase of 14 over the previous class. Applications for the next training class continue to increase and we are on track to see the largest incoming class in history.
Just last week I attended the Governor’s signing in Salina of a bill funding the Rank & Pay Plan for the Kansas Highway Patrol and funding for local police officer training at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center. This important bill, passed this year, will ensure we recruit and retain the best and brightest officers across the state.
Working together, we also created a new pension plan the Legislature approved last year for the Kansas Highway Patrol. Under the DROP program, veteran troopers now have incentive to stay on the job longer, providing much needed expertise to help train the new troopers coming in. This session I proposed adding the KBI to the DROP program to strengthen retention among agents and added to the budget a KBI Rank & Pay Plan mirroring that of the KHP.
Addressing the decline of officers in the state Department of Corrections has been a top concern for Kansas House Republicans. Corrections officers play an important role in our law enforcement system, helping to protect those in our state prisons and protecting the public by keeping our prison system secure. They also work on important programs within our prisons with the goal to reduce inmate recidivism when they reenter society, thus keeping crime down statewide. This year we secured $2.5 million to provide a raise for our corrections officers, which will help us to address recruitment and retention in the department.
In addition, over the last two years we have made important progress in the area of prison reform, including passing legislation that will expand the prison program credit program and including more funding in the budget to expand an effective program that had made our state’s juvenile justice centers focus more on education and training. Programs like these provide increased skills for inmates and juvenile offenders, which help them secure jobs when they reenter society and allow them to end the cycle of crime. This helps decrease crime statewide, while improving our economy and helping communities.
Public safety is a core responsibility for state government and one that Kansas House Republicans take very seriously as public servants. At the core of public safety is supporting our state’s law enforcement community and providing them with the resources they need to do their jobs.
Republicans Lead Welfare Reform in Kansas
By Rep. Dan Hawkins (Wichita)
Chair, House Health and Human Services
I often get asked why I wanted to serve our state in the Kansas Legislature. One of the major reasons was to reform our Medicaid and welfare systems in a way that lift people out of poverty rather than keep them trapped in the system for life.
In 2013, Kansas Republicans restored work requirements for able-bodied childless adults. Polls have shown that 82% of voters support work requirements for these welfare recipients. Before welfare reform in our state in 2013, almost 30,000 able-bodied Kansans with no dependents in the household were on food assistance. Since these reforms were put in place, the number has dropped 75% to less than 7,500. That is correct, a 75% drop leaving welfare!
After a first of its kind study, the results are in and they confirm what most Kansans know – work requirements benefit those on welfare. Nearly half of able-bodied adults were employed within three months of leaving food assistance. Able-bodied adults on food assistance are nearly three times more likely to be working at least twenty hours a week after the work requirements were put in place.
While administrative costs went up about 5% nationally from 2013 to 2014, Kansas administrative costs actually decreased 7% over that same time period after we reformed welfare.
Working full-time raises able-bodied adults out of poverty and restores human dignity.
Last session, we passed the Kansas Hope, Opportunity, and Prosperity for Everyone (HOPE) Act, the most comprehensive state welfare reform in the nation. An update to the Kansas HOPE Act, which builds upon these welfare reforms, was heard in the House Health Committee and passed the Senate earlier this session with unanimous Republican support.
This year’s updated legislation includes the following provisions to strengthen welfare-to-work policies:
-Crosschecks lottery winners receiving cash or food assistance
-Verifies the identity of all cash and food assistance adults in the household
-Requires welfare applicants and recipients to cooperate with any fraud investigations
-Monitors excessive welfare card replacements and makes referrals to agency fraud investigators as warranted
-Codifies federal U.S. Department of Agriculture work requirements for the food assistance program
-Authorizes the state to monitor, enforce, and recover welfare assistance obtained by those not authorized to receive it
Very common sense legislation, right? Unfortunately not to Democrats, who instead choose to support lifetime government dependence and turn a blind eye to those who abuse our welfare system.
Republicans support the proven approach that treats all Kansans in need with respect and values their God-given potential to succeed. These reform measures promote system integrity and protect Kansas taxpayers, ensuring that resources are available to those truly in need of temporary assistance.
I feel good about the work my Republican colleagues and I have done to move Kansans from poverty to prosperity. We will continue to stand with truly needy Kansans as they seek a hand up through employment, while punishing those who would defraud our taxpayers.
