Seward County Commissioner C.J. Wettstein, left, and Dr. Ray Allen listen to remarks from 115th House District Representative Gary White and 125th House District Representative Shannon Francis at the April 10 legislative update at the Depot. L&T photo/Robert Pierce

ROBERT PIERCE

 • Leader & Times

 

The 2024 session of the Kansas Legislature is nearing its end, and with the close of session on the horizon, two area lawmakers were in Liberal April 10 for a third update on what has been happening this year in Topeka.

Kansas 115th House District Representative Gary White and 125th House District Representative Shannon Francis talked about some recent legislation addressed by state officials.

Both White and Francis said a tax plan is in the works, passing in both the House and the Senate.

“I think the governor’s going to sign it without getting too many fingerprints on it,” White said. “It’s a huge tax cut for people.”

Francis said while the House unanimously passed the tax plan, a few votes went against it in the Senate, and many in the House feel the plan would not get enough override votes if Governor Laura Kelly chose to veto it.

“We passed a House tax plan 123-0,” Francis said. “Then they passed a plan 24-8, and we sent it back to committee. I didn’t vote to send it back to committee because I knew some of the personalities involved. I was scared that like that, we weren’t be able to get tax relief this year.”

Francis said several tax plans have been considered in this year’s session, and all of them have been somewhat in the same affordability range.

“They’ve all been somewhere between $1.4 and $1.5 billion,” he said. “That’s over three years.”

Francis said leaders in the Senate are learning a tax plan is an urgent need in the Sunflower State.

“I’ve never seen so much bipartisanship and people working together to get a tax plan passed,” he said. “We passed that thing. It was unanimous in the House. We had some people missing. When it happened, it was 118-0. It passed 24-7, but they had four or five people who had left early.”

With the tax plan passing with large majorities in both the Senate and House, Francis said the hope now is simply to have Gov. Kelly sign it.

“If not, we’ll just have to go back to the drawing board,” he said.

The House also recently passed a budget, and Francis said he feels tax reform is needed because of how lawmakers typically handle money.

“The more money we have in Topeka, the harder it is for us not to spend it,” he said. “The best place for us to get that money is back into your pockets. We have to do it in a way that we don’t endanger the finances of the state for future generations. I think what we did pass was sustainable, but we need to get something passed so we spend it in appropriate places.”

Francis said Kelly can line item veto any item in the budget, but he did say this year’s budget has $6 million to be used for county roads that have been impacted by the growth of the area’s growth industry.

“Seward County has had a project on Meade Lake Road,” he said. “I think it’s about $1.5 million. They haven’t been able to get it through the Cost Share Program yet.”

Francis said while all elected bodies spend more money when given more money, there are some needs in areas where money definitely needs to be spent.

“One of the problems we have for our cities and our counties is funding for infrastructure,” he said. “They get the mill levy, but they also get something called city county highway fund monies from the state. Our cities and our counties get one-third of the federal gas tax we get. That’s under state statute. It has not increased with inflation because our cars are getting more fuel efficient every year. This $6 million will help some of our counties.”

Part of city county revenue sharing in the past, Francis said, was the use of the commercial motor vehicles registration fee, something he would like to see brought back.

“It used to flow through to this city county highway fund,” he said. “We did away with that in 2008. I’m trying to get it reinstated, and I hope to get a budget proviso through.”

The two representatives likewise talked about education legislation in the works, and White said language is being cleaned up at this time.

“We’re putting a lot of money into special ed and the state education fund,” he said.

However, Francis said a K-12 budget is not through yet.

“We went through a decade of lawsuits with education,” he said. “We had a court settlement of how we need to fund education going forward, and we fully funded education from that point forward.”

Francis said statute calls for the state and federal governments to fund 92 percent of special education, but that has only been done in Kansas three times in the last 15 years.

“I think it’s very important for us to find a formula that will fund so the schools know what to count on,” he said. “There are some of these formulas out there we’ve never complied with. We have no intention of funding things that way going forward, and trying to find a way so we can concentrate on what needs to be done to make Kansas better rather than fighting last year’s battle.”

White said there will likely be little, if any, new legislation for agriculture or water this year. Despite a rough beginning to April, Francis said much in the way of legislation did get passed.

“I’ve got one bill that came out of transportation,” he said. “I’ve carried on the floor three times, and I’ve voted on it four times. The Senate still hasn’t passed that bill yet.”

Francis said for the 2024 session, original bills have been passed, and now, the legislature is awaiting Kelly’s decisions on them.

“The governor has three weeks to veto anything we pass, and we’ll come back on the 25th,” he said. “We’ll prepare an omnibus budget. What the omnibus budget does is it addresses any issues that came up since we adjourned. It addresses issues we wanted some more research on. It’ll also fund any bills we passed we didn’t have in our budget.”

Francis briefly touched on child care, saying the industry is heavily overregulated in Kansas.

“We have some of the lowest ratios of kids to providers,” he said. “We’re in the top two as far as the lowest number of kids to providers of any state in the nation. It’s important for safety reasons, but sometimes, we can overdo regulation. We make it so it’s not cost effective to get child care.”

Francis praised his constituents for allowing him to do the job he does at the state capitol.

“There’s really nothing more important to me than making sure Liberal is a success, and every vote I take, I always keep that in the back of my mind about what I can do to make sure we have as strong a voice in Topeka as possible,” he said.

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