TOPEKA — Western Kansas rancher and Rep. Don Hineman takes reins in January of a new House committee devoted to revitalization of rural areas of the state challenged by health care, communication and economic issues contributing to depopulation trends.
Hineman, a Dighton Republican who served the past two years as House majority leader, said the list of issues was long and there would be no overnight solutions. Rep. Adam Smith, R-Weskan, a third-generation farmer and rancher, will serve as vice chairman on the Rural Revitalization Committee.
"I view it as pretty opened ended on subject matter," Hineman said. "Rural revitalization has many facets."
He said the roster of topics included availability of broadband, sustainability of water resources, the transportation network, proximity to health care and reasonable access to agriculture markets. He said the committee also could look into economic development incentives, including the Rural Opportunity Zone initiative that relies on tax breaks to attract young professions to the rural counties.
"Another really pressing Kansas issue is workforce housing," Hineman said. "It's really a constraint on business expansion."
He was chosen for the job by House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe resident who grew up in Meade in southwest Kansas.
"Our rural communities have fought through a series of challenges over the years — everything from declining population to broadband access,” the GOP House speaker said. "What we’re doing is the first attempt of this size and scope to focus on those challenges, and to make sure our rural communities get a fair shake."
The move follows a 2018 election cycle in which House and Senate leadership drifted toward urban centers. The 2020 Census is expected to further concentrate legislative districts in bigger cities, raising questions about future influence of rural lawmakers.
Ryckman also elevated to full-time status the House Children and Seniors Committee, which will have a more prominent role in policy oversight of care for older adults and foster care for children. The top Republican on that panel will be Beloit Rep. Susan Concannon, a former medical foundation director.
"We need all eyes on the state when it comes to children and seniors’ issues," Ryckman said.