Priority-based budgeting to make huge difference
By Rep. Marc Rhoades (Newton)
Representative, 72nd House District
For ten years, I have initiated discussions with legislators and state agencies about implementing performance-based budgeting. No one seemed opposed, but the idea of doing something other than what had always been done was a barrier.
When I served as Appropriations chair, I dialed up the conversations on performance-based budgeting: “Imagine if we had an up-to-date inventory of all agencies’ programs; we knew how much was spent on each; agencies did a performance audit on programs to evaluate the specific goals against actual outcomes; and those measurables were compared, apples to apples, year to year?”
We know once programs are legislated and enacted, agencies are only asked to keep them going (activity), not to monitor their performance (outcomes). Years later, programs are added, duplicated and expanded without a performance audit to ensure goals are met. Over time, activity becomes the central outcome.
In Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit 7 is sharpen the saw—the idea that you can cut more wood if you will stop working to regroup. What is true of individuals is true of systems. It will take time to implement performance-based budgeting, but time is saved and production is improved in the long run.
This session, ten years of conversations came together in one bill: HB2739— a phased-in process for changing the way the state budget is constructed, inventoried and evaluated.
Starting in 2017, state agencies would provide legislative budget committees with complete program service inventories including program function and history; intersections with other state programs; federal funding and associated requirements; priorities; potential impacts if not funded; and statutory authority.
In subsequent years, agencies would realign budgets to follow commonly-accepted accounting practices, so information could be accurately compared and assessed.
Overwhelming support for the bill, 124-1, from Republicans and Democrats may mean some legislators are mistaking activity and intentions for performance. To the contrary, legislators and agencies will need to be reminded, again and again, that activity is not an outcome, spending is not an outcome, good intentions are not outcomes.
Performance-based budgeting will give part-time legislators, tasked with appropriating billions of dollars, information they need. When asked why a program has been eliminated or another one added, the hard data will be available versus anecdotal points of view.
For anyone committed to ensuring every taxpayer dollar is used wisely in service of the people of Kansas, HB2739 comes as good news.
Open government is good government
By Rep. John Whitmer
Representative, 93rd House District
The government of a free people should be open to those people. The Kansas legislature has always been open to the public. Anyone can sit in the House or Senate galleries and watch the proceedings. Committee hearings are posted publicly well in advance for anyone who wants to come testify or listen in person. But let’s be honest, folks are busy. It’s difficult for anyone to take off from work to sit in the House gallery day after day. It’s not very practical for someone to drive across the state from St. Francis to check out a committee meeting. Until recent years the only way people kept up to date on the daily happenings in the statehouse was by whatever story the media chose to cover that day. Thankfully with technology that has started to change and this week the House took a major leap forward in regards to transparency.
Currently anyone with an internet connection can listen to floor debates from the House and Senate but constituents have requested the ability to listen to individual committee hearings. In the past, there were bills introduced to require the streaming of committees, but they took money from the State General Fund to pay for those projects. My colleague, Representative Blake Carpenter, and I decided to tackle the problem from a different angle. We recognized that it was in the best interest of Kansas taxpayers to complete the project without the use of State funds. The result was a joint effort with the Information Network of Kansas (INK) to fund the installation and streaming technology for statehouse committees. INK is a public/private partnership designed to help to help kick start government technology projects. They have their own funding stream specifically for the purposes of increasing the access private citizens and businesses have to Kansas government. It was a perfect fit.
HB 2573 was passed unanimously by the House, and was recently approved by a Senate committee. The full Senate is expected to take up consideration very soon. The quick passage goes to show what can happen with a little creativity combined with the strong desire to serve the people of Kansas. HB 2573 goes beyond tweeting or a pledge to be open and transparent, this bill represents a new and workable solution that will get the job done and bring committee hearings to anyone who wants to listen in. There is work yet to be done but this is a win for transparency and a win for the people of Kansas.
In conclusion I’d like to share with you what Patrick Henry told the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1788; “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”
Safeguarding time-honored Kansas traditions
By Rep. Ken Corbet
Vice-Chair, House Energy & Environment Committee
For a number of Kansans, their favorite childhood memory is the first time their dad took them bird hunting or the first successful hunt. Hunting, fishing, and trapping are beloved Kansas traditions, and a proposed state constitutional amendment intends to keep it that way.
