Capitol Update: ‘Skipping payments just adds to the deficit and creates major problems down the road’

Rep. Melissa Rooker speaking at Saturday's community forum at Corinth Library.
Rep. Melissa Rooker speaking at Saturday’s community forum at Corinth Library.

Each legislative session, we provide northeast Johnson County’s elected officials with the chance to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Melissa Rooker submits this week’s update:

Belated Happy Kansas Day! January 29 fell on Sunday this year so we will mark the 156th anniversary of statehood with special recognition ceremonies at the beginning of our session today.

House Tax Committee has been taking a deep dive into the tax code through public hearings in the past week, looking at both income tax rates and tax exemptions. They will continue to work on a revision that addresses the shortfall in our state budget. The committee has a bill that closes the LLC exemption as a basic starting point, and are making the effort to explore a variety of other options before passing a package out of committee.

House Appropriations has been reviewing subcommittee recommendations for the fiscal year 2017 budget adjustments that must be made. Last week in our K-12 Budget subcommittee, I was proud to second a motion to NOT authorize the governor’s proposal to delay another KPERS payment as a method of closing the budget gap. Skipping payments just adds to the deficit and creates major problems down the road, essentially enabling avoidance of the serious reform needed to our tax code.

I have three committees that I serve on this year: Federal & State Affairs, K-12 Budget and Education. I have terrific committee chairs and see a distinct improvement to the tone and process in the statehouse this year. Things are more open and collaborative all the way around. We have a terrific group of “freshmen” lawmakers who collectively bring a wealth of resume power to the proceedings.

Education Committee will remain focused on policy issues. We have spent the last several weeks holding informational hearings. The highlight for me was a review of the new “Kansans Can” vision developed by the state board of education to move our system of public schools to a program that tailors individual plans of study for each student. On Tuesday of last week we heard presentations from the Kansas Teacher of the Year and the seven finalists. I serve on the selection committee and was delighted to honor their achievements. Jason Sickel, a vocal music teacher from Blue Valley North is our Kansas Teacher of the Year, and Jonathan Ferrell, a 6th grade science teacher from Briarwood Elementary in Shawnee Mission, is one of the runners up. Their insights and comments gave us much food for thought.

Federal & State Affairs (live-streamed online at 9 a.m.) will hold hearings on Wednesday and Thursday on the topic of the Personal & Family Protection Act. We have several different bills that seek to amend that law as it pertains to campus carry. The simplest of the bills strikes the sunset date on the exemptions currently in place so that they can remain in effect. The Senate held hearings on a similar bill last week to a packed audience. Our list of conferees is long and I look forward to a healthy discussion of the issues.

K-12 Budget (live-streamed online at 1:30pm) has been holding a series of hearings designed to help the committee members enhance our depth of knowledge on the components of our school finance system. We have had terrific presentations from Legislative Post Audit on 15 years of studies done of the prior formula, Legislative Research and the Revisors office on the legal history of school finance in Kansas, and the Kansas Department of Education on fiscal matters. Our chairman has scheduled a series of briefings on the major funding categories of the old weighting system – Special Education and Virtual Education were presented last week. At-Risk and ELL are ahead. This week, we will be holding a hearing on a bill to require statewide procurement of goods and services for our public schools. This is the same bill we covered in depth last year in a vigorous debate that ended with the bill being referred back to committee. This is a new draft, but appears to be the same bill so I expect all the same concerns to be raised. We also have a bill mandating all school employees be put into the high-deductible version of the state health plan. A major post audit study of school insurance programs is due to be completed in the next few weeks so it seems prudent to wait for that information before proceeding.

Thank you to everybody who showed up on Saturday at the legislative forum hosted by the Johnson County Public Library and the League of Women Voters. The turn-out was amazing, the discussion was terrific and I appreciate the level of interest in politics shown by our area. I was asked afterwards why we didn’t all weigh in on each issue and the answer is that we wanted to allow for the maximum number of questions to be asked. Unless we differed or had something to enhance the comments already made, there seemed no need to be repetitive.

To listen to committees live-stream, go to the committee tab on the legislative website and choose the specific committee you are interested in< /a>. Not all committees are online yet, but we are making good progress.

If you need to reach me, please feel free to contact my office at 785-296-7686 or email me at: