Under the dome
Friday is a major deadline in the legislative session called "turnaround" because it is the last day most bills must be approved in their house of origin to receive further consideration this year. That means this week the full House and Senate will be going full bore, considering dozens of bills to beat the deadline. Other session deadlines: first adjournment, April 2; start of veto session, April 28.
Governor for barely more than a year, Kathleen Sebelius is getting national attention. Last weekend, a New York Times article mentioned her as a possible vice presidential pick this year on the Democratic ticket for the White House. Later in the week, she was named in the Times as an appealing presidential contender in 2008 by Marie Wilson, president of the Ms. Foundation for Women, which is working on developing female political leaders. Wilson named three people, Sebelius, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, also a Democrat, and Republican U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, of Texas, as possible future residents of the White House.
Passing the buck
Last year, the budget approved by the Legislature and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, eliminated general state tax dollars as a funding source for the state treasurer's office. To make up the shortfall, the treasurer, Republican Lynn Jenkins, started charging state agencies for cash management services. Now there is a bill, SB 442, that would make this arrangement permanent. But Sebelius Secretary of Human Resources Jim Garner is lobbying against it because he said he was having to use money -- as much as $500,000 -- from the state unemployment trust fund which is used to fund jobless benefits, to pay the treasurer's office for services. "These funds were never intended to fund the operations of the state treasurer's office," Garner said. A vote on SB 442 in the Senate Ways and Means Committee broke along party lines, with Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposed.
Tracking 'bad bills'
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Industry has never been accused of being shy about what it wants from the Legislature, but it is taking an even more in-your-face approach to lobbying this year. On its Web site is a list of the top 10 "bad bills" of the session. No. 1 is "Across the board massive tax increases for schools." And under the heading "Bills to Nab and Handcuff You" is a proposal opposed by the chamber that would "require liquor licensees be current in sales and withholding taxes owed the state before the license can be issued or renewed."
While lawmakers debate the pros and cons of more casinos, the Kansas Lottery continues to grow. The lottery sold $223 million in lottery tickets in 2003, up from $202 million in 2002. The debate over whether to expand gambling in Kansas has spilled outside the Statehouse. U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun, a Republican whose district includes the western portion of Lawrence, has written newspapers saying more casinos would mean more problem gamblers and that would have a negative effect on families.
Maybe next year
Dwayne Umbarger, a Republican from Thayer and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, sees 2005 as the year to tackle school funding. Umbarger has pushed for tax increases for schools in the past, but said the current environment points toward gridlock.
"It's an election year," he said, "and that has many legislators running scared, and then you have the argument by many that before we put significant amounts of money into schools, we need to revisit the funding formula. Which hurdle do you jump first?"
Umbarger said 2005 looked more appealing because by then the Kansas Supreme Court will have ruled on a lower court ruling that declared the school-funding system unconstitutional, the economy will probably be better and it will not be an election year.
Just in case anyone wanted to know, Abe Rezayazdi last week told members of the House budget committee that he was using vacation time to testify before them. Rezayazdi is a van pool coordinator from Lawrence and works for the Kansas Department of Transportation.