The House recently approved HCR 5008, which would put language on your ballot this fall to make hunting, fishing, and trapping in Kansas a constitutional right. It’s an important way to not only preserve and protect that ability, but also to recognize the vital role those activities play in the Kansas economy.
Many people know that Kansas doesn’t have a lot of attractions like beaches or mountains. But what they may not know is what great hunting opportunities exist in our state. Outdoorsmen from all over the world travel to Kansas to hunt pheasant, deer, turkey, and quail. There are over 49 million public acres available in Kansas not only for us, but for the rest of the country and the world to enjoy.
Hunting, fishing, and trapping are an important driver of the Kansas economy, especially small businesses in rural communities. Every hunter that comes to Kansas adds $1,000 of economic activity. According to the most recent numbers provided by the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism (KDWPT), people spent 4,163,000 days fishing in Kansas, which averages to 10 days per angler. Total expenditures related to fishing were $210,303,000. Meanwhile, hunters in Kansas spent 5,209,000 days hunting (18 days per hunter), with expenditures amounting to $401,452,000.
Beyond that, hunting and fishing alsohelp protect and preserve the environment. The licenses issued by KDWPT are purposefully limited to ensure fish and wildlife are not over consumed. Additionally, the money generated from those licenses pays for nature preservation that benefits other activities that use land, such as hiking and bird-watching.
Still, hunting, fishing, and trapping are about more than the economic impact or the environment, they are about family, and passing along a way of life that is as much a part of Kansas as wheat fields, prairies, and the Flint Hills. HCR 5008 will make sure this way of life is carried on and enjoyed for generations to come.
Microbrew legislation expands jobs, local craft beer
When Jeff Gill decided to start a microbrewery 10 years ago, his friend in Chicago had the same idea. But their ideas led them on different paths.
Both pursued their dream of transforming their passion for home brewing into a business. Two years later, Gill’s creation, Tallgrass Brewing Company, was in full-fledged production in Manhattan, Kansas. Meanwhile his friend in Chicago was still trying to circumvent red-tape.
“It was easy to start a business in Kansas compared to Chicago,” Gill said. “It was a lot easier for us to get off the ground.”
Thanks in part to Kansas’ straightforward business filing processes and regulatory environment, Tallgrass got to market quickly. Since then, the brewery has experienced explosive growth and popularity, creating 35 full-time jobs. Signature microbrews such as “8-bit” and “Buffalo Sweat” are available in 15 states. The high consumer demand prompted Gill to initiate a $7 million 60,000 square foot expansion, which was completed in 2015.
But there was a snag. Kansas law limited microbrewery production to 30,000 barrels per year. Because of the massive popularity of their brews, Tallgrass had hit that ceiling. So he got together with other Kansas microbreweries to contact the legislature to ask for the cap to be raised.
Republicans in the House responded by hearing and approving House Bill 2469, which raises the brewing cap up to 60,000 barrels per year. With the new facility and the higher ceiling, Tallgrass expects to add another 45-50 jobs.
“We‘ve been able to come up with common sense solutions in Kansas much faster than people could through the City of Chicago licensing and we worked with legislature to make that happen,” Gill said.
With the production ceiling expanded, Tallgrass brew masters will continue experimenting with at least four new brews per week. Several of these become available at Tallgrass Tap House, the new brewpub that opened last year in downtown Manhattan.
“You never know when a really great beer is going to be created,” Gill said.
From there, the favorites get produced in bigger batches. Eventually, the very popular recipes get added to the canning rotation. Three new varieties were released for shelves in February, with an additional two scheduled for release in March. Although the brewpub serves draught beer, it is only distributed to stores in cans. Gill says the move in 2010 from glass to cans was a multi-faceted decision involving the user and environmentally friendly nature of cans.
“Cans are easier to pack in pack out of state national parks, you can take them to a lot of different places you can’t take glass,” Gill said, adding that cans protect the beer from sunlight, and are easier to recycle than glass.
Gill is proud of the creative environment that’s been curated at Tallgrass, from the creation station where new beer recipes are designed, to the irreverent can design and brew names.
