Variety of issues discussed at coffee
By RACHAEL GRAY
State Reps. John Doll and Russ Jennings addressed a variety of current state and national political issues Saturday at the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce's Legislative Coffee.
The event, sponsored by AT&T, allowed those interested to hear about state and national issues, including education funding, immigration reform, transportation and water conservation.
Doll talked about state legislation that could make it possible for homes and businesses to save sink water, shower water, etc., to recycle and use on lawns and landscaping.
"We really need to think about this, or we're all going to be in trouble," he said.
He said the measure would be optional and would be ideal for new construction projects to implement.
During the talk, Jennings urged Kansans to think statewide, and not just about their own areas.
"We need to start looking at things globally, as well as locally," he said.
Doll said Kansans need to consider what certain laws, legislations and measures will mean for them.
"I'm a supporter of our governor, but some of his policies are not good for western Kansas," he said.
"We need to think for ourselves and not just because it's good for Kansas City or a committee," he said.
Both Jennings and Doll said the freshman class of representatives is more moderate than the majority of the other representatives.
"The freshman class of representatives votes the way they feel, not the way they're pressured," Doll said.
Jennings said it's important for all Kansans to have a voice in government.
"The farther you are from policy-making groups, the harder it is to be heard," he said.
Jennings said commissioners and interested parties who live in Topeka can drop in on their legislators any time. He said at times, the House lets legislators know Friday when they're going over a policy Monday, which makes it hard for those who live farther away to make arrangements to travel to the capital over the weekend.
"It's intended to squelch your voice," he said.
Both Jennings and Doll said education is in the crosshairs of the state because the funding makes up the largest percentage of the state budget.
"It's over 50 percent of the total state general fund budget. When you throw in Medicaid, which is an entitlement mandated, and that we agreed to as a state to participate in, there's precious little left of that state general fund budget to cut from," Jennings said.
Any more cuts would eliminate other departments, Jennings said.
"You would literally have to eliminate the Department of Corrections, Children and Family Services. You would have to eliminate those two agencies in order to come up with enough money to make it work. That can't happen," he said.
Scott Taylor, CEO and president of St. Catherine Hospital, asked the representatives about Medicaid for Kansas.
"As the city's largest private employer, St. Catherine Hospital, that's about a $600,000 debate, annually," he said.
Taylor urged the representatives to vote in favor of taking federal dollars that would extend that program.
"If we don't, those federal dollars are going to go to Colorado, New Mexico, California and other states. They're going to get spent one way or another. It would make a significant bridge for the disproportionate share hospitals, and St. Catherine is certainly one of those. There's a large Medicaid population and those certainly in need," he said.
"On behalf of of the health care industry in western Kansas, we really need that Medicaid expenditure. It would make a big difference in our budgets," he said.
Later during the coffee, Doll urged voters to look at issues themselves and not just the stance of their political party on the issue.
"By the way, I will vote 'no' on the mortgage rate deduction and on the property tax," he said.
Doll received a few claps for that statement.
Several audience members asked about reform in immigration that would allow Kansas immigrant workers to keep their jobs and help stimulate the economy.
"This part of western Kansas has had immigrant labor out here as long as their have been farmers. And we need it," Jennings said.
He said there is one bill in the House that would allow an agreement between Kansas and the U.S. government as a pilot site that would be a test of a national model on immigration reform that would expand worker visas.
"This would make a whole lot more sense than where we're at now," Jennings said.
The end of the coffee came back to talks about education.
Jennings said he also would fight for education and encourages teachers to keep doing the best job they can. He said more of education funding should go to teachers' salaries and less to the upkeep of buildings and grounds.
Doll said part of Brownback's education program is to take money away from preschools and give it to elementary schools so reading levels will increase to proficient by the fourth grade.
"I about fell over my chair. Being in education for years, I don't know how many studies I saw – 50, 60 or 70 studies — that the earlier you get to the kid, the bigger impact you have," he said.
Doll said he feels an anti-education sentiment from the state. He said he hopes he doesn't see a push to get kids into home schools in an effort to take the burden off the state for education.
"Yeah, you're under attack," he told educators.
"As an educator, I'll fight as hard as I can for you. For things that I feel are reasonable," he said.