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March 07th, 2021
L&T Opinions Page

shannon francis mugGUEST COLUMN, Shannon Francis, State Representative

 

On January 11, the legislature went to work. Two early legislative priorities will be:

 

Value Them Both Amendment 

In 2019 the Kansas Supreme Court issued an opinion in which it interpreted the Kansas Constitution to contain a fundamental right to obtain an abortion. Fundamental rights receive the highest level of legal protection called strict scrutiny. Laws which regulate abortion in Kansas now face this highest level of scrutiny and are much more likely to be struck down by courts. This resolution will  allow  Kansans to decide  whether to regulate abortion through their elected officials or whether there will be few or no laws in this area.

 

Kansas Emergency Management Act

Last year the legislature passed a bill, HB 2016, to provide checks and balances for our emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the provisions in the bill sunset on January 26, 2021. It implemented local control, letting elected officials make the final decisions on emergency measures instead of unelected bureaucrats. It gave new flexibility for our doctors and nurses to provide healthcare services remotely using the latest technology, reduced regulations to help businesses recover, created liability protections to protect businesses from frivolous COVID-related lawsuits, made necessary changes so Kansans could have access to federal unemployment benefits, and helped protect Kansans in nursing homes.  If we do not take action to extend the bill, Kansas will go back to prior law with the governor making decisions about which businesses are essential, which ones can be open, and mandating a host of things including masks with no ability for local officials to make decisions for their communities. 

This year, I am serving on the Appropriations and Transportation committees. Additionally, I am continuing to serve as chairman of the Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee, which covers the management of 12 budgets; including the Departments of Transportation, Corrections, KBI, Kansas National Guard, KEMA, Highway Patrol and State Fire Marshal.

This year I sponsored HOUSE BILL No. 2019   a bill designating the new bridges on the Highway 54 expansion in Seward County as the Jack Taylor Memorial Bridge and Max Zimmerman Memorial Bridge. These community leaders worked tirelessly, for decades, on improving  highway 54 and I am proud to honor them in this way.  I am also working on a concurrent resolution in support of federal legislation to do away with the time change and go to year around Daylight Savings Time.

 

State of the State and Governor’s Budget Proposal 

On January 12, Governor Laura Kelly gave the annual State of the State Address.  She discussed her priorities as governor and released her proposed budget.  The Governor claimed to be submitting a balanced budget but based it on several policy and spending proposals that have failed repeatedly during her tenure.  The Legislature will have its work cut out for it to build a balanced budget based on her proposals.    Below are some of the priorities that affect our community or stood out to me.

 

The Good

• Restored $14.9 million of cuts to Community Colleges, Technical Schools and others.

• Prioritized critical IT infrastructure improvements throughout state government.   The Department of Labor was specifically allocated over $37.5mil between FY21 – FY22 from Federal and special revenue funds for Unemployment Insurance modernization efforts. 

• In Corrections prioritizing intensive substance abuse treatment for inmates preparing for release from prison, allowing for better integration into society upon release and driving down recidivism rates.

• In Transportation the Governor plans to reduce State General Fund reliance on KDOT funding and to phase it out by Fiscal Year 2023.  Keeping the funds with KDOT allows them to continue moving forward with the Eisenhower Legacy Plan approved by the Legislature in 2020

 

The Bad 

The Governor’s budget used several budget tricks that kick our current obligations down the road to future generations. 

• For the third year in a row the Governor has propose the reamortization of the KPERS unfunded liability.  This would extend the amortization term from 15 years to 25 years at an estimated cost of $4.6 billion. 

• It delays any payment of the $132 million PMIB loan until after the next gubernatorial election.

• Zeroes out the $82 million balance of our Rainy Day Fund. 

• Allotments to several important evidence-based programs, including $9 million from our technical & college colleges, $9 million from waivers for Kansans with disabilities, $5 million from school safety & security, and delaying payments to our K-12 schools.

This session, Alexis Simmons will work as my committee and office assistant. She has a background in political science and policy work. She is available to help you with any questions or concerns you may have. You can also use her to reach me and arrange a meeting, by Zoom or in-person. You can contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (785) 296-7466. 

Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the Page program has been suspended for this legislative session. We will get through this crisis together. I am available any time you have questions, need assistance with a state agency, or want to chat about the issues. 

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