“We have fun; we are ourselves at the brewery and with our branding,” Gill said. “We’re not afraid to be playful.”
Tallgrass’ expanded new facility has the capacity to produce up to 100,000 barrels per year. When they reach that point, Gill says they’ll probably look to move from a microbrewery to a manufacturer license, creating more jobs and expanding the reach of Tallgrass.
“The job creation aspect of being a small business owner wasn’t something I thought about but it is something that is really satisfying. We had a dream of what we wanted Tallgrass to be and fulfilled that, and now there’s other people that share that dream now too and create that across the distribution area,” Gill said. “Having people share that is a lot of fun and something I didn’t anticipate.”
Chair Profile: Representative Jan Pauls
When Jan Pauls didn’t move on to another school because her small Alden high school closed, she was technically a drop out and was unable to pursue her GED because she wasn’t old enough. She was determined to find other options. Through hard work and determination, she took control of her own education. At 18, when Jan was finally eligible to take her GED, she was already halfway to earning her bachelor’s degree at Sterling College. After graduating, Jan went on to study law at the University of Kansas and by her early 20s she was a practicing attorney.
“I skipped my senior year of high school,” Jan says. “Sterling College took me in early admittance, so it really worked out for the best.”
In addition to a strong commitment to education, Jan is deeply motivated by helping others. Her career reflects these values; she worked as a legal aid attorney, director of legal aid in Hutchinson, district court judge and as an attorney in private practice. It is this dedication to public service and the law that has led her to being one of the legislature’s longest-serving members.
In 1991, Jan was appointed to the Kansas House as a Democrat representing parts of Hutchinson in Reno County. During her tenure in the House, Jan became the ranking minority member on the Judiciary Committee where she was highly respected for her fairness and determination to work for the best possible policy for the state regardless of politics.
When Jan was first elected to the House, roughly a third of the Democratic Caucus was pro-life. Now pro-life Democrats are almost extinct. In 2014, Jan wrestled with an extremely hard political decision: stay with her Party as they moved away from issues she held dear or risk her seniority and the political world she knew to align with a Party that reflected her views on a growing number of issues.
When she left the Democrat Party, Jan also left the committee leadership roles she held. Regardless of the political consequences, Jan believed in her choice. “I support the social positions of the Republicans that they have taken on issues like traditional marriage and being pro-life,” Jan said.
This year, House Speaker Ray Merrick named her chair of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, which handles bills ranging from complicated issues such as gaming and interstate compacts to emotional issues such as abortion and 2nd Amendment rights.
“Jan is a straight shooter who pays attention to detail,” said Speaker Merrick. “I am confident I have the right person in a hard job with her leading the Fed and State Committee.”
Jan is excited about her new role as committee chair. She says legislative committees play a vital role in the process of lawmaking, because when everyone determines to work together, they pick up details that might otherwise be lost. A few years ago, she caught an error in a bill that was designed to allow Kansans to start hair braiding businesses without a cosmetology license. The only problem was, the bill would have inadvertently kept cosmetologists from braiding hair.
“That wasn’t the way it was intended to be written,” Pauls said. “Sometimes you can catch details that can change the whole law.”
While everyone around the capitol knows Pauls as a detail-oriented representative who holds strongly to her convictions, there is also a lesser known personal side. During the legislative session, Pauls is joined by her husband Ron in Topeka. They say they’re true “political junkies” who stay on top of the latest journals and political articles, especially from authors like Mark Steyn.
They have a cat, Miss Kitty (Not From Dodge City), who waits for them faithfully when they arrive home so she can jump on Jan’s shoulders as she walks through the door.
“She’s very much like the pink panther,” Pauls said.
Pauls’ favorite thing to do in her free time is read, but she does not foresee herself having much time to find a good book anytime soon, because of the demands of the session.
“It seems like every day is exciting because you never know what is going to come up,” Pauls said.
Efficiency study brings menu of options, solutions
By Rep. J.R. Claeys (Salina)
Chair, House Transportation & Public Safety Budget
Kansas House Republicans made a commitment to the people of Kansas to root out government waste and hold government agencies accountable for every dollar spent. That commitment is being kept through thoughtful study of how our government agencies operate and where we can provide better service at a lower cost.
