GUEST COLUMN, Shannon Francis, 125th District Representative
Congratulations to this year’s graduates of LEAD Liberal. Lead teaches servant leadership to Liberal’s future and current leaders. Thank you Lisa Oliver Hatcher, Molly Colvin, Tyler Prater, Bill Prater and the many others that dedicate their time every year to make this program happen.
Congratulations to the Liberal Chamber of Commerce’s Merit award winners, Mel Patterson and Ada Linenbroker.
These women contribute so much to the success of our community. The Chamber is one of the networking centers of our community. They represent Liberal locally, statewide, and nationally. Whether it’s advocating for “Focus on the Future” and highway improvements, or glamping and “Duck Races” the Chamber the Chamber fills a vital role in our community.
March 23 marked an important deadline in the 2022 Legislative Session. That is the date by which all non-exempt bills, from committees other than Appropriations, Federal and State Affairs, and Taxation, had to be considered in either chamber. This week the House debated and approved 55 bills. Senate bills that were not amended by the House will be advanced to the Governor for her consideration. Over the coming week, Conference Committees will be meeting to hammer out differences between House and Senate versions of bills that have passed at least one chamber. The Legislature will then vote on Conference Committee Reports, which reflect the bill language agreed upon by members of each conference committee. These reports will be voted on prior to the Legislature’s First Adjournment deadline, which is set for April 1.
• Implementation of the 988 Suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline in Kansas. Federal law has created 988 as an alternative to using the 911 system. The 988 system will connect people in crisis to immediate care and assistance (SB 19)
• Honoring the Gold Star Families of Kansas with a memorial to be placed on the Statehouse grounds (SB 330)
• Providing accountability with performance-based contracts within the foster care system and ensuring that children and families in need are receiving satisfactory care (SB 12)
• Protecting Kansas ranchers with passage of the Fake Meat labeling bill (SB 261)
Budget reflects priorities
The House passed SB 267, the state budget minus K-12 expenditures. The K-12 budget can be found in HB 2512. Priorities in the budget include:
• Setting aside $500 million in the Rainy-Day Fund, so that our families will not be on the hook for higher taxes as the economy ebbs and flows.
• Caring for our most vulnerable citizens with additional dollars for social service programs.
• Removing the Governor’s one-time tax handout, recommending meaningful tax cuts.
• Addressing rural housing needs with a $50 million appropriation. House Republicans continue to work on legislation to best address how to keep rural Kansas thriving.
• Crafting reasonable recommendations on state employee pay by funding essential retention pay, while providing an increase for other employees. In addition, the bill requests an interim study to look at pay issues across all agencies.
The budget bill now goes to a conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate budgets.
Fully funded education bill advances
The House advanced HB 2512, an education bill containing constitutional school finance appropriations and adjustments to K-12 policy. HB 2512 also adds $5 million to fund the Safe and Secure grants, which were left unfunded by both the Governor and the State Board of Education. The policy changes promote transparency, ensure accountability, and improve achievement. Key provisions include:
• Helps students recover credits and obtain a diploma through the “Virtual School Dropout Student State Aid”
• Prioritizes third grade literacy, an agreed upon goal between the Legislature and the Kansas State Board of Education. Addresses the lack of proficiency with 3rd grade readers by providing Every Child Can Read Act.
• Provides additional accountability with requirement for two types of needs assessments, giving local boards more information on challenges faced by the children in their district.
• Increases number of mandatory reporters for child abuse by expanding the list to include KSHSAA employees to the list.
• Creates flexibility for students by allowing for part-time enrollment and the opportunity to earn course credit through alternative education sources.
• Addresses the concern for lack of proficiency in math, by encouraging districts to utilize virtual math programs to increase students’ math competency.
• HB 2447 Concerning crimes, punishment, and criminal procedure; relating to preliminary hearings; Permitting witness testimony through two-way electronic audio-video communication device.
• HB 2495 Prohibiting the disclosure of personal information about a person's affiliation with an entity that is exempt from federal income taxation under section 501(c) of the federal internal revenue code.
• HB 2504 Allowing the printing of the international symbol of access for disabled veteran distinctive license plates and certain parking privileges for disabled veterans who meet certain physical disability definitions.
• HB 2609 Allowing restricted driver's license holders to drive to and from worship services for any religious organizations at age 15.
• HB 2615 Allowing K-12 students to transfer to and attend school in any school district in the state.
• HB 2631 Enacting the career technical education credential and transition incentive for employment success act to provide additional state aid for school districts based on students obtaining a credential.
• HB 2632 Requiring a referral of an alleged victim of child abuse or neglect for an examination as part of an investigation, creating a program in the department of health and environment to provide training and payment and defining child abuse review and evaluation providers, networks, examinations and referrals and child abuse medical resource centers.