February 26th, 2024
L&T Opinions Page

ryckmanRYCKMAN RECAP, Ron Ryckman, 38th District Senator 


“Water, water, everywhere …” So goes the line from the famous 1798 poem, The Ancient Mariner, but also serves as the figurative theme of the Senate Ag committee during Week 10 of the 2023 Session. I suppose it would be a little too clever by half to say we were “inundated” with legislation addressing Groundwater Management and reporting issues in the bills HB 2302 and HB 2279; however, that was certainly the case, with multiple conferees appearing to offer insight into the conservation and use of our most precious natural resource. Although there is no disagreement about the need to be scrupulous with our grants and technical assistance, there were as many ideas as there were witnesses on how to go about it. With only $45 million in new funding out of a projected $69 million need – and $36 million of that already earmarked, we as legislators have some real prioritizing to do. Thus, what was supposed to be wrapped up has been carried over until next week. 

What was not carried over, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, was the bill in Fed and State Affairs to legalize the sale of medical cannabis in our state. After spending the better part of two weeks hearing from both proponents, opponents, and neutral witnesses, SB 135 was summarily tabled without even a vote on whether to send it to the floor, effectively rendering it “dead” for this session. Thinking the numbers were on their side, a similar, separate effort was made by Democrats on the so-called “School Choice” measure with procedural motions to first non-concur and then concur on the narrowly (64-61) House-passed, H Sub SB 83, but they were lost on points of order challenges, preserving the opportunity for next day appointment of a conference committee. “Education Savings Accounts” have been expanded to include home schooling, teacher pay raises, and Special Ed funding, but regardless of how any final version comes out, the Governor has indicated she will not let it go anywhere.

There is some belief the same is true of the still languishing removal of all local taxes on food. The House got a LOT of push-back from city and county governments on the Senate-passed proposal to do that, earnestly arguing just what I had: that funding for such services as police, fire, hospitals, roads, and the like would have to be made-up-for somewhere – and that property tax increases are not a palatable alternative. While a plan is in the works for making locals whole on the lost revenue at least initially, the Fixing Instant Revenue Shock for Taxpayers or FIRST fund laid out in the bill SB 309 is generating a lot of angst, mostly over worries that conditions would be attached to any “making whole” applications — and a lack of faith over reliability of reimbursement from the Legislature in future years. Still no clear read on what the Governor might do with such a proposal, but early signs are she is not wild about the idea.

After consuming nearly four and a half hours debating the budget legislation — including approving four amendments and rejecting twice that number, what was supposed to be a final vote on the 325-page Sub SB 155 was put over until next week. The problem? Several senators were missing, creating concern over there being enough votes to pass the measure. It seems like every year I have been here, the story is always the same on getting the necessary margin, since all members of the party not in control are automatically opposed and the rest of us want to approve spending only out of necessity. In a lot of respects, it is much like the perennial debt ceiling drama at the federal level. Regardless, we’ll have the just-over $9 billion ($9.2B this year and $9.4B next) authorization waiting for us when we come back Monday, with leadership looking for a way to get 21 votes.

The absolute “winning vote” of the week for me went to the one of only seven Kansas Master Teachers of the year, our own Dodge City High School English instructor, Kirstin Bangerter. I introduced and congratulated her as part of an official Senate Floor tribute, after earlier speaking at a lunch gathering held (most appropriately during St. Patrick’s Week.) across Eighth Street at the Celtic Fox. As one who years ago went through the same application process, I couldn’t help but remark at what an impressive 30-year resume Kirstin has and her amazing attitude toward kids fortunate enough to be in what she calls her classroom “palace.” How cool it was to brag at this morning’s Dodge Town Hall about her and the performing-in-the-Rotunda-from-the-same-school-the-day-before Madrigal Singers. Together, they reminded me again of how blessed I am to be the “voice” of so many exceptional SW Kansans here in Topeka. 

Happy first day of Spring!