As a fifth generation Kansan, born and raised in Salina, I know we have the tools to be the best state to live, work and raise a family. As Kansans, we know the value of hard work, and in our families we engage in sound budgeting practices that we expect from our government. Kansas House Republicans share your values and are working toward budgets that are balanced and free of unnecessary, wasteful spending.
The study by Alvarez & Marsal, on behalf of the Kansas Legislature, contains over 100 ideas to make our government more efficient and more accountable to taxpayers. Those ideas save over two billion taxpayer dollars over five years and establish ongoing savings through structural changes that will better serve Kansans into the future.
Many of the ideas in the report are not controversial — centralizing purchasing, leveraging the buying power of the state, streamlining procurement and consolidating administration – common sense ideas that every Kansan can get behind.
For instance, consolidating all Human Resources and Information Technology in the Department of Administration, rather than each agency maintaining their own services, or centralizing and outsourcing some printing services and reducing the number of printers across state agencies.
In my role as chairman of the House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee we will look at several improvements in the way the Kansas Department of Transportation allocates resources across the state. Recommendations call for competitive procurement processes, bidding outsourced work to reduce cost and improve performance, while establishing best practices for future state contracts to create cash flow advantages. Some call for hiring more state employees to improve revenue and in-house expertise to reduce costs.
The report also recommends leasing state property for commercial uses, such as cell phone towers, and making use of sponsorship opportunities for roadside parks and motorist assist, similar to what we already do on the Kansas Turnpike. These simple ideas remove the burden from taxpayers to finance these services while providing a better product at a better price statewide.
I’m proud to lead the effort, along with agency leadership, toward efficiency in the operations of the Kansas Department of Transportation and our public safety agencies.
Now that we have the data and the ideas to develop a plan of action, Kansas House Republicans will work hard this session to implement these efficiencies to save you money.
Our commitment to you is an efficient and effective government that respects hard working taxpayers. A commitment we will keep. Kansas House Republicans are problem solvers, offering real solutions, with real results.
A Christmas message from Speaker Merrick
By Rep. Ray Merrick (Stilwell)
Speaker, Kansas House of Representatives
One year many Christmases ago, I awoke to find a brand new red Roadmaster bike with chrome fenders out in our screened in porch. It was just what every eight year old boy could want, but it was completely unexpected. My mom worked three jobs to support my sister and I. Her work at the meat packing plant was long and tiresome, but she often had to leave there to go to one of her two waitressing jobs.
She scrimped and saved to get that bike for me, and it’s one of my most important childhood memories. My mom’s sacrifice, in that instance, and on many other occasions growing up, shaped the values that now affect how I approach public policy. The momentary political battles pale in comparison to the importance of what we’re doing for the kids and the future of our state.
Everything, from remaking Kansas education to a child-centric (instead of adult centric) model, to protecting the unborn, paves the way to the future for the children of Kansas. It’s only fair that we do our part now to leave them with the most effective and efficient state government possible.
We can never lose sight of the proper role of government, otherwise potential opportunities for our children and grandchildren will be lost under burdensome taxes and overzealous regulation. To do that effectively, we have to maintain and preserve our state’s limited resources. Expanding safety net programs to cover able-bodied middle income adults endangers the other vital state programs our low-income kids and vulnerable adults need.
Every decision we make as lawmakers is filled with consequences for future generations. Keeping that in mind is why we’ve been able to pass such historic legislation in recent years. A courageous majority of Republican legislators believe in doing the right thing for the future and not being satisfied with the way government has always been run. Government’s job is to serve and protect the people, not the other way around. We can never forget that.
This Christmas Season, and always, I thank the people of the 27th House District for allowing me to serve them for the last 15 years. I’m also grateful to my legislative colleagues in the House for electing me to serve as Speaker twice. It has been an honor and a privilege.
And most importantly, thank you to the one who we ultimately serve, the one whose birth we celebrate on Christmas.
Have a very blessed and merry Christmas.
Education block grant important for Kansas
By Rep. Kristey Williams (Augusta)
Representative, 77th House District
Despite what you may have heard, good things are happening in Kansas! As a mother of four, all currently in the Augusta public school system, and a former public school teacher — I already knew this. I see great things happening every day!
