Regular session ends with action on energy, seat belts, abortion, smoking

Last Friday ended the regular session, and we?ll take a three-week break while the state printer prints all those bills we passed.

Once the legislative leaders sign them, the bills are sent to the governor to consider and either veto them or permit them to become law.

You may not hear much from me in the next three weeks, depending on what there is to report.

Here are some highlights, both good and bad:

We now know that state revenues for March are way down?$58 million down. This affects the already-passed state budget for fiscal year 2010. We knew we would have to adjust the budget when we return in late April, and we just found out how much of an adjustment?and we have to plan for the potential losses for April, May and June with a blindfold on.

That raises the likelihood of further budget cuts or slight tax increases so the budget balances. As you recall, Kansas is a cash-basis state.

This week we voted on the energy bill, a primary seat-belt bill, an abortion bill requiring more accurate reporting on late-term abortions, and we almost?voted on a statewide smoking ban, but didn?t.

We also took advantage of federal help for laid-off workers so they have the likelihood of retaining their health insurance?without extra federal or state money.

The energy bill passed with 74 favorable votes. This bill creates renewable energy standards for Kansas, and it also requires the secretary of Health and Environment to make regulations no broader than the regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency.

It is expected the governor will veto this bill because it could pave the way for a new coal plant in western Kansas. An override of the veto takes 84 votes.

As to seat belts, Kansas currently has a secondary seat-belt law?a driver can get a seat-belt ticket for not buckling up if stopped for another infraction, but not simply for the failure to wear the seatbelt.

The proposed change, linked to federal money, would have made the seat-belt law a primary violation, and we could be stopped for that offense alone, without a second reason for being stopped.

Knowing that this has the potential for saving lives, I voted in favor of the bill. It failed. If you?re interested in more information on that subject?there?s more to it?let me know and I?ll fill you in.

For the rest of you, I?ll spare you the details. This is likely to surface again, so let me know your thoughts.

The smoking-ban bill never reached the House floor, but is certain to surface next year, perhaps in a better bill. I have consistently said since last July that while I wouldn?t lead the charge or push for a statewide ban, I would likely vote for one if presented.

Part of me prefers local control; the other part of me wants to spare us locals from the bitterness of the matter and therefore do it statewide. The cost savings on the health effects of second-hand smoke alone seem to dictate the advisability for regulation.

A number of you have called and encouraged me to vote against restrictions, and I appreciate your input. Let me hear from you all on this one, too.

You may e-mail me at Brookens70@sbcglobal.net, or write me at either 201 Meadow Lane, Marion, KS 66861 or at Kansas State Capitol Building, 300 SW 10th, Topeka, KS 66612. If you are coming to Topeka, call me at: 785-296-7636.

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