Smoking ban, 2010 budget emerge as topics on the horizon

This week?s column will highlight a couple of the subjects coming up in the remainder of the session.

n Smoking. Proponents and opponents of a bill that would ban smoking in most of the state?s workplaces and public places faced a barrage of questions from the House Health and Human Services Committee last week in hearings on Senate Bill 25.

The bill would allow smoking only in a few public places, including tobacco shops, existing private clubs, casino and gaming floors and 20 percent of the state?s hotel rooms. Certain areas of adult care homes would also be exempt. The Senate passed the measure, 26-13.

The unusual event is that the House Committee Chairman has agreed to work this bill. People come down on one of two sides: those who say it is a health issue and those who say it is a freedom issue. Stay tuned.

n Budget. Meanwhile, the Fiscal Year 2010 budget bill is slowly but surely coming together in both chambers, with floor debate on March 23, or so.?

I?m told that, not unlike in many past sessions, lawmakers will likely defer a number of key spending decisions until their ?omnibus? or ?mop-up? legislative session in late April.?

It is at that time when lawmakers will have updated revenue estimates and critical information regarding restrictions and limitations regarding expenditures of federal economic stimulus funds.

On the subject of the budget, I realize the need to shrink our budget; however, two of the areas proposed for shrinkage give me heartburn and seem short-sighted:

First, we already know the Department of Corrections has had wild success lowering the recidivism rate. Inmates aren?t committing new crimes after release and so aren?t returning to prison, thanks to proactive programs like counseling and drug and alcohol therapy.

In the long run, it?s cheaper to treat now and assist in rehabilitating prisoners than to watch them return to prison at the cost of over $25,000 per year. If we scuttle intervention programs, we will surely pay a dear price in future prison costs.

Some believe we?re not being tough on crime if we work to rehabilitate prisoners, even though the programs are working. My suggestion is we forget the terms ?soft? or ?tough? on crime and realize the issue is being ?smart? about crime.

Second, we also know that the spending we?ve poured into education has paid off with vastly improved test scores statewide.

Teacher training in the Multi-Tiered System of Support and other initiatives is essential if we are to reach all Kansas students and continue our progress. Pilot programs show great improvement for at-risk students and we?re in the process of expanding beyond the pilot.

About 120 Kansas school districts, including Hillsboro, have now launched into the multi-tiered system, which might be the brightest hope for an effective intervention tool for helping struggling students.

The current budget proposal will axe this funding. The proposal won?t axe our other educational funding.

The issue for both these areas: In a time when money is scarce, do we have the money or should we find the money to fund these programs? Can we afford not to fund them?

At the same time, we cannot fund everything, and shouldn?t attempt to. Will they be priorities for a majority of legislators?

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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