Doll, Jennings say they will fight for more local control

1/11/2013

Reps.-elect have Amtrak's future as high priority.

Reps.-elect have Amtrak's future as high priority.

BY RACHAEL GRAY

rgray@gctelegram.com

State representatives-elect John Doll and Russ Jennings will advocate for more local control on state issues such as liquor laws, mill levy limits, and fundraising/poker runs, the two said Thursday night during a town hall meeting.

The meeting, held at Downtown Vision, 413 N. Main St., allowed local residents, business owners and stakeholders to ask the two representatives their stances on those issues, as well as other local topics.

One of the topics was whether the two would fight to keep the Amtrak line open through Garden City.

Doll said he supports the route because it provides transportation to the east.

"It's the only public transportation to the east. We have flights to Dallas and buses to the west," he said.

Doll said he will focus on saving the Southwest Chief route. A passenger train route is needed if Garden City is to remain a hub for business, he said.

"I will fight my tail off to keep the chief," he said.

Jennings said he thinks Burlington Northern Santa Fe will come to an agreement with Amtrak, but likely right before an answer is needed.

"We're playing chicken with a train," he said.

The passenger train has had to slow its speeds while passing through much of the western part of the state because of the track conditions. The ends of the steel rails are starting to sag because of age, setting up a rocking motion in the train if it passes over too fast.

BNSF owns the track, but maintains the rail only to a level required for 30- to 40-mph freight traffic. Under its contract with BNSF, Amtrak is required to fund any maintenance or improvements for higher speeds and, starting in 2016, Amtrak will be required to begin paying the full cost of maintaining the route.

Officials with Amtrak and BNSF have asked the states of Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico to commit a combined $100 million over the next decade to improve the tracks and to split $10 million a year in annual operating subsidies between the three states, Amtrak and BNSF Railroad to maintain the route — or about $2 million each.

Transportation officials from the three states, in a written response last August to the proposal, indicated that state funding isn't available.

Amtrak has warned, however, that without a commitment by the end of 2014 to help make the necessary repairs and maintain the route, it will reroute the Southwest Chief through Oklahoma and Texas — via Wichita.

When it comes to liquor laws, the two representatives said they are not in favor of big stores such as Walmart and Dillons being able to sell liquor.

Jennings said it's a matter of jobs.

"Dillons and Walmart won't hire more people for that department. But yet it leaves three to four, or however many people in that (independent) store, without jobs," he said.

Jennings suggests that the state leave the liquor question up to counties.

"If Sedgwick and Johnson opt to do it, let them. But let the counties decide. We do that in all other areas of liquor laws," he said.

The representatives also weighed in on gaming laws.

One particular issue involves the legality of local fundraising where individuals purchase tickets at the chance of winning something. An example of such a fundraiser that currently is illegal are the poker runs where riders pay an entry or registration fee and then drive to various locations to pick up playing cards, and at their final stop, the person with the best hand wins a prize.

These have become an increasingly popular way for both individuals and organizations to raise money. However, a Kansas law states that, like raffles, this is illegal.

Jennings said the issue is complicated, but an eventual solution could be to not have the gaming commission regulate these fundraisers, and leave that to local prosecutors and law enforcement who often turn the other cheek or are even participants in the events.

According to Bill Miskell, public information officer for the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission, Kansas is one of four states in the U.S. that has no charitable exceptions to gaming laws. It would require a statute to make those kinds of events legal for certified, nonprofit organizations, he said.

Jennings said the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission was created to regulate casinos and racing, and should only regulate licensed gambling.

Jennings said the reason for the rule in the first place is that gambling is something that is regulated in the state of Kansas.

It would be difficult to regulate all poker runs and chance fundraising in the state.

Jennings said most charities and nonprofits are fair and give the money to the cause. But some individuals will try to profit off of a run, he said.

"Individually, some will try to profit and take advantage of participants," he said.

He did say he supports such local efforts, as well as limiting the authority of the commission.

Ray Hernandez, Deerfield resident and member of the Patriot Guard and American Legion, asked Jennings and Doll to support the local organizations' fundraising practices.

"Hopefully we can get somewhere," Hernandez said.

Miskell has said that when it is brought to the KGRC's attention that a poker run or Texas Hold 'Em tournament is taking place, the KRGC will contact the individual or organization that is conducting it, advise them that it is illegal, and then work with them to find a way to make the event compliant with the law.

"What we've been encouraging people to do now, for about six weeks, is to put a deck, a regular 52-card deck, mount all the cards on a piece of cardboard, and when the first rider rides up, hand the rider a throwing dart, say 'there's the line, stand there and hit whichever card you can hit with that dart,'" he has said. "So he is working on a predominant game of skill instead of a game based predominantly on chance."

Because all three elements of consideration, chance and prize must be present for an event such as a poker run to be deemed illegal under the Kansas law, eliminating just one, such as chance, makes it legal.

The next town shall meeting with Doll and Jennings is scheduled for 9 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday in the Endowment Room of the Beth Tedrow Student Center at Garden City Community College. The event is sponsored by GCCC and the Finney County Economic Development Corp.

The meeting will be moderated by FCEDC President Lona DuVall, and topics include economic development and workforce readiness. No reservations are necessary. The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

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