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Archive for Friday, May 9, 2008

Opinion of legislative session depends on perspective

May 9, 2008

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— If the 2008 legislative session produced unanimity in one area, it was that most everyone was glad when it ended.

Those wanting immigration reform didn't get it; those wanting coal-fired power plants didn't get them; and those wanting health care reform and a comprehensive energy plan - again, not this year.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, on Thursday described the 90-day session this way: "The session had way too much ultimatum and not enough collaboration."

Democrats criticized the work product, while Republicans, who hold significant majorities in both chambers, said things went well during a tightening budget cycle.

But even the usual friction between the House and Senate seemed hotter this year. The Senate thumbed its nose at the House late Wednesday by adjourning before the House even considered the final budget.

"This has probably been the most unproductive session that I've been associated with in my six years here," said state Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence.

Davis said the efforts by House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, to override Sebelius' rejection of the two proposed 700-megawatt coal-burning units in Holcomb, crowded out other issues.

"We should've spent more time on immigration, health care, and dealing with a comprehensive energy policy aside from the Holcomb issue," he said.

Sebelius opposed the power plants, citing concerns about the project's carbon dioxide emissions. Legislation to authorize the plants also stripped the secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment of critical authority in the air-quality permit process.

Neufeld denied holding up issues to force a veto override on the coal plants.

"We did not make this a coal session," he said.

State Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, who supported the coal-burning plants, said the debate over the issue will pay dividends in the future. "It has resulted in the most intensive discussion and thinking about energy issues," he said.

For some, health care falls short

And state Sen. Roger Pine, R-Lawrence, said he believed the Legislature did a good job in adopting a state budget at a time when revenue projections were being reduced.

"We ended up as good as we could under the circumstances," Pine said.

State Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, generally agreed, but said the Legislature fell short in the area of health care.

"It was a really difficult year to address things that required a lot of money," she said.

Sebelius complained that the Legislature missed a "strategic opportunity" in improving Kansans' health by failing to adopt a smoking ban in indoor public places, and a 50-cent increase in the state cigarette tax.

And she called a legislative proposal to expand health insurance for children "pretty hollow" because it is tied to an increase in federal funds that have twice been vetoed by President Bush.

Marcia Nielsen, executive director of the Kansas Health Policy Authority, said the Legislature didn't provide enough funding for reforms.

"To have a compromise on health reform without adequate funding will be difficult to explain to Kansans who care deeply about these issues," Nielsen said.

But Neufeld said there was never political traction for the cigarette tax increase and smoking ban. Instead, he said, lawmakers targeted dollars in areas that will improve health and save long-term costs, such as increased funding of safety net clinics, and expanding Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women to receive prenatal care.

And Kansas Action for Children applauded lawmakers for approving $11.1 million in new funding for early learning programs, and increasing funds for child care assistance.

"This Legislature has made a pivotal investment in our next generation," said Shannon Cotsoradis, executive vice president of KAC.

Comments

justthefacts 6 years, 10 months ago

Another reason it may taking legislators longer and longer to reach agreement is that they are compensated based upon how many days they spend in Topeka: $84.80/day per day salary (as of 2007) $99/day for per diem (expenses) (as of 2007) That means for every day they are in session, they make close to $200. That is hardly an incentive to get things done quickly or efficiently! Source of info: http://www.ncsl.org/programs/legismgt/ABOUT/07_legislatorcomp.htm to compare with other states see http://www.empirecenter.org/html/legislative_salaries.cfm Irrespective of what you think the legislator's should make as salary (keeping in mind almost all of them do it part time and have other jobs), paying them by the day seems to encourage longer stays. Perhaps if they were paid a flat salary, no matter how many days they were in Topeka "working," we might see them "work" faster (or at least not have them around as long)!

justthefacts 6 years, 10 months ago

But they DID manage to get thru some things important to them all. Unless I missed a veto at the last minute, the Legislature did succeed in passing HB 2133, which officially allows the Legislature to by-pass the state surplus laws when it comes to letting the legislators and their staff buy "old" (2 years is old to them) computers without going thru the normal competitive bid process required of other state employees/agencies. Wonder how many citizens would be happy to pay $200 for a 2 year old lap top? http://www.kslegislature.org/bills/2008/2133.pdf has the bill if you'd like to read it.

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