Legislative Update: Jan. 12, 2018

I made it through my first week in the Kansas Legislature, without too many major mishaps. The key word here is major. I’ve certainly experienced a few mishaps, but nothing too terrible.

I’m thrilled to be in Topeka representing the people of Hutchinson. The first week has been filled with meeting a lot of different people, learning how the office functions – even down to figuring out where to get pens and pencils and how to manage my calendar – and trying to absorb a large amount of information.

Two committees I serve on met this week: Water and Environment, and Government, Technology, and Security. Both are important and interesting committees that will require the consumption of a lot of information.

Let’s start with getting our feet wet

This week I learned a little bit (and by little I mean a lot that only begins to scratch the surface of what that involves). The plain version goes something like this: We have a number of reservoirs in the state that are filling will silt. We need that to not happen, because we need that storage capacity in the future for a number of uses – including drinking water and irrigation. We dredged out the mud at John Redmond to take out some of that silt, but it’s more cost effective to put effort toward prevention, because dredging is horribly expensive and time consuming. Along those lines, the state has worked to stabilize stream banks along rivers and streams feeding these reservoirs.

We also learned about blue/green algae, and some possible ways we can prevent it. The focus this week was on core samples of the lake bottom to gauge the nutrients in the lake. This, ideally, will give us an idea of what is present in those lakes that might be causing the blooms. These things – aside from being unpleasant when you’re trying to fish, ski or swim, cause harm to livestock and people, and cost a great deal to treat out of the drinking water.

I still have a lot to learn about this. I’m scheduling an appointment with someone from the water office to try and bring me up to speed, and I plan to talk with more senior members of the committee to pick their brains. Like I said, there’s a lot to this, and I have a lot to learn. Aside from the scientific components, there will be a budgetary consideration, as there is with everything.

Now, on to GTS – short for Government, Technology, and Security.

This was an incredibly interesting committee. So far, it largely deals with security issues in the state’s technology apparatus. Part of this meeting was closed via executive session. This is normally something I don’t like, but, in this instance, I can understand. The topic dealt with sensitive information that would either violate members’ of the public’s privacy, or expose vulnerabilities in the state’s technology systems.

Other members have told me that this committee will likely look at some other issues – including efforts to spur development of local broadband networks. Many of you know this is something I’m really interested in. I view fast, reliable and affordable internet the infrastructure of the future – and I’d like to see what we can do to help communities like Hutchinson develop it. With some of the developments at the federal level regarding Net Neutrality, I think taking ownership of this infrastructure is will be very important. A good internet connection isn’t just for fun anymore; it’s the way we’ll be moving a great deal of commerce in the coming years. At least that’s how I see it.

Right now, though, we are looking at these security issues to make see if there’s anything that can be done to make the state’s systems, and user information, more secure. One take away that I had is that attempts to break into systems is big, and constantly evolving. It’s important that all of us be more aware of such insidious efforts – I’ve not always been good about this myself. But it’s good to listen to your IT people when they tell you to change your passwords and not respond to suspect emails or messages.

Otherwise, the big news this week was the State of the State Address. I responded to this the night of Gov. Brownback’s speech, so I don’t have much to add. If you want to read about it, go here. If you don’t like to read, just watch the video.

The Democratic response to the Governor’s State of the State address was delivered by House Democratic Leader, Rep. Jim Ward. At the close of the address, both House and Senate Democratic Caucuses gathered for a press conference, laying out their vision and priorities for the 2018 session. These include sufficient and fair funding for all Kansas schools, fiscal responsibility, Medicaid expansion, job creation and training, restoring funding to core services, and building on the bipartisan coalition forged during the 2017 session to continue work on behalf of all Kansans.

You can view the Democratic response to the State of the State here.

The People’s Agenda

On Wednesday, a lot of people showed up for the People’s State of the State. I went to the second floor Rotunda to see what people had to say. The speech’s were inspiring and heartfelt – and it was great to see so many people gathered to offer their input on how our state government can better serve them.

There was an attempt over the summer to increase the fees to hold such events in the Capitol to $500, which is complete nonsense. Fortunately, this was rescinded after a great deal of outcry.

People from all over the state, from all walks of life, have an inherent right to gather and assemble in this building. I was glad to see it and experience it. I even got to hear Tom Giessel, a friend and farmer from Larned, speak to the group.

The 800 pound Gorilla

That’s what I keep hearing people call the need to fund education. It’s an issue that must be addressed this year – no ifs, ands or buts.

In October 2017, the Kansas Supreme Court struck down the school finance bill passed during the 2017 session as unconstitutional, giving the legislature a deadline of April 30, 2018 to present a new formula that will satisfy the adequacy and equity portions of the Gannon case.

Some in the legislature have opposed the Court’s ruling, and will seek a constitutional amendment to restrict the Court’s role in the matter of school finance. The Kansas Constitution directs that “the legislature shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state” in Article VI.

Every child in Kansas deserves access to a quality education, regardless of where they live. There are House members who already are working hard to find a solution to this, and preparing to work with the broader body of legislators to solve this issue.

The Governor’s Budget proposal

Governor Brownback – who had previously handed the budget reins to Lt. Governor Jeff Colyer in anticipation of his confirmation by the United States Senate – released his full budget proposal on Wednesday. Budget Director Sean Sullivan presented the proposal to the House Appropriations Committee. The proposal includes $35.5 million in new spending for fiscal year 2018 (FY18) and $290 million in new spending for FY19.

There is nothing outlining how the Governor would pay for the new spending. Sullivan said they are betting on revenue growth and the legislature to come up with how to help pay for the additional spending. Sullivan’s “bottom line” budget document notes that sales tax revenues (in previous years stagnant) have grown 3.6%, and that corporate tax revenues (negative for the last several years) have grown 25%.

The budget proposal has seen heavy criticism, including from Republican allies in legislative leadership.

I’m honored and humbled to serve as your state representative. I want to hear from you while I’m here, so please feel free to contact me.  My office address is Room 174-W, 300 SW 10th, Topeka, KS 66612.  You can reach me by phone at (785) 296-7645 or call the legislative hotline at 1-800-432-3924 to leave a message for me.  Additionally, you can e-mail me at jason.probst@house.ks.gov.  You can also follow the legislative session online at  www.kslegislature.org

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2 Comments

  • Posted January 12, 2018

    Kam McEwen

    Thank you for your thoughts

  • Posted January 12, 2018

    Luann Wellborn

    Jason, the City of Chattanooga, TN added a high speed internet for the entire community and became a hub for many tech companies. Talking to the folks there might give you some ideas on how to proceed.

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