Capitol Update: To stem loss of college educated residents, Rep. Woodard says we need to make ‘Kansas cool again’

Each legislative session, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Brett Parker, Rep. Brandon Woodard and Sen. Mike Thompson are scheduled to send updates this week. Rep. Woodard’s column is below.

Kansas’ top exports include transportation equipment, food products, agricultural products, chemicals, and machinery. Though there is also one we often overlook, college-educated graduates leaving the Sunflower State.

According to the US Census Bureau, more people are being born in Kansas than are dying each year; however, the number of working-age adults leaving the state outpaces our gains in population by birth. So, how do we stop this? Make Kansas cool. Here are some of the issues I’m working on to do just that.

Making Kansas a cool place to live should be our focus to encourage population growth in every part of the state, not just the Kansas City metro area. Ensuring that Kansas is a welcoming and inclusive state for all could be achieved by modernizing our Kansas Act Against Discrimination to extend protections to our LGBTQ neighbors. Kansas is one of the few states where you can still be fired, denied housing, or refused business for being LGBTQ.

The state of Kansas has started restoring funding for higher education, but it is unlikely that we’ll ever see a return to when the state covered half the cost of a four-year degree, compared to the 20% Kansas kicks in today. Beyond prioritizing investment in higher education, we must look toward relieving student debt. The average university graduate in Kansas has more than $28,000 in student loans. In the year ahead, I plan to work with the business community to encourage student debt relief as a part of their benefits packages for their employees, as well as exploring state policy that would incentivize skilled and educated workers to stay in Kansas or move here to do so by providing tax rebates targeted at student loan repayment. I’ll expand on this idea in my next Capitol Update.

In District 30, over 65% of the residents are under the age of 45. As a “younger” district, I constantly hear from constituents about their desire to legalize entertainment options, such as sports wagering, allowing for gambling on their favorite sports team from a local casino or an app on their phone. Almost as frequently, we’re discussing affordable healthcare access or the cost of prescription drugs. That’s why I staunchly support expanding Medicaid to more than 130,000 Kansans who are between 38% and 138% of the Federal Poverty level. Lastly, I am often asked about my position on decriminalizing marijuana. While I support legalizing marijuana and benefiting from the tax revenue, it appears the most realistic solution in this Legislative session is to allow for legal medicinal marijuana. That’s why I co-sponsored the Kansas Safe Access Act, which would legalize medicinal cannabis.

To begin seeing trends in net migration to Kansas, I am committed to making Kansas cool again. We know that open, inclusive, and inviting states benefit from domestic and international immigration. Expanding medicaid, relieving student debt, funding our public education system, and legalizing sports wagering and medicinal marijuana will renew Kansas’ national image and help us become one of the hottest places to live, work, and raise a family.

If you have ideas for policy that we could be working on in Topeka, please reach out at brandon.woodard@house.ks.gov or (785)296-5593. It is an honor to represent District 30 in the Kansas House of Representatives.