Archive for Sunday, February 18, 1990


February 18, 1990


The bills and resolutions the Silver-Haired Legislature choose as their top priorities are kept under close watch as they make their way through the political process.

When the Kansas Legislature is in session, Orville Voth, speaker of the house for the group that represents senior citizens, makes at least two trips a week from Lawrence to Topeka, checking on bills, testifying before committees and meeting with others who are interested in the same issues as the Silver-Haired Legislature.

This is the seventh year the Silver-Haired Legislature has been active during the Kansas legislative session. Made up of 125 legislators age 60 and over, the group meets each November to put together its legislative package for the year, then works during the session to see that its agenda is not forgotten.

Since its beginning, the Silver-Haired Legislature has had strong input from Lawrence. For the first five years, Lawrence resident Al Bramble was president of the group; another Lawrence man, Ralph Turner, represented Douglas County in the Silver-Haired Legislature for five years.

THE RECORD of the group is impressive, Voth said.

"Since I became involved in 1988, 80 percent of the bills the Silver-Haired Legislature passed and sent on have now become law," Voth said. "That's one piece of evidence we're doing things that need to be done and the state Legislature recognizes we're doing the things that need to be done."

Voth, 66, added that the bills he is talking about did not necessarily originate with the Silver-Haired Legislature, but became part of the group's legislative package.

Bills often need to "perculate and gestate" for a time before the Kansas Legislature acts on them, Voth said. "But we keep the pressure on," he added.

ISSUES THAT are being pushed by the Silver-Haired Legislature this year include the Senior Care Act, a proposal for a tax credit for people who care for the old or feeble in their homes, and a proposal for a "MediKan buy-in" that would provide health insurance for working poor Kansans.

But the Silver-Haired Legislature is not just concerned with issues that affect the elderly. Other bills the group is supporting this year involve such issues as water well testing, solid waste and recycling, use of trees as windbreaks for soil conservation and 911 emergency phone service for the entire state.

"We are the Silver-Haired Legislature and we represent elderly," Voth said. "But so many issue are important to future elderly. What happens to natural resources? What happens to Social Security? We're fighting for the future elderly.

"It's not simply self-serving, and not just elderly issues."

BRAMBLE, 76, emphasized another goal of the Silver-Haired Legislature training people over 60 in the legislative process and increasing their political activity in city, county and state affairs. And he thinks the process has worked.

The evidence, he said, is in the clout the Silver-Haired Legislature wields with lawmakers.

"They have come to recognize it as a significant voice," he said.

Bramble said the approximately 430,000 people over age 60 in Kansas represent the largest single block of voters in the state. And on average, he said, the people in this group vote 1 times as often as younger voters.

Voth said that more than half the Silver-Haired Legislature's proposals are being considered in one form or another this session. That fact, and the growing respect the group is getting from individual legislators, are signs that what the group is doing is important, he said.

Rep. Jessie Branson, D-Lawrence, said the Silver-Haired Legislature has done some good work in the Statehouse. Unlike other groups, Mrs. Branson said, the Silver-Haired Legislature has no paid lobbyist, and their representatives can't spend as much time there.

"Sometimes they have to come back two or three years" on a bill, but they keep working, she said.

THE GROUP'S top priority, the Senior Care Act to provide services so that the frail elderly can stay in their homes and not go to nursing homes, was passed by the Legislature last year. But Voth said the act stayed on top of the priority list because very little funding was authorized.

"They put in $250,000, and we think $900,000 is needed," he said.

Under the act, money would be provided to pay people to help the elderly with chores and other in-home services. Voth said this funding would save money because many elderly would be kept out of nursing homes.

"In the long run, such care is cheaper than institutional care," he said.

VOTH, FORMER president of Bethany College in Newton and assistant to the dean of continuing education at Kansas University, said he is working for some changes in the way the Silver-Haired Legislature puts together its legislative package.

He said various committees work on bills and resolutions, but after the November session, it becomes his job as speaker to prioritize them and put them in some kind of order.

"I don't think that's the way it ought to be done." Voth said he believes the process "needs much broader input from the Silver-Haired Legislature in the selection of issues and writing of bills."

Voth said he hopes to get the chairmen of all the committees together for a prioritizing session next year after the Silver-Haired Legislature meets and before the Kansas Legislature goes into session.

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