Each legislative session, we provide the Shawnee Mission area’s elected officials with the chance to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. We’re kicking off this year’s Capitol Update columns a week ahead of the start of the legislative session. Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Rep. Jarrod Ousley and Sen. Barbara Bollier are scheduled to send updates this week. Here’s Rep. Ousley’s filing:
There is a lot on our plates in this upcoming legislative session. While the Republican majority continues to implement delay tactics to avoid addressing funding Kansas’ public schools in a manner that meets constitutional muster, there are also vital and necessary fixes to be made to almost all of our agencies that suffered from a lack of funding for the last eight years.
I have been primarily focused on the needs facing Kansas children, and correcting inadequacies at the Department of Children and Family Services. As the Ranking Democratic member of the the Children and Seniors Committee and a member of the Foster Care Oversight Task Force, my interim between sessions was filled with meetings gathering data on information on areas that can be approved through the adoption of legislation and policy changes. You can read the report on this work here.
There are several bi-partisan policy solutions I plan on bringing forward this legislative session to address children’s needs. The first is the repeal of the “Hope” Act that restricts access to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. A recent KU study showed a correlation between these reductions and the increase of Kansas foster care children from 5,000 to 7,000. Last session, Rep. Linda Gallagher and I co-sponsored this legislation, and I look forward to it receiving support this session. While DCF recently attempted to discredit the University of Kansas’ research, advocates for children have hit back, pointing out that this overlooks significant evidence that the destruction of the safety net actively harms children. The Task Force included repeal of the “Hope” Act in its recommendations, and this will go a long way to relieve the overcrowded system.
In addition, many of the legislators on the current Children and Seniors committee are new, and in order to provide background information on how urgent the current crisis is, I look forward to obtaining a hearing on the Child Death Review Board Report. This annual report was never heard in committee under the Brownback administration, and the information it presents on child deaths in our state is crucial to understanding the need for the following bills that were introduced last year or have support from the Task Force and that I will introduce this year, including:
- 1) legislation creating the Office of Child Advocate outside of DCF’s chain of command, that can independently advocate for what children need
- 2) mandating the sharing of information with law enforcement when multiple mandatory reporters notify DCF of abuse, which is supported by the District Attorneys of Wyandotte County, Johnson County, and Sedgwick County
- 3) Due Process and Retaliation Protections for social workers and DCF employees and contractors and subcontractors, so that they can safely report Agency issues
- 4) consolidating reporting and record keeping to an updated and centralized system.
I am also working closely with a constituent to bring a piece of red flag legislation for individuals to place themselves on the prohibited purchaser’s list if they live with a mental health condition that could leave them at risk of suicide attempts. The death of a close friend who took her life when in the midst of a mental health crises led my constituent to advocate on this issue, and we believe it would provide a life saving avenue for individuals to protect themselves when they are healthy and in control of their choices.
As a member of the Local Elected Committee, I look forward to continuing collaborations being built here in the Johnson County and overlapping Metro area focusing on sustainable energy policy solutions for local municipalities, counties, and school boards. There are several strategies revolving around food waste reductions, supporting solar and wind technologies, and improving carbon capture through public space vegetation that our local participants have begun exploring.
Finally, it is an honor to once again be the legislative sponsor for the Kansas People’s Agenda State of the State Rally, held this year on Jan. 15. Hear from your fellow Kansans on how to support an agenda that serves our state and advocate to legislators your support for pragmatic policy that supports access to health care, fully funded schools and infrastructure, and sustainable environmental solutions. You can learn more about this here.