Welcome to our online chat with Kansas House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney.
The chat took place on Thursday, March 4, at 1:30 PM and is now closed, but you can read the full transcript on this page.
Moderator: Thanks for joining us this afternoon. Our online chat with Kansas House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney will start in a few minutes.
Seth, Winfield: Hello, what are the chances of the concealed weapons bill being approved? Being a southern Kansan we might see things a little differently down here than people do in Topeka, but don't you think concealed weapons should be permitted? The people who would wrongly use a concealed weapon are probably already carrying them. Shouldn't the law abiding citizens be allowed to take up arms and defend themselves against those who are trying to harm them?
Dennis McKinney: The House passed the concealed carry bill this morning. And it went to the Senate. My guess is that it will probably pass. The bill doesn't allow just anyone to get a permit. You have to get a background check, a safety and training course, and then there is list of people who are not eligible because of prior convictions or other problems. I voted for the bill. The writer should also remember that in Kansas one can already carry a gun in their car or openly on their body or have a gun in their home for self protection. Current Kansas law already allows citizens a great deal of flexibility as far as carrying guns within their own home or vehicle for self protection.
Dave, Lawrence: Will the Democrats, as a block, support the governor's proposed tax increase for schools? From the outside, it looks like the Legislature is playing games with public school finance. You have the judge's order. Why can't you just fix the funding problems without taking it to the Supreme Court?
Dennis McKinney: First part of the question first: Most democrats will support the governor's proposal, but it will take a combination of democratic and republican votes to raise taxes and address school finance. It will be important to have votes from Johnson County to be able to pass a plan. The second part of the question - I would like to address the problems. I would like to at least start to address the problems this year before the case goes to the Supreme Court. And I think the governor's plan addresses most of the issues raised by the district court. Healthy debate on school finance requires that we begin discussing it now and not put it off until late in the session - we started to debate school finance last week and after only a brief debate and before we could take a vote, the majority leader adjourned the session. I was disappointed because I thought that was a good time to start the serious discussions to address school finance. The district judge did not say we had to spend $1 billion. I don't know of any legislators who want to spend that much. But the governor has a plan that is doable and does not present an onerous burden on businesses in Kansas. Finally, I strongly believe that economic development and education are tied closely together.
Jeff, Lawrence: Several state legislatures are moving to cap the amount of increases in tuition universities can make each year. Would you favor such a legislative cap in Kansas?
Dennis McKinney: In the past I have supported proposals to cap the percentage increase in tuition to be no higher than the percentage increase in student financial aid. If tuition is going to go up, it's important that financial aid goes up as well. We should not price people out of obtaining higher education in Kansas.
Howard, Manhattan: Do you think Kansas should have a presidential preference primary that is tied to Super Tuesday? It seems a moot point to hold a Kansas Democratic caucus later this month. Any comments?
Dennis McKinney: I think it would be good four years from now to schedule a primary where everyone can come out and vote and have it early enough where it mean something. It would be good to coordinate this with as many states as possible.
Ezra, Lawrence: Should Kansas, like other states, reserve the inside ("fast" lanes of divided highways solely for passing?
Dennis McKinney: The transportation committee took a look at that proposal a few years ago, and decided that a law requiring that presented too many other problems. I wouldn't support it until we get a clearer idea from nationwide research and our own engineers about highway safety.
Roger: What is your view on the proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage?
Dennis McKinney: That amendment will probably pass the House. It's up for a final action vote Friday, March 5. The amendment basically affirms the current state statute that recognizes marriage as being between one man and one woman. And therefore I support it. Most people in my district have indicated to me that they think marriage is a fundamental institution. I would prefer the issue be addressed at the state level first. Amending the U.S. constitution is so serious that it should probably be saved as a last resort. There is already a federal statute on the books to protect marriage as an institution involving one man and one woman.
Potawatomi, Lawrence: What is your stand on expanded gambling in the state of Kansas?
Dennis McKinney: The past several years it has been competition among the gaming interests that has kept gambling from passing, not the opponents of gaming. For a long time, my stand has been that supporters of gaming deserve a vote in the House because it's an important issues to many people statewide. While I believe they deserve a debate and a vote, I personally do not support expanding gaming. Some of the key values that have been held dearly in Kansas for a long time are hard work, saving and investment; the idea that we put aside something today so our children and grandchildren will have something more tomorrow. To me, expanding gaming is inconsistent with those values.
Clark, Lawrence: Why did you push for passage of Sub. HB 2583 which will, if passed by the Senate, derail the development of a rail-trail network in Kansas? Kansans love trails and so should public officials.
Dennis McKinney: The compromise that was worked out by Rep. Sloan's subcommittee appeared to be a good compromise. It should balance the interests of those who want to operate the trail well and land owners who live along the trail. In areas where trails are operated well, there should be no problems and I hope there will be no problems. I have constituents who are affected by a trail which is not being operated according to the requirements of state law. They feel they have no recourse under the current law. Therefore the compromise bill was developed in the subcommittee. The subcommittee spent a lot of time trying to balance out the issues.
Kim, Lawrence: The privatization of foster care is a disaster. The numbers don't accurately reflect the long-term effects of this failed policy. We have only added an extra layer of bureaucracy. What are we going to do to fix this?
Dennis McKinney: I've been very concerned about foster care and social services in general for some time now. My area is losing most of it's county SRS offices. I have not yet found the right fix for foster care that would gain the support of a majority of legislators. But I certainly hope if anyone has any ideas on how to do it better, they will let their legislators know. I stay in close contact with mental health providers and school officials in my area to try to keep up on what is happening. One think we can do and should do is require the area mental health centers to provide high levels of support across the entire state for foster parents. In my district, there are two different mental health providers. In one area, foster parents tell me they have received some very helpful support from the mental health center, and in the other area foster parents tell me they didn't know there was any help available. My point is, until the system is changed, we at least need to make sure that we use the resources we have in our communities to support foster parents and foster children.
Matt, Lawrence: There seems to be a fundamental problem with the timing of school budgets, with districts forced to spend time and effort bracing for budget cuts now that may or may not come to fruition by the end of the legislative session. Does this seem like a problem to you, and is there anything that can be done to correct it?
Dennis McKinney: It's a problem we will probably never completely avoid. But it does point out why we should begin the school finance debate as early as possible in the session so we can hopefully reach a resolution as early as possible within the session. The other thing I would point out is that while Gov. Sebelius has been in office, she has worked hard to see that funds to schools are not cut. Thus far she has been successful. Given the governor's approach, schools at least know they will not receive less state aid per pupil. The potential is there to receive more.