Capitol Update: ‘Legal battles and revenue shortfalls continue, but work on reimagining education for our students to meet the demands of the 21st century cannot wait’

Rep. Melissa Rooker.
Rep. Melissa Rooker.

The 2016 legislative session is under way in Topeka, and throughout the session we’ll be bringing you a weekly update 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. Rooker submits this week’s update:

Greetings from Topeka. This year, I serve on the Transportation, Transportation and Public Safety Budget, and Vision 2020 committees. The challenges we face have received a great deal of attention lately and will undoubtedly be the focus of many meetings, conversations and newsletters that we will share in the coming months. Today, I would like to highlight some positives to start us off on the right foot.

On Thursday, the House unanimously passed legislation that fixes a problem created last year when the judicial budget was embedded in a bill changing the way district court chief judges are selected. That bill was ruled to be a violation of the separation of powers and due to a non-severability clause embedded in the law, the entire judicial budget was invalidated. This highlights the perils of mixing policy and appropriations in the same legislation. I am happy that we were able to make this correction in the House and expect the Senate to act quickly to put the bill on the governor’s desk for signature.

I am pleased to announce my appointment to the Kansas Forest Service Advisory Council for a three-year term. Kansas first created a forestry agency in 1887, and in 1909 established the position of State Forester at K-State, where the agency has operated as part of the College of Agriculture ever since. Most of the cities I represent are certified “Tree Cities USA,” representing recognition by the Arbor Day Foundation for outstanding tree management programs. The K-State Extension Service provides forestry support that has proven helpful to our community in managing problems like the emerald ash borer. Please let me know if I can help connect you to the resources the program offers.

Our local law enforcement agencies have been asking for legislation to facilitate rapid response to emergency situations involving the state line. The original bill introduced last year had support of all but the sheriff’s association. Working over the past few months, an agreement was reached that all parties are now satisfied with, allowing the bill to move forward. I am proud to be a co-sponsor and will keep you updated as the bill makes progress through the legislative process.

I have spent a considerable amount of time on education policy and finance. I am encouraged to report that although the legislative process surrounding the creation of a new funding formula appears to be stalled, the community of education stakeholders has been active in working together to outline the components of a refreshed school finance plan. Legal battles and revenue shortfalls continue, but work on reimagining education for our students to meet the demands of the 21st century cannot wait for those issues to be resolved. Superintendents and school finance officers, school board members, teachers, business leaders and parents from districts large and small, urban and rural, are working together to ensure the success of our children. I am deeply committed to helping find a path forward to protect their future.

Connecting constituents to the services they need is part of my job, and I have been happy to help a number of you lately with your concerns. Over the holidays, I called a homebound constituent to wish him a Merry Christmas and he told me it had been four days since he had spoken to another person. He was grateful for the contact and we chatted for quite a while. I was struck by the difference that simple conversation made and urge you to remember to check on friends and neighbors who might be facing special unforeseen challenges or live with long-term disabilities. The winter months make it particularly tough to get around and the sense of isolation can be difficult to manage.

There is much to share, and many challenges ahead. I will address them in more detail in my newsletter communications. If you wish to receive my updates, please visit my website to sign up. As always, I can be contacted at melissa.rooker@house.ks.gov should there be anything I can do for you. It is a privilege to serve.