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Archive for Saturday, June 30, 2001

Lawmakers defend travel costs

June 30, 2001

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— Kansas lawmakers tightened out-of-state travel for executive agencies, but they apparently haven't applied the same belt-tightening to themselves.

Forty-five legislators and staff are planning to attend the National Conference of State Legislatures' annual meeting Aug. 11-15 in San Antonio.

Of the staff going, the Senate is sending James Woods, who is retiring as Senate sergeant-at-arms, and Gregg Svoboda, a Senate doorman who will become the new sergeant-at-arms.

During the session, the sergeant-at-arms essentially maintains order and decorum in the Senate chamber and does various chores for lawmakers.

Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, said he approved the travel because Woods serves on an NCSL committee on legislative services and security. He said Woods also wanted to introduce Svoboda to that committee as the new sergeant-at-arms.

Kerr said the travel was a legitimate expense and said that neither he nor anyone else from his office is going to the five-day conference.

The cost of the taxpayer-paid trip hasn't been determined, but for the Kansas delegation, it will be in the tens of thousands of dollars. The registration fee alone is $385 per person.

In general, Kansas lawmakers take an active roll in several national organizations of state legislators and often are among the states that send the largest delegations to the conferences.

According to a state memo distributed to lawmakers, 22 House members, 14 senators and nine staff members are going to the NCSL conference.

Kerr said it will be money well-spent. He said lawmakers frequently learn at these conferences ways to improve Kansas government.

Karl Peterjohn, lobbyist for the Kansas Taxpayers Network, said that lawmakers' traveling expenses, in addition to raises for Kansas University regents and capital remodeling costs, burdened taxpayers even more. "The only thing the taxpayers get is the bill," he said.

The trips come on the heels of a bruising legislative session over money that ended late in May.

During the session, lawmakers cut out-of-state travel among executive agencies by 25 percent, but they didn't apply the knife to their own travel budget.

Gov. Bill Graves said that was unfair, calling the cut in executive agency travel another example of "arbitrary and ill-conceived reductions to balance the budget with little consideration given to the potential adverse effect on administrative operations."

Shortly after the session, 11 lawmakers left for a two-day conference in Washington, D.C.

Staff writer Scott Rothschild can be reached at 785-354-4222.

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