Topeka Dennis and Linda Beaver on Tuesday went to the Capitol hoping their presence would persuade lawmakers to pass tougher penalties against drunken drivers.
But their efforts, prompted by the death of their son, who was killed last year by a drunken driver with eight previous DUI arrests, got partly caught up in a budget battle between Gov. Bill Graves and lawmakers.
The Legislature returns today, after a 2 1/2 week recess, to try to bridge a $205 million budget gap. Graves has called for a tax increase, and unveiled a new proposal Tuesday to raise state sales, inheritance, motor fuels and cigarette taxes for a total of about $135 million.
Legislative leaders have rejected arguments for a tax hike. But lawmakers who support a tax increase used the lack of revenue as a reason not to increase jail time and require treatment for those getting second and third drunken-driving convictions.
"We need to send a message to our fellow legislators that if we want more stringent penalties, we need to be willing to pay for them," said Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood.
Vratil was part of a House-Senate conference committee negotiating differences in drunken-driving legislation adopted in each chamber.
Vratil said the increased penalties would require more revenue to cover the cost of holding people in jail longer. Meanwhile, he said, House and Senate budget writers had adopted bills that would shut down low-security lock-ups at Toronto Lake and Osawatomie, the kind of space needed for repeat drunken-driving offenders.
Not buying it
Later, Dennis Beaver said he was frustrated with the no-money argument.
But "I'm not going away," he said. "I have the rest of my life to work on this thing."
His wife, Linda, said she believed lawmakers could find the money if they made it a priority.
Their son, Casey, a recent Kansas University graduate, was killed Aug. 4, 2000. He and two friends were hit by a drunken driver near Neosho, Mo.
The House-Senate negotiators did agree to heavier fines for DUI convictions, and a provision that would ban a person from having their driver's license reinstated after a fifth conviction.
They also agreed to a measure that would require some offenders to have an ignition interlock device attached to their vehicle. The device would not allow an offender to drive if he or she had been drinking.
As the conference committee worked into the evening, the full Legislature was poised to return today for the budget showdown.
Graves again called for a tax increase, and released a new plan to raise the sales tax two-tenths of one cent; the cigarette tax, 10 cents per pack; the motor fuels tax, 1 cent per gallon; and to extend the inheritance tax to distant relatives.
Graves' budget proposal also includes raising premium taxes on out-of-state insurance companies doing business in Kansas and taking funds designed to help senior citizens buy medicine and applying that to other areas of the budget.
The plan would fund a $90 increase in per-pupil state aid to public schools and provide higher education with a 6 percent faculty pay raise and matching funds for technology purchases. It also would restore earlier cuts made to budgets of regents universities.
"I am cautiously optimistic," Clay Blair, chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents, said after reviewing Graves' plan. "We feel the Senate, House and governor want to do something for higher education."
In a letter to lawmakers, Graves said state officials should be proud they have cut taxes by $2.8 billion over the past five years.
To "recapture a small part of that to ensure fiscal soundness and important services to Kansans is not unreasonable," the letter said.
Graves said that proposals by House and Senate budget committees to bridge the revenue gap with one-time fixes and reductions in already approved spending were unacceptable.