Our teachers and administrators are doing some amazing things with our students – from providing challenging programs and curriculums to increasing investment in technology and capital improvements (have you seen all the new, state-of-the-art public schools built in the last decade in our State?). Our kids in Kansas are greatly benefiting from our commitment as a State to prioritize over half of our State General Fund to K-12 education (almost $4 billion annually). Education matters and annual funding increases confirm this!
But if you’re still not convinced, consider the following good news: Kansas schools were recently ranked 12th best schools in the Nation and 9th best state for teachers (WalletHub.com). Ranking all fifty states required analysis of thirteen different areas such as student-teacher ratios, drop-out rates, and standardized test scores. Specifically, Kansas ranked third in ‘lowest pupil-teacher ratio’ and tied for fourth safest schools in our Nation. Not bad!
Now, let’s take a look at changes in education funding this past legislative session. Let’s talk ‘the Block Grant.’ The Block Grant Funding Bill, also known as House Substitute for Senate Bill 7, provides continued good news for our schools. First off, the grant INCREASES total school funding for 2015-2017. The Block Grant adds an additional $130 million to education. Second, the bill retired the antiquated, unpredictable, and often inequitable, school funding formula that had been in existence for 23 years. Third, the Block Grant provides temporary funding (sunset date of June 30, 2017) and is aimed at providing greater flexibility for school districts to spend dollars where most needed until a new formula is created. And finally, the block grant restores money to teacher retirement plans and puts new money into the KPERS system. For these reasons, and MANY others, the Block Grant is good news for our Kansas schools.
Here’s the bottom line: Kansas schools remain our State’s number one priority. Kansas schools remain competitive within our Nation. Kansas schools have some of the best facilities, technology, and teachers that our State has ever known.
None of this would be possible without the support of Kansas taxpayers who value public education and its impact on the future of our State. We can all emphatically agree that educating our youth remains Kansas top funding priority. The question under debate is simply ‘how much funding is enough?’ Though there is a wide range of views on the answer to this question, the underlying priority of adequately funding education has never changed. It’s the top priority!
My hope is that Kansans can continue to work together to resolve differences regarding education funding so that ultimately our schools may be funded at an equitable and sustainable rate. The discussion is worthy. The debate is vigorous. The stakes are high. I have no doubt that Kansas is, and will continue to be, a GREAT education state.
Pride shows in Kansas roads
By Rep. Richard Proehl (Parsons)
Chair, House Transportation Committee
We have much to be proud of in regards to Kansas roads. Our state is consistently ranked in the top five states in the nation with the best highway system. Maintaining great roads is not easy during tough economic times but our committee is dedicated to getting the best value for Kansas tax dollars. KDOT has been doing more work with less funds due to numerous projects coming in considerably under budget. The 2016 legislative session will be a challenge for the Transportation Committee. Our committee will be looking for innovative ways to fund new troopers for the Kansas Highway Patrol. Beginning in January, a new Highway Patrol pay plan will boost salaries. In addition, this month a new class of 20 Kansas Highway Patrol troopers graduated from training. This class is a considerably larger number than other recent graduating classes. Our committee will continue to look for new ways to ensure Kansas law enforcement has the resources necessary to keep Kansans safe. Our committee will also deal with several bills that were left from last year.
The Kansas Turnpike Authority with it’s 236 miles of tollroads is self supporting. The cooperation between KTA and KDOT has generated several million dollars of savings. The plan is to expand this cooperation for additional savings and efficiencies. The main objectives for the immediate future are safety and efficiency, preservation, modernization and enhancement. Safety remains a high priority of the KTA. Driving at seventy-five miles an hour requires roads that are in top shape. The turnpike is nearly sixty years old and requires constant upkeep and maintenance of the driving surface. Also the turnpike may expand in the future to provide expansion opportunities to growth areas of the state.
KTA is expanding interoperability, which is the ability to utilize the K-Tag along with other state’s toll systems. An example of this is Oklahoma’s Pike Pass, which now accepts K-Tags and vice versus. Some of the bridges are over fifty years old and require replacement or upgrades. The Turnpike also owns the bridges that cross over the turnpike on local roads. We will look at providing legislation that will assure the continuation of increasing the percentage of electronic payment methods.
