Each legislative session, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Jan Kessinger, Rep. Tom Cox and Sen. Mike Thompson are scheduled to send updates this week. Rep. Cox’s column is below.
The Legislature temporarily adjourned on Thursday after passing numerous, important emergency bills. It was a stressful week but I am proud of the truly bi-partisan work done by all of our colleagues.
On five major pieces of legislation you got both parties to come together and focus solely on what is best for Kansas right now. Not who won or lost, not who got credit, but how do we help protect our state. There was compromise but it was quick to be found, instead of stalled. Unlike what we are seeing at the federal level, we saw the best of what politics can be and I am proud to be a part of this chamber.
Here is a quick summary of the major legislation we passed.
- School funding and jobs: We realize this impacts schools, families, and communities greatly. We passed a law that would allow the Board of Education to reduce the required hours of the school year to prevent students from having to come back for June/July to finish the year. Included in this, we set that teachers, and hourly workers (paras, custodians, maintenance workers, cafeteria works, etc) will still receive full pay. The money has been appropriated to the districts and if we do not do this, the majority of these people will end up on unemployment, which means the state is still paying either way. We also wanted to provide financial certainty to our families in this trying time.
- In the shutdowns, our court system has been greatly impacted. We have a constitutional right to a speedy trial. We passed an emergency bill that gives the Kansas Supreme Court authority to move priority criminal cases forward and use means, such as video conferencing for hearings. Why is this important? Because if we do not do this, we potentially violate the constitutional rights of those awaiting trial. This could lead to rapists, thieves, and murders being released from jail and potentially avoiding convictions because their right to a speedy trial was denied to them. That is a risk we cannot take.
- We extended unemployment eligibility to 26 weeks in Kansas. We know the pains of this shutdown will last much longer than a month or two and want to ensure we are doing everything we can to protect our families and provide economic relief. We are seeing similar bi-partisan action being taken at the federal level. Our unemployment fund has more than $1 billion in reserves, so this will not cost any additional taxpayer dollars to fund. We all pay into the unemployment fund via employment taxes to fund emergencies such as these.
- We passed out our new transportation plan to focus on preserving, repairing, and expanding our infrastructure in the state. It is critical to get this out now after we have spent two years working on the plan. With the economy taking a significant hit, this is likely the largest economic stimulus we could provide at the state level. It will provide tens of thousands of jobs to Kansans over the next decade and invest billions directly into our economy while maintaining the great roads, bridges, and highways we all rely on.
- We passed at a very lean, emergency budget. In the future, if we are not able to reconvene as a legislature this year we wanted to ensure that the government will continue to be fully-funded and able to continue addressing the crisis in our state. We hope to return in a month or two to finish the full budget, but there are no certainties right now.
We are hoping to reconvene on April 27 and continue working but will keep a close eye on the situation and put the priority of Kansas first. We have a lot of unfinished work and we made it so we could be called back at any day in case we are needed to pass more emergency legislation. Additionally, a new resource, kansastogether.com is out there for fact-based information related to the corona virus and Kansas. Please share it around to help people get credible, official information.