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Archive for Sunday, January 7, 2001

Legislative wishes

January 7, 2001

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Local legislators have a list of local priorities to help guide their work in the upcoming session.

When local legislators march off to Topeka next week, they will carry with them several wish lists from local residents and governmental bodies.

As lawmakers gathered those lists in the last week, some interesting issues and priorities emerged.

The priorities presented by city, county, school and chamber of commerce officials included few surprises but there was some notable crossover on concerns.

The city and county both listed Douglas County's position in the 3rd Congressional District as a priority. The county currently is split between the 3rd District, which also includes Johnson, Wyandotte and Miami counties, and the 2nd District, which spans the rest of the northern and eastern part of the state. Shifting population will necessitate the redrawing of Kansas' four districts and Douglas County is in a pivotal location. The district probably won't be redrawn during this legislative session, but discussions will get started and Douglas County must assert its position.

Both the city and county also want help in collecting sales tax on Internet purchases within the county. Sales tax is an important component of the local tax structure and recent declines are being blamed on Internet shopping. Lawrence and Douglas County certainly aren't the only ones interested in this issue. It's a national issue that probably may require a national solution, but it will be interesting to see whether the Kansas Legislature takes it on this year.

In a move that seems a bit unusual, city commissioners also pleaded the case for another unit of government: the Lawrence school district. City officials accurately stated that "the quality of life in our community greatly depends upon the quality of our public schools." Their request wasn't specific, but it urged state legislators to support "adequate" state funding for K-12 education.

A repeat request came from county commissioners who said they "urge the Legislature in the strongest terms possible to provide Douglas County with a much-needed 6th Division Court." An additional judge and the accompanying support staff in the county's district court is, indeed, an urgent priority. According to county figures, the five current judges are carrying a load of nearly 2,900 active cases. That is a burden for the judges and compromises their ability to resolve cases in a thoughtful and timely manner, which affects every resident in the county.

And speaking from past, unfortunate, experience, local government officials also felt the need to explicitly oppose "unfunded mandates" from the state. Legislators aren't expected to look favorably on any statewide tax increases, but that won't necessarily stop them from ordering policies and programs that require funding. In such cases, their choice mayp be to order the changes and let local governments figure out how to fund them. That means additional local taxes, or budget reductions in other areas to free funds for the new requirements. Either way, local governments and local taxpayers lose.

These are just a few of the many issues that will face legislators when the session gets under way Monday. Hopefully our local delegation will keep the priority lists of local officials handy during the session and review them often to make sure they are serving the interests of local constituents.

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