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January 26th, 2020

shannon francis 1 8 20 legislative updateRep. Shannon Francis talks to a constituent after a legislative update event Wednesday afternoon. The upcoming legislative session will keep everyone busy, according to Francis’ update. L&T photo/Elly GrimmELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part one of a series recapping the legislative update that took place at the Rock Island Depot Wednesday afternoon and will focus on an update given by Rep. Shannon Francis. Part two will focus on the update given by Sen. Bud Estes and the final part will focus on the update given by Rep. Marty Long. 

Many political happenings are going on throughout the country, and Kansas has recently also been seeing its fair share of political activity, according to an update from Rep. Shannon Francis during a legislative update Tuesday afternoon. 

“One of the greatest honors I have is serving my hometown and this district in the state legislature and with that, your needs are always heard and I work to make sure your voices are heard when decisions are being made,” Francis said. “I serve on the transportation and public safety budget and within that budget are the budgets for the highway patrol and a number of other related departments. One of the things we’re really working on is how do we adequately fund those departments and make sure we make the investments in those areas that need to be made in order to help the future of Kansas. There are some things I’m very happy about, in particular how recently, a contract has been written up and they are starting the next phase of four-laning the highway from the east end of the current four-lane and onward. As chairman of the transportation public safety budget committee, I have a little more influence when it comes to highways in Western Kansas and something I’m very happy about is ... four-lane highways cost a lot of money and what I think we’ve all seen is there are times when we over-design our roads, specifically with the overpass between Sublette and Garden City, that cost was in excess of $22 million to build. So we have to be careful in how we design what we need so we can get the most bang for our buck and make sure everything is built the way it needs to be. Currently, the budget has adequate resources and we can be pretty sure the third phase of that project, which will be from the west end of the existing four-lane toward Liberal, will be completed as we can keep the budget in place.”

Francis also talked about his work with the transportation committee and the appropriations committee. 

“The state budget, honestly, looks as well as it looked when we saw it at the first of the session. We’re currently looking to have an end balance of $5.5 million, which isn’t very much in the state budget. There’s also some spending in there that might not actually happen, so I think the ending budget going forward will be a bit higher, we just have to make the appropriate investments in Kansas and not letting those opportunities slide through our fingers,” Francis said. “There are a lot of people who want to spend money on their priorities, but they’re not always best for the state. I think what will make this year more difficult than most is in the past, it’s been almost too easy to say ‘We can’t do that, we don’t have any money’ but now, it’s more ‘We don’t have the money for your priority at this time and we need to make investments in these other areas.’”

Francis also talked about the Kansas prison system. 

“Our current prison capacity is 101 percent and we’re currently paying to send people out of state to those prisons and we need to find a way to address that,” Francis said. “My personal opinion is we have done a great job of locking a lot of people up the past several years, but we haven’t done a great job of rehabilitating these people and helping them with their re-entry into society, so I think we need to have an increased focus on substance abuse and mental health issues and those types of issues, and then after they’ve served their time in prison, we can work on them re-entering society and help them be good citizens. And it can be hard because you get out of prison and are expected to basically immediately find employment and everything on your own – and every job application has the question ‘Have you ever been convicted of a felony?’ and while that is something employers should know, we also need to work with these people in order to make them productive members of society. So with that 101 percent capacity and those issues, those will also be extremely important for us going forward.”

Francis also talked about a recent tour he took with other legislators of mental health facilities in Kansas. 

“One of the biggest problems we have with mental health right now is workforce. We’ve got a great facility in Larned for mental health, but they can’t find employees and one of the reasons they can’t find employees is because while the pay is decent, in today’s job market, they can find a similar job opportunity that pays more income,” Francis said. “So we have to look at some ways we can increase our workforce and we also have to look at how across the state, we have a shortage of psychiatrists and today, it’s hard to attract psychiatrists to Western Kansas. One of the solutions we’re working on is growing our own workforce in this area – this community has a great community college, but the fact of the matter is so many of our younger people go to a four-year university somewhere else and then ultimately don’t come back. We’ve also got a lot of great individuals who, for one reason or another, it’s difficult to go to a four-year university. So if we can create those education opportunities, we have some success in solving those workforce issues. So those are just some things we’ll be dealing with in this upcoming session.”

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