Kansas lawmakers kick off 2018 session

Rep. Eileen Horn, D-Lawrence, the newest member of the Kansas House, takes her seat for the first time as the 2018 legislative session got underway Monday.

? The 2018 Kansas legislative session officially got underway Monday, with issues like school finance, child welfare reform and balancing the state budget expected to dominate much of lawmakers’ time.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, brought the House to order shortly after 2 p.m., saying he hoped to build on the progress that lawmakers made last year.

“This year presents us with the opportunity to continue meeting to find comprehensive solutions that provide certainty for our state,” he said. “I’m excited to get to work.”

The Legislature faces a looming deadline to act before April 30 to address a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling that said current funding for K-12 education is unconstitutional because it is both inadequate and inequitable.

In addition, the state faces a mountain of problems within its child welfare system. Shortly before the House and Senate came into session, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and Department for Children and Families Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel announced that the administration would seek $16.5 million over two years in additional funding for the agency’s child welfare programs.

But even with the large income tax increase lawmakers passed last year, and the fact that monthly revenues have been exceeding projections the last several months, the state still faces a tight budget situation.

Still, Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, said he was optimistic that lawmakers could resolve the challenges facing them.

“We did most of the heavy lifting last year on tax policy and school finance, and we have a little bit more work to do on school finance,” he told reporters. “We got a great start.”

The opening day also marked milestones for two legislators.

For Rep. Eileen Horn, D-Lawrence, it was her first official day as a legislator. She was appointed to the 10th District House seat that was held by former Rep. John Wilson, who stepped down at the end of the 2017 session.

In an interview, Horn said the first day was relatively easy; the House session lasted only a few minutes, and no committee meetings were scheduled. She said she hadn’t yet decided whether she would introduce any legislation of her own this year.

“I have some ideas, but I need to learn some more about the process and figure it out a little more,” she said.

Horn won’t be the newest member for long, however. Also Monday, Rep. Greg Lakin, R-Wichita, announced his resignation. A physician, he was only midway through his first term when he was appointed Jan. 3 to be chief medical officer for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Republican precinct officials in his district will meet sometime in the next 10 days to appoint his replacement.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback will deliver his eighth and final State of the State address at 5 p.m. Tuesday, a speech he has referred to as his political “swan song.”