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Legislators discuss session's progress as turnaround nears

Meghan Flynn
Garden City Telegram
Sen. John Doll talks about the property tax relief issue in January 2020 during a Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce legislative coffee in a St. Catherine Hospital classroom.

Progress of the legislative session was discussed at Saturday's Legislative Coffee event hosted by the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce.

As turnaround nears, legislators discussed bills they felt were important that may or may not move forward in this session.

Sen. John Doll, R-Garden City, said he could think of several, but the one near and dear to hearts in rural Kansas is Medicaid.

"It just bothers me a great deal that we have not had the opportunity to vote on something that's so important," he said.

Rep. John Wheeler, R-Garden City, said he gave up on discussion of Medicaid expansion going into this session after seeing the composition of the House and Senate.

"It's simply not going to happen," he said. "I prefer not to live in a dream world, although I know it's something that we really do need and I know it's highly supported."

Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin, said at the beginning of the session he hoped to tackle public education funding, specifically high-density at-risk student weighting, which sunsets this year after a two-year extension in 2020.

"I kind of wish we would have a bill that just does that, that's wishful thinking on my part, it will be blended in with all kinds of other things," he said. "I'm pretty concerned about school finance."

Additionally, the legislators discussed a possible property tax cap for seniors and property taxes in general.

Jennings has been working on a property tax bill for about three years. It's not ready to be shared with the public yet, but he said there is a "path that might be able to be done."

"Frankly, this is about timing. There will be a debate, and I think we'll see a debate this year, on whether or not we afford people real property tax relief that really does in fact reduce their property taxes," he said. "I'm looking forward to that day. Stay tuned."

Rep. Jim Minnix, R-Scott City, has a 26-year history as a Scott County commissioner, and said it's always been his belief that no one is taxed anymore than necessary for the services that are provided.

Since 1991, the state of Kansas has exempted about 40% of the property in the state that can be taxed, Minnix said. If those were still taxed, he believes everyone's bill would be reduced.

Minnix is not in favor of giving any more property tax exemptions.

"I think that cat left the bag a long time ago, and yet property taxes are necessary for more and more requirements on local units of government and the help that used to come from the state," he said.

Rep. Shannon Francis, R-Liberal, said that when it comes to tax relief the state needs to find offsets for the tax they want to cut.

"One of the things we have to remember too is property taxes primarily go to our local communities — it's our city, it's our community college, it's our school system. The state gets very little money from property taxes," he said. "We can really constrain them like we have done sometime in the past and then they can't provide the services that we want also. It's difficult, it's an onion with a lot of layers to it and I think we have to find those offsets that people are willing to pay."