Capitol Update: ‘This is our defining moment,’ says Rep. Kessinger

"In times of trouble, leaders need to be out front working to solve our problems, not sitting at home waiting for our problems to solve themselves," said Rep. Jan Kessinger. File photo.

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. Kessinger’s column is below.

This is our defining moment.

The uncertainty and fear gripping the world with COVID-19 is a defining moment in the young 21st century. There have been crises throughout history that rock us out of our complacency.

This is a point in time that my children and grandchildren will look back on as a marker of change. They will share stories how we self-quarantined for weeks – perhaps months.

Despite the performance of the marketplace and entrance into a bear market; despite the pandemic of disease brought by COVID-19; despite the panic buying and hoarding that have laid the shelves bare, I am optimistic. I am optimistic that a crisis like this leads to creativity and ideas that will pay dividends long after the crisis has ended. We will be more creative in finding solutions, in communicating, in being productive.

I am optimistic that most people are being sensible and creating social distance that lowers the incidence curve, thus limiting pressure on our healthcare system. I am optimistic because of the care I am seeing of people reaching out to each other (at a safe distance) to help as needed. We will emerge out of this a smarter and a more caring society. This will give us a touchstone of crisis where we will look back and see what we have learned in order to make things better in our next test in life.

In Topeka, the legislature made a rapid shift of gears to address issues critical to the COVID-19 crisis. The pace was breakneck. We had been working diligently on addressing the normal matters of Kansas. We were working on extending and revamping STAR bonds in Commerce and we had reached agreement between casinos and the Lottery on sports betting legislation. Before we could pass those, things took an abrupt turn.

These are not normal times. You know the new world we live in. As of the time of me writing this, we have not, yet, joined California, New York, Connecticut and Illinois in having a “stay inside your home” order from the governor…but we may, soon. I, for one, have self-quarantined out of consideration to others as I was working with about 150 others in the House chambers last week. I refer to the House chamber as a giant petri dish.

Now that the legislature has adjourned at least until April 27, all but essential staff are barred from entry to the building.

The only requirement of the legislature each year is to pass a budget. We passed a bare-bones budget, then adjourned. The unstable economic outlook casts a pall over planning as we are not certain money will be available to fund some basic agencies and we will be under pressure to find sources to pay the bills. We have made great progress in working down the massive debt incurred thanks to the Brownback tax experiment. We will have a financial setback that will require some years to recover. It won’t be pretty for a couple of years, but, we can do this.

Through the Commerce Committee, we have created job incentive programs, programs to attract and keep young people and to grow our workforce. Our dedication to those programs has not waned. And keep in mind that education is, and will continue to be, fully and constitutionally funded. We will come through this crisis and thrive.

It will take creativity, sacrifice and resolve. I embrace our state motto, Ad Astra Per Aspera; to the stars through difficulty. We are in this together, and together we will rise again, stronger and smarter.