As the session wears on into the fourth week, we are seeing some action in committees and on the floor of the House and Senate. The hope is the session this year can be brought to an end in 80 days. Resolution of the tax and budget issues will determine whether 80 days is sufficient, or if more time will be needed.
The governor is working hard to promote running the income taxes to zero. The secretary of revenue and the governor’s staff are out every day working to convince us that we need to keep the sales tax that passed three years ago—you know, the sales tax the Legislature promised to end.
They also are trying to convince us that ending the mortgage-interest deduction and property-tax deductions are something we need to do. A full-court press is going on to do that, but the debate is far from over. More information is needed.
We also are seeing a lot of activity by a coalition called “Uncork Kansas” to allow liquor sales in grocery stores. While several of the liquor laws in Kansas are held over from prohibition days, I wonder about the implications of making liquor more readily available. Alcohol and substance abuse create so many problems in society that keeping closer control would seem to me to be better than having liquor too easily available and convenient.
The utilities and telecommunications committee began hearings on a large and quite complicated bill regarding the use of Kansas Universal Service Fees. This is a deregulation bill that will allow more flexibility by phone companies, which is needed as technology changes.
At issue is reducing the amount that is normally in the fund (around $60 million) by reducing the monthly fee and how distribution of the fund will be made to various high-cost suppliers. Part of the issue is transitioning to the next generation of technology by putting in fiber-optics to replace the familiar copper-wire lines.
A couple of things in agriculture are looking at the corporate farming laws in Kansas and the possibility of merging the Board of Veterinary Examiners into the Department of Agriculture. I have mentioned the corporate farming laws before and have not seen any further attempt to discuss what may occur there. Merging the Board of Veterinary Examiners into the Department of Agriculture is something that needs more investigation.
The Department of Ag thinks it can save a little money for the Vet Board, but that amount does not appear to be much, if any. Other issues with the merger are the Vet Board is a regulatory board; the Department of Ag does some regulation, but more in the area of weights and measures and restaurant and hotel inspections. So, this would be a new venue for the Department of Ag.
The Senate has recently voted on changing the judicial selection process and I anticipate the question will be before the full House soon. No doubt votes are being counted to see if there is enough support in the House to pass it. This is a constitutional amendment and requires two-thirds vote of the Senate and House, but no signature by the governor, to be put on the ballot in August or November 2014.
Legislative coffees are scheduled for Feb. 23: 9 a.m. in Halstead at the Harvest Cafe, and 10:30 a.m. in Goessel at the City Building. I expect Sen. (Carolyn) McGinn to join us in Halstead and Sen. (Jay) Emler in Goessel. Questions are always welcomed, so please join us if you have time.
Don Schroeder, R-Hesston, represents the 74th District, which includes Hillsboro and roughly the southern half of Marion County, the southeast corner of McPherson County and all but the southeast corner of Harvey County.