Capitol Update: ‘Predictions remain bleak about what, if anything, will be accomplished this upcoming year’

Kansas Rep. Barbara Bollier, seen here at a press conference announcing a gun safety bill last year.
Kansas Rep. Barbara Bollier, seen here at a press conference announcing a gun safety bill last year.

With the 2016 legislative session just a week away, we’re kicking off this year’s cycle of Capitol Update columns. Each Monday, you’ll hear directly from one of northeast Johnson County’s elected officials — Rep. Barbara Bollier, Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Rep. Jarrod Ousley, Rep. Melissa Rooker and Sen. Kay Wolf — about what they’re working on in Topeka. Rep. Bollier submits this week’s update:

The 2016 legislative session will gavel in next Monday, Jan. 11, with the Governor giving his State of the State address on Wednesday, Jan. 13 at 5:30 p.m. Predictions remain bleak about what, if anything, will be accomplished this upcoming year. I urge everyone to become and stay informed about the work of the state legislature. The decisions that are made affect significant aspects of life here in Kansas, including public education, healthcare, and taxes. All of the Representatives in this region write a regular e-newsletter that you can subscribe to by request. Your e-mail address will stay private. Simply write an e-mail to first.lastname@house.ks.gov to your Representative and say “Please add me to your e-newsletter.” Your involvement matters!

So what about the year ahead? As predicted, the budget was not fixed in 2015 even with the largest tax increase in state history. We now estimate a $175 million shortfall for fiscal year 2017 that begins this July. It is doubtful that leadership will allow any tax bill to come forward this next year and instead will attempt to cut our currently starved budget even further. Thus we will be locked in for another probable shortfall in 2018. Every part of state government will be impacted by these reduced revenue numbers.

Following the 2015 repeal of the school finance formula that was replaced with block grants, the expectation should be that the Education Budget committees will be hard at work crafting a new formula. As a member of that committee, I have been told this is not the case and our committee will not be involved. My suspicion is that solving the school funding puzzle will be delayed until next session because it is an election year and votes on such a bill might expose where many legislators truly stand on the issue, specifically not supporting public education.

A critical matter for Kansas that will remain pushed below the line is Medicaid expansion. The Speaker of the House, Ray Merrick, is vehemently opposed to any solution to providing affordable insurance coverage for all Kansans, particularly those that earn too little to receive help paying for the premiums. In spite of broad support for a Kansas plan for Medicaid expansion including accepting the 95 percent funding by the Federal Government, I believe that leadership will prevent any bill from coming forward that might even touch on this subject.

Other key issues include possible repeal of campus open carry for our universities and community colleges, working toward increased transparency of the legislature by requiring live broadcasts of committee meetings, and funding our state courts after the State Supreme Court struck down the bill that tied funding to changing the judge selection process.

Now that I have been removed from the Health Committee, I will have more time to work on the issues that are critical for District 21. Feel free to contact me with questions or comments by e-mail at barbarabollier@gmail.com . It is a privilege to serve you and I will do my best to protect the quality of life we expect for Kansans.