Archive for Tuesday, January 13, 2004

New members seated as Legislature convenes

January 13, 2004


— Legislators opened their 2004 session Monday with new colleagues to meet and the Statehouse under renovation.

In the Senate, President Dave Kerr introduced new members Henry Helgerson, D-Wichita, and Phil Journey, R-Haysville. Helgerson, a former state representative, replaces Paul Feleciano in the 28th District, and Journey replaces Nancey Harrington in the 26th.

The 29th District Senate seat formerly held by U.L. "Rip" Gooch was empty Monday, but Rep. Donald Betts Jr., D-Wichita, resigned his position in the House so he could replace Gooch. Gooch and Harrington retired for personal reasons; Feleciano became a member of the Kansas Parole Board.

Betts' replacement in the House has not yet been named, but two new representatives took their seats for the first time.

Harold Lane, D-Topeka, replaced Rocky Nichols, who took a job outside the Legislature, while Jan Scoggins-Waite, D-Dodge City, fills the vacancy created by Ethel Peterson's retirement.

On the Statehouse's east side, unpainted drywall lined corridors, exposed ductwork jutted out high above and protective plastic covered sensitive fixtures as part of an eight-year, $135 million renovation and restoration project.

But in the second-floor, west-wing office suite where Rep. Bob Grant works, the alterations were more personal and much smaller.

Secretaries had put down a trail of bubble wrap from the heavy wooden door to the cubicle occupied by the doubly injured Grant and posted a sign advising visitors to "follow the bubble-wrap road."

Grant, D-Cherokee, broke his neck in an auto accident in September and still wears a neck brace. Then, last month, he broke a leg stepping off a ladder.

Highlights of Monday's activities at the Kansas Legislature:¢ Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, in her State of the State speech, outlined a proposal to spend an additional $304 million on elementary and secondary schools over three years.¢ The House and Senate convened the 2004 session at 2 p.m.Committees were scheduled to begin their work today.Clock is ticking:Monday was the first of 90 scheduled calendar days in the 2004 session; the count includes weekends because legislators still get paid.

"If I need to get a vote passed, I could walk in on crutches with the neck brace on and make a plea," Grant said. "It adds to the theatrics of it all."

Priorities for early arrivers ranged from finding parking spaces to meeting with about 30 new secretaries who will be working at the Capitol this session.

"This is kind of a fun time," said Jeff Russell, director of legislative services. "It's move-in day."

Russell said some Senate offices on the first and second floors of the east wing were closed, but most public areas were accessible, despite the construction.

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