The passing lanes on Highway 400 east of Wichita are under construction, Highway 69 will be completed to Ft. Scott, Construction in the Kansas City area is under constant repair and updating, US 54 has over $100 million in improvements, Wichita just awarded $180 million dollars’ worth of congestion relief, and we have kept preservation dollars at an acceptable standard. For a complete list of Projects and Studies, go to www.ksdot.org/projects.asp I have visited with KDOT Secretary Mike King and he is pleased with the progress of the legislative efficiency study currently underway, and believes that process to be very helpful to the agency as a whole.
Transportation issues affect all Kansas citizens. Our goal is to have the best road system that the Kansas budget will allow and Kansas’ ranking top 5 in the nation for the quality of our roads compared with expenditures shows how effectively we are achieving this goal.
Rest and be thankful
By Rep. Peggy Mast (Emporia)
House Speaker Pro Tem
For many, the tradition of Thanksgiving is a time to focus on God’s blessings that date back nearly four centuries in America. While such celebrations originally occurred in Cape Henry, VA as early as 1607, it is from the Pilgrims that we derive the current tradition known as Thanksgiving.
The Pilgrims left England on September 6, 1620, and for two months braved the harsh elements of a storm-tossed sea. After disembarking at Plymouth Rock, they had a time of prayer followed by immediate shelter construction. However, they were unprepared for a harsh New England winter and nearly half died before spring. The loss did not deter them. With assistance by helpful Indians, the Pilgrims reaped a bountiful harvest the following summer. Filled with thankful hearts, the Pilgrims declared a three-day feast in December 1621 to thank God and celebrate with their new friends.
As we approach this rich American tradition, let us too give thanks for the bountiful blessings we enjoy. Much like the early Pilgrims, Kansas had a rough and rugged beginning. However, God has blessed our state with rich farm land and the ability to produce abundant harvests. According to the USDA, this year’s corn crop yielded 68.7 million bushels, up 75 percent over last year. The wheat crop yielded 378 million bushels, an increase of 38 percent since last year. Additionally, the latest jobs report indicates there is a record number of individuals employed in our state. Not to mention Kansas is ranked 5th best in the nation for business. Kansas schools are also a reason to be thankful, with our state ranking 12th in the nation for best schools, and the 9th best state for teachers. From the harvest, to business, to education and so much more, we can truly be grateful for Kansas’ blessings.
In the United States, we have many amazing freedoms. The liberty to own land, freedom to travel, worship, and prosper by the labor of our hands are opportunities we should never take for granted. This Thanksgiving, remember the generosity, prosperity, and abundance we have been shown as a country and a state. While we may no longer celebrate with three days of feasting like the Pilgrims (something my health and figure is grateful for), I hope you remember the heritage we have as Kansans. This Thanksgiving, I wish you the blessings of good health, warm and pleasant time to spend with family, and a hearty and delicious Thanksgiving meal.
“Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor…..Now, therefore, I do appoint Thursday, the 26th day of November 1789….that we may all unite to render unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection”
“Congress recommends a day of….thanksgiving and praise so that the people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts…and join..their prayers that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ to forgive our sins and …to enlarge His kingdom which consists in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
–CONTINENTAL CONGRESS, 1777
“We often forget the Source from which the blessings of fruitful years and healthful skies com…No human wisdom hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God…I therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States…to observe the last Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
Medicaid: Who is already covered?
By Rep. Dan Hawkins
Chair, House Health & Human Services Committee
This weekend I had an “aha” moment. Every Saturday morning I have breakfast with a group of friends. One of my friends said to me, “Dan why are you not in favor of Medicaid Expansion?” “All I hear about on TV and in the paper is that it costs us nothing and will provide the poor, disabled and elderly with health care. Dan, how can you not support that?” At that point it became clear that even my friends who I talk with all the time have not heard the entire story on who is already covered and who the new additions would be with Medicaid Expansion.
So, I thought it would be a good idea to write a piece outlining who is currently covered by Medicaid. First, let’s start out with the fact that in Kansas we call our Medicaid program KanCare. KanCare currently provides health care to the following populations:
- Pregnant women up to 150% of the federal poverty level (FPL)
- Mothers for one year after birth up to 150% FPL
- Children whose family incomes are up to 250% of FPL
- Parents of children up to 38% of FPL
- Those with a qualifying disability through social security administration
- Those who are currently applying for and awaiting disability determination
- Those with physical disabilities
- Those with developmental disabilities
- Those with traumatic brain injuries
- The frail and elderly
- The blind or visually impaired
- Children with autism
- The state supports community mental health centers to support the mentally ill who are uninsured
- The state supports programs to compensate hospitals that treat the uninsured
- The state supports safety net clinics, or FQHC’s as they are commonly referred to, to treat the uninsured
So, what population would be included in Medicaid Expansion? It would expand eligibility to “able bodied adults up to 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).”Able bodied adults with other health care options.
