Teachers’ collective bargaining, education, wind farms, energy transmission, new businesses, moving election dates and health care were among many topics discussed at the Legislative Forum at Pratt Community College on Saturday.
Rep. Marshall Christmann and Sen. Mitch Holmes were on hand to bring the two-dozen audience members up to date on a variety of issues facing the Kansas Legislature.
Tax reform and judicial selection at the appellate level were two of the key issues during the current legislative session, Holmes said.
It was difficult to come to an agreement on a budget with the governor’s proposed budget at $417 million and the legislative budget at $467 million.
One of the budget issues was getting a pay raise for all state employees so they were being paid at market value. In a five-year plan, four-fifths have received the pay but the last one-fifth has not received a raise and my not get it with this budget.
Another budget issue was education funding. The budget in the House called for a four percent cut in education and Christmann said he didn’t vote for it. The Senate budget would keep education funding at the same level it was last year.
A budget amendment to cut property tax did not pass by 12 votes.
Some 40 counties with oil and gas production have suffered from a lack of production so the legislature wanted to dip into the severance fund and Holmes said he didn’t think that was a good idea.
Holmes said that previous tax cuts appeared to be working with a 13 percent increase in new businesses, mostly in the eastern half of the state. He opposed raising new property tax three years ago but he did support raising sales taxes to offset other tax cuts.
On the health care issue Holmes said health insurance policies needed to cover the patient needs but be affordable. KanCare would allow people to look for a policy that can cover their specialized needs.
Suzan Patton, USD 382 Superintendent, wanted to know about legislation that would automatically hold students back if they were not reading proficient by third grade and legislation that would call for a week to celebrate freedom.
Legislation to automatically hold students back did not make it out of committee, Holmes said. Holmes favored the week to celebrate freedom and how special the U.S. is compared to other countries.
“I think kids need to be reminded American is exceptional,” Holmes said.
Christmann said Celebrate Freedom week was still stuck in committee but he voted for it because the country has a lot of traditions that need to be celebrated.
Legislation was considered to move city treasurer election day from April to November. However, this would mean that an audit would have to be performed twice and the audit is very expensive, said Christmann who would vote against legislation.
Holmes said the committee chair wanted to move the election date to help increase voter turnout because many voters aren’t even aware an election takes place in April. Action on the bill is not expected this year.
Legislation to reduce the power of collective bargaining for educators concerned Christmann. He said teachers should have the right to select their advocate and not have limits on collective bargaining.
“I have voted “No” on every anti-union bill,” Christmann said.
The Legislature considered “Renewable Portfolio Standards” that would regulate production of energy from renewable sources like wind, solar, biomass and thermal.
Christmann, who is very pro-wind energy, voted against the legislation because of the restrictions it placed on energy sources.
Wind energy is good for Pratt and good for farmers, Christmann said.
Holmes, who also voted against the bill, said it was problematic and might scare off the wind industry.
An issue with wind energy was transmission lines and their cost. Holmes said one transmission line project cost $8 billion, required getting rights from numerous landowners and was due for completion in 2018 after already been in the works for four years.
Businessman Frank Laubhan requested the legislators to seek ways for property tax relief for the counties that support community colleges. One-third of his property tax goes to the college. It is a tax burden, especially for those in western Kansas.
The legislators said they would look into the matter.