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Kansas legislature

Kansas Legislature

Lawmakers plan to think big in 2007

Politicians to address issues like health care, energy, tax breaks and university repairs

January 14, 2007

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The 2007 Legislature has turned into a summit of big ideas.

As the legislative session kicked off last week, Republicans, Democrats, the House, the Senate and the executive branch cranked out a series of proposals.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, said the resolution of the school finance lawsuit last year, which had dominated Kansas politics for several legislative sessions, has given lawmakers an opportunity to work on other matters.

"This really is a new opportunity for all of us to deal with issues that have been shortchanged for the past several years," Schmidt said.

While dozens of ideas ricocheted around the Capitol, all sides seem to be focused on several key areas, including health care, energy, tax breaks for business and repairs at state colleges and universities.

After Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, presented her agenda in the State of the State address, Republican legislative leaders said they were ready to negotiate.

"What we've got looks like a real basis for cooperation to move ahead and do good things for Kansas," said Kansas House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls.

Here are some of the issues that Republicans and Democrats have honed in on at the outset of the legislative session.

Health care

In a surprise move, Sebelius called for universal health coverage, which produced vigorous applause from Democrats. Most Republicans rolled their eyes and noted Sebelius provided no details.

Still, legislators from both sides of the aisle are talking about expanding coverage, especially to uninsured children, and increasing funds for home-based services for Kansans with disabilities.

Energy

There seems to be agreement that the state needs to do more to promote renewable energy, such as wind power, and improve conservation.

Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said it's a matter of national security.

"I am firmly convinced that the United States cannot resolve its terrorist threat until we are energy independent, free of our reliance on foreign oil," Morris said.

Tax breaks

With record state tax collections in their sails, Sebelius and Republicans are racing to give businesses tax breaks, including proposals to cut the franchise tax and business contributions to the unemployment trust fund.

"There is a lot of common ground on the tax issues," Schmidt said. Lawmakers also are proposing tax cuts for the elderly, such as exempting Social Security income from the state income tax.

Deferred maintenance

Sebelius has promised a plan by the end of the month to tackle the estimated $727 million in repair projects at public universities. The Senate has appointed a task force to come up with a recommendation, and House Republicans have offered a $75 million trust fund for maintenance.

Schmidt said that while both political parties are overlapping on their issues, it remains to be seen whether compromises can be made.

But, he said, Sebelius' State of the State speech was a good start because she shared credit with the Legislature and urged cooperation.

"The governor's tone was very much 'Let's work together.' I think that's the right tone, and I think that's what we intend to do," he said.

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