SOUTH HUTCHINSON – All five members of Reno County’s delegation in the State Legislature regard siting decisions for a wind farm’s turbines as a local call, aren’t in favor of currently proposed hikes in hunting fees, and think more money is needed for prison staffing.
On other issues, the five members split.
The new session is three weeks old and the lawmakers participated in a Saturday morning forum organized by the Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber of Commerce with help from sponsor AT&T. It took place at Mennonite Friendship Communities, South Hutchinson.
On Medicaid expansion:
State Sen. Ed Berger, R-Hutchinson, and State Rep. Jason Probst, D-Hutchinson, support it, saying it would affect 150,000 Kansans and would help hospitals. State Reps. Joe Seiwert, R-Pretty Prairie, and Jack Thimesch, R-Spivey, previously voted against it, and State Rep. Paul Waggoner, R-Hutchinson, opposes it. Waggoner said it’s “falsely sold” as a panacea for rural hospitals, and Seiwert also questioned who would benefit from it. Thimesch said he wanted to see a Medicaid expansion bill come out of a committee, and Berger said that had occurred previously. Probst said leadership has put up hurdles for the movement of Medicaid expansion legislation through the Legislature.
Reduction of food sales tax:
People very strongly favor phasing in a reduction, Berger said. Waggoner said offsetting the expected $60 million loss in state revenue from a 1 percent cut in the sales tax on food, by broadening the items subject to sales tax is a concept that makes the most sense. “We will have a recession in the next 10 to 15 years,” Probst said, cautious about making the sales tax cut now. Thimesch said he wondered how Gov. Laura Kelly is going to pay for a sales tax cut. Kelly did not put such a cut in her proposed budget, Probst said. Seiwert said the issue isn’t new. He also questioned why tattoos and piercings are among services exempt from sales tax.
Personhood amendment to the Kansas Constitution:
Seiwert and Thimesch are co-sponsors of the resolution that would recognize personhood at fertilization. Seiwert said his decision is based on the “higher authority.” Thimesch mentioned his five children and 15 grandchildren. Berger said he hadn’t seen the legislation but certainly would support it. Fundamentally, Waggoner said, it’s a good idea and it makes total sense. Probst said he will not support it because of potential “unintended consequences.”
Seiwert and Waggoner want the Legislature, not the court, to determine adequate funding levels for K-12 schools. Berger thinks without a definition of “suitable” funding, the issue is prone to litigation. Probst does not want to prevent the courts from having a role, because legislators could make school funding decisions based on their re-election, he said. “By and large, lawmakers don’t tend to see beyond their own election,” Probst said. Thimesch doubts Gov. Kelly will get as much additional school funding as she wants.
“Frankly, it’s dire,” Probst said, of the projections given in the House Rural Revitalization Committee. “Economics is truly the key,” said Waggoner. Agriculture requires fewer farmers, so the only thing to counter that are industries with jobs, Waggoner said. Seiwert said education downplays blue-collar jobs, and students are encouraged to pursue a profession and move away. Berger hopes the new Rural Revitalization Committee looks at water, saying the implementation of strong water policy is crucial.
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