Archive for Thursday, March 2, 2006

Chat with Kansas Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt

March 2, 2006


Welcome to our online chat with Kansas Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt.

The chat took place on Thursday, March 2, at 1:00 PM and is now closed, but you can read the full transcript on this page.

Moderator: Hello and welcome to today's chat with Kansas Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt.

I'm Isaac Bell, World Online assistant editor, and I'll be moderating today's chat.

We've already got several questions from our readers, so let's get started.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt: Hello, and thanks for taking part in this online chat today.

Alice, Lawrence: What is your position on the bill to require the children of undocumented workers who have gone to a Kansas high school to have to pay out-of-state tuition? Does the state really want to get involved in a federal lawsuit (as the bill is unconstitutional)? It saves absolutely NO MONEY because, without in-state tuition, most of these kids won't go to college, period. Or, sensing a hostile environment, they will move and take their talents and initiative elsewhere. Who wins on this one?

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt: I supported the bill, two or three years ago, that allowed a small group of undocumented kids who already live in Kansas and graduate from Kansas high school and are in the process of applying for citizenship or lawful residence to go on to a Kansas college and pay in-state tuition rates.

I still think that makes sense.

Ryan, Lawrence: Mr. Majority Leader, what can you do to assure us that this new school finance plan will satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court order? Given our current budget struggles, we cannot afford another long drawn out legal battle. Thank you for your service.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt: Well, there are no guarantees. But the bipartisan proposal that we unveiled today has support across party lines and is a good faith effort by the legislative leadership in consultation with the Governor to satisfy the requirements of the Kansas Constitution, and we're optimistic that if we can pass this bill, the court will find it satisfactory.

Jim Lawrence: Why won't you, as the Majority Leader of the Kansas Senate, allow the citizens of Kansas to vote on the Taxpayers Bill of Rights? Is it not your responsibility to bring to the people of Kansas the opportunity to vote on issues that affect the quality of life, such as gambling, gay rights, liquor by the drink, etc.?

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt: As a senator, I'm skeptical that a Taxpayer Bill of Rights Constitutional Amendment would be good for the state. But if one came out of committee, I would expect to bring it to a vote.

Mary Baldwin: Do you believe that, as has been reported, courtesy towards those with opposing view points is no longer a part of the Legislative process?

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt: I think there is a strident tone in public discourse today that is not helpful in building consensus or reaching compromise. That problem is not unique to our political system. We see a variety of factors that drive impatience. For example, the speed and informality of the Internet somehow encourage people to say things in email and chat rooms that they would never say person-to-person in polite society.

Patrick Lawrence: Hello Senator - you have co-sponsored Senate Bill 1612, a constitutional amendment which is intended to protect property rights. The bill accomplishes this except for line 26, which states an exception ("except as the legislature may provide by law". This passage renders the law virtually toothless since the legislature can make exceptions at will. Can you explain why this passage is included? Do you have concern that municipalities will use this language to circumvent the intent of the law?

Thank you.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt: The debate over limiting government's power to take private property in some circumstances is emotional. I'm a believer that we need to significantly curtail our government in that area, but my point of view is not universally held. The language in SRC 1612 has perhaps a 50-50 chance of actually passing the legislature. If we were to remove the clause in question, the odds of passage would drop substantially. So I'd rather not make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Michael; Lawrence: Senator Schmidt,

I am a non-traditional student and have been a permanent resident of this state for almost ten years. Several years ago, while visiting the Legislature, I had the staffer (of a Republican v.i.p) tell me that I had no business being a student at my age.

How do you expect those of us who come to KS for higher education to believe that your party has the best interests of education in mind when they pass legislation, given this mindset?

The legislative output of the last several years leaves much in doubt, and I, personally, see no reason to remain in this state (assuming that I could find employment here).

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt: The comment you experienced as you have described them do not reflect the views of the mainstream of the Republican Party. As a Republican with three college degrees so far, who from time-to-time thinks it would be much more pleasant to stop being a traditional legislator and start being a non-traditional student working on a fourth degree, I'm one who commends you for sticking to the path of higher education.

David Lawrence: Can you explain why the open government laws (records and meetings) are enacted to apply to most public officials and bodies, but the lawmakers themselves have exempted many of their own meetings and records from public scrutiny? Same question concerning ethic rules. Such situations seem hypocritical to me; if rules for operating the government are good for some types of public servants, why not make those same rules apply to the lawmakers themselves?

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt: The Open Meetings Act does apply to the Legislature, and the only exception is for party caucus meetings. And even in that case, almost every party caucus meeting is open.

The Open Records Act does apply to the public records of the Legislature itself. The things that are not covered are documents in legislators' personal offices, such as private correspondence with constituents or work product documents.

I'm not sure what ethics rules you're inquiring about, but there is a substantial body of ethics law that governs the Legislature.

Kathy Lawrence: Do you think that Kansas now has two Republican Parties, the moderates and the extremely conservative? If so, do you believe that the interests of the general public are served by such a split? How is the party system helpful if (a) leaders within a party make it clear (in writing) that those who are "Rinos (republican in name only) are not welcome in the party; and (b) persons who disagree with any portion of a platform must change parties in order to participate? Is there any way to heal the rift created by individuals who will not compromise or negotiate on policies?

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt: The Republican Party has been the dominant party in Kansas since statehood. Because of that, the party has always been composed of diverse factions. One good historical example comes from the 1920s and 30s, when our own Charles Curtis of Topeka was Vice-President of the United States and viewed as a national leader of what might today describe as the "conservative wing" of the party. Less than a decade later, our own Alf Landon of Independence became the Republican nominee for the President of the United States and was widely viewed as national leader of what we might call the more "progressive wing" of the party.

So this kind of internal diversity is nothing new. I think that the key to managing it is to respectful of different points of view and truly listen to points of view different from our own.

Alf, Topeka: What is the status of your proposal to allow a private company to construct a correctional facility in Kansas?

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt: That measure has passed the Senate three times in recent years. So the debate is occurring in the House of Representatives and I'm watching to see how that debate plays out.

Nancy Tonganoxie: Do you think that the very high salaries paid to school administration, as opposed to teachers, contributes to the economic problems being experienced by school districts?

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt: I think it contributes to public frustration with the school finance debate. It's a good illustration of the ongoing tension in Kansas between our general fiscal conservatism on the one hand and our respect for local control on the other. Administrators' salaries, of course, are determined locally by local boards of education.

John, Lawrence: Why is there no serious discussion regarding consolidating the dozens of small school districts? I know that this would have a serious negative impact on some communities, but at some point when do we decide that spending money to prop up dying school districts is unwise?

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt: There is serious discussion about school consolidation. In recent years, the Legislature has taken several steps to remove barriers to locally-led consolidation efforts.

There is less interest in a state-mandated consolidation plan, in part because it's not clear that would save substantial amounts of money. Kids in Kansas deserve a top-notch education, whether they live in a densely-populated urban area or a sparsely-populated rural area.

Karen, Lawrence: Senator Schmidt, Congratulations on your appointment as a Hall Center Fellow. What are your plans for the upcoming year here at the University of Kansas? Thanks.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt: Well, thank you. I'm excited about the chance to get back on campus and in effect, go back to school. I'll be studying certain aspects of China, India and Russia, and I hope this is an opportunity to think big thoughts which is, at least occasionally, in contrast with my job as a legislator.

Moderator: That's it for our chat today. Thank you, Senator Schmidt for taking the time to speak with our readers.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt: Thanks to everybody who participated. And it's encouraging to see at least one way that Kansas government has entered the Cyber Age.


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