Archive for Sunday, March 2, 2008

Legislative slog

New boards, new mandates, but not a lot of action on the issues that are most important to the state.

March 2, 2008


It's not unusual for the Kansas Legislature to reach the halfway point of its annual session without coming even close to completing half of its work, but it's nonetheless frustrating to note some of the ways state lawmakers have been spending their time.

For instance, the Kansas Senate passed a bill last week that would require children to attend kindergarten. Is this a big problem in Kansas? Every school district in the state that receives state aid is required to offer kindergarten, and the vast majority of youngsters attend. The bill doesn't apply to private schools or home-schooled students and it offers exemptions on religious grounds or if the parents sign a written objection, so it sounds like it would be easy enough for most families to sidestep the so-called mandate. Legislators claim the bill is important, but it's hard to see why.

It seems that a popular way for lawmakers to address issues is to rearrange the deck chairs on a sinking ship or create new bureaucracy. Also in the Senate last week, a bill was passed to create the Kansas Tourism Corporation. The new corporation will take over the duties currently held by the travel division in the Department of Commerce.

The new corporation will be an independent agency with a 13-member board, nine of whom will be appointed by the governor and legislative leaders. The Travel Industry Association of Kansas would appoint the other four. Legislators say the new agency will improve the state's tourism efforts. Maybe, or maybe it will just add another layer of expense and bureaucracy and an opportunity for lawmakers and the governor to pay off friends who have been helpful in their political efforts by giving them a seat on the board.

In another effort to solve a problem by creating a new board, the Senate approved legislation to create the Kansas Commission on Rural Policy and a state division of rural development. Supporters say the legislation will promote rural economic growth in Kansas. If that's the case, why haven't other entities formed for the same purpose been successful?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture operates a rural development program in Kansas, and Kansas State University is the home of the Huck Boyd National Institute on Rural Development. If legislators wanted an entity of their own, what about the Kansas Center for Entrepreneurship that was created as part of the Kansas Economic Growth Act of 2004, the major economic development effort that also created the Kansas Bioscience Authority? The Center for Entrepreneurship was supposed to focus on supporting businesses in rural areas.

There is no doubt that many rural areas of Kansas need economic development assistance, but is creating yet another commission to talk about the issue really the answer?

Also in the last week, three different school finance proposals were voted down in the Kansas House, and legislative leaders have spent many hours trying to craft a compromise bill to allow construction of two coal-fired plants near Holcomb, a bill that legislative leaders say the governor is certain to veto.

It may not be unusual for the Legislature to spend a fair amount of time spinning its wheels at this point of the session, but it would be nice to see lawmakers getting some meaningful traction on some of the more important issues facing the state.


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