State legislators ought to be warned about both food and guns, Lawrence city commissioners determined at their weekly meeting.
Commissioners on Tuesday night crafted a draft version of the city’s legislative priorities statement, including language that urged the state to tread carefully in making changes to the state sales tax on food purchases, and objecting to potential legislation that would allowed concealed carry permit holders to bring a weapon into city buildings.
The food issue actually was the hotter of the two. Commissioners heard from three members of the public — including from state Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence — urging the city to soften its stance on an idea related to eliminating the sales tax on groceries.
The city’s first draft version of the legislative priorities statement said the city “strongly opposes” efforts to eliminate the sales tax on groceries. Staff members estimated it could cost the city about $2 million a year in lost sales tax revenues.
But commissioners were told by several audience members that the sales tax on groceries was the single most detrimental tax against the poor.
“It is obvious the governor probably sees me as a drag on the economy,” said Lawrence resident Melinda Henderson, who told commissioners she earns about $9,000 a year in wages. “But I don’t think it is my fault that there aren’t enough good jobs in Lawrence ...
“I don’t really care what the governor thinks, but I do want to feel welcome in the community I live in, and this particular direction to the legislative delegation does not make me feel welcome.”
Commissioners ultimately agreed to change the wording to indicate that the city was opposed to any change in the sales tax on groceries unless the Legislature provides a “guaranteed source of replacement revenue.” Staff members also were directed to add language urging the state to reinstate a program to rebate sales taxes on groceries to residents below certain income levels.
“We all know people are going through a tough time trying to make ends meet,” City Commissioner Mike Amyx said. “This could mean a lot to a lot of people during these economic times.”
Francisco after the meeting said she didn’t think it was likely that any legislation to remove the sales tax on groceries would be successful this year because of the state’s already bleak revenue outlook.
But the issue of changes to the state’s concealed carry law may be a different matter. Rep. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, who will take a seat in the state Senate when the new session begins, has said he’ll introduce legislation that would allow concealed carry permit holders to bring their weapons into city halls, university classrooms and other such structures if those buildings don’t have devices such as metal detectors or other security measures.
Francisco said the more conservative makeup of the Kansas Senate makes it more likely the bill can win approval in both houses this session.
Lawrence Mayor Bob Schumm said he wants a specific statement in the city’s legislative priorities statement opposing any effort to allow concealed weapons into City Hall and other city buildings.
“I’m very concerned about concealed carry in this room,” Schumm said. “It seems pretty explicit to me that it is going to be a debated bill, and I want to be equally explicit that I don’t like the idea.”
Commissioners did not take a formal vote on the legislative priorities statement, but none of the commissioners objected to Schumm’s statements.
Commissioners also directed staff members to add language urging the Legislature and the governor to create the necessary state plan and staff positions to again make the state eligible for National Endowment for the Arts funding.
Staff members will work on crafting specific language for the city’s legislative priorities statement and will bring it back for final approval before the legislative session begins in January.
In other news, commissioners:
• Gave preliminary approval to a plan to add a center turn lane and two bike lanes to the stretch of Ninth Street between Tennessee and Kentucky streets.
The project originally had drawn opposition from local attorney Todd Thompson because the project would eliminate seven on-street, public parking spaces in front of his law office building.
But commissioners on Tuesday said they favored an option that would widen a portion of the street about eight feet to the south, which would allow for three public parking spaces to remain near Thompson’s building.
The widening would cost the city an extra $16,550, but commissioners on a 4-1 vote said they would approve the extra spending if Thompson would donated the needed easement for the road. Thompson said he wanted to see the exact location of how close the project would be to his building, but he said he was open to donating the property.
The project allows for both an eastbound and westbound bike lane to be located on the one block stretch of street. The eastbound lane currently won’t connect to another bike lane, but commissioners heard from several members of the local cyclist community who said it was important to build the bike lane now while the city had the opportunity.
Commissioner Mike Dever voted against the plan, opting instead for a design that eliminated one of the two eastbound lanes of traffic for vehicles.
• Approved a $270,000 emergency purchase of a biosolids conveyor belt for the city’s sewer treatment plant. The conveyor needs to move about three tons of biosolids, a byproduct of the sewage treatment process, per day but recently has been malfunctioning. City crews are now having to make repairs on a daily basis to keep the belt operational. A new system is expected to be in place in about nine weeks.