Kansas currently has 425,000 people on Medicaid. That is nearly 1/6th of the population. Based on the numbers given in the KDHE study authored by Aon Hewitt, Medicaid Expansion would result in 151,200 newly eligible in 2016. That would result in 1/5th of our population being eligible; yes, 20 percent of our population would be on Medicaid.
But even those numbers may be selling things short. Evidence from other states shows their initial estimates were severely low. In our neighbor to the west Colorado, enrollment came in 207 percent more than expected. If Kansas numbers are off by 207 percent, our Medicaid population would increase by more than 300,000 Kansans, putting more than 25 percent of our state’s population on Medicaid.
I agree with my coffee buddy that the state has a responsibility to provide a healthcare safety net for the poor, disabled and elderly. My concern begins when we expand that to able bodied adults with other health care options.
Veteran’s Day reflections
By Rep. Tony Barton
Representative, 41st House District (Leavenworth)
Reflecting on Veterans Day, I think back to my dad who served 23 years in the Air Force. He was a man dedicated to the service, and his job. He maintained a high level of honor and respect I could only hope to emulate. In recent years I discovered that his father served in the U.S. Army during World War II. I have a black and white picture of him in uniform to prove it. I never met him but he looked like a proud man, a sharp soldier in his uniform, a man of honor and respect.
I joined the Navy after spending 18 of my years with my dad in the Air Force and 4 of my own in JROTC. I knew that the military was where I was going to spend a part of my time. I had a lineage, a history to follow. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of men of honor who have served before me, and it gave me great pride to do so. To swear to defend the Constitution and this nation against all enemies both foreign and domestic, “so help me God,” were not just words but an action, and an action I took with humility.
When I think of Veterans Day, I think of the many men and women who have spoken the same words, taken the same steps and action. I applaud and thank each and every one of them because I know the price they have paid to put on the uniform, the service they provide in defense of our nation, and the job they now do with honor and respect. They deserve the utmost in our support. Thank you.
Working together for efficiency
By Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr.
Chair, House Appropriations Committee (Olathe)
The efficiency study commissioned by the legislature is now in full gear. Executives from Alvarez & Marsal (A&M)—the private sector company chosen to complete the project—are connected with employees across state agencies. Together, they’re working to find more effective ways to operate state government. The efficiency study gives lawmakers a new tool and additional expertise that will enable us to identify specific improvements and efficiencies that make state operations stronger and a better value for the taxpayer.
The study is off to a great start. There are already ideas flowing between state employees and A&M. State employees are our most valuable resource, and they have already shown an eagerness to ensure the study is a success. With A&M facilitating the discussion and bringing to bear the knowledge they have gained in other states and in the private sector, state employees are able to contribute their own ideas. Whether it’s new and innovative or something that’s been proposed in the past, we want everything on the table for consideration. This close collaboration between A&M and state employees is the only way for the project to succeed.
The goal of the study is to provide better services at a better price. The recommendations will be both large and small scale in order to ensure better use of public resources. A variety of strategies have been used over the years by the legislature to streamline, enhance, prioritize and modernize public services. This study is timely and will focus on innovative and effective strategies used in both the public and private sector, within and beyond Kansas’ borders.
One of the least publicized parts of the study’s scope directs A&M to find strategies to improve the budget process and make it work better for state officials, the legislature, and most importantly, Kansas taxpayers. A&M will examine the intricacies at each stage of the current budget process with the help of state employees, identify areas for improvement, and make specific recommendations based upon private and public sector best-practices.
I’m grateful for Governor Brownback’s support of the study, and for the help of administration officials, like Budget Director Shawn Sullivan. Without their collaboration, the study would never get off the ground. We are a team with a common objective—to improve the operations of state government and ensure good stewardship of taxpayer dollars.