Legislators across the state are making preparations this week for the 2013 session, which begins next week
Legislators across the state are making preparations this week for the 2013 session, which begins next week. A number of important issues are expected to come up for debate. The Globe spoke with Rep. Brian Weber, (R) Dist. 119, about his plans for the upcoming session. Weber's first term was in 2011, so he has a good idea how things work in Topeka. Weber has been appointed chair of the Social Services Budget committee, vice-chair of the Health and Human Services committee, and a member of the Appropriations committee and the Interstate Cooperation committee. He has also been appointed House Majority Whip for the upcoming session. "I'm very pleased to have gotten to this point so soon," Weber said in an interview at the Globe offices Monday. "I've made waves, made friends and probably a few adversaries, but I've established myself as a strong voice early." Weber predicts an interesting session. "The Senate moved conservative in the last elections, but the House will have an influx of intelligent, independent-thinking freshmen and they'll want to hear both sides of each issue. Strategy will be important," Weber said. Weber will introduce a bill to restore the ability of non-profit organizations to hold fundraising raffles. "This affects the whole spectrum — from arts organizations to gun owners, including charities, churches, libraries and schools," Weber said. Non-profit organizations like the Red Cross, Ducks Unlimited and Wounded Warriors, encountered stricter enforcement of gaming regulations last year and many canceled raffles in order to avoid legal questions. Weber has authored a bill to allow non-profits to sponsor raffles within guidelines. "Of course, I had help from the revisors to make sure the language was right and everything was included that needed to be there," he said. Weber expects to introduce the bill through a committee, probably the Federal and State committee. While the bill appears to be a logical fix of an unintentional problem, Weber says some legislators are reluctant to even bring the issue up because it may lead to a larger debate between gaming and anti-gaming proponents in the House. "To fix the problem, the bill has to address the statute that created gaming in the state, and that opens some doors," Weber said. Wellness Working on the Health and Human Services committee, Weber expects the issues of oral health to be important. "There is interest in creating a new position called dental practitioner, which would be between a dental hygienist and a dentist. This would be one way to help meet the needs of those under served in oral health." A similar discussion will involve medical practitioners. "Nurse practitioners, who now operate under the supervision of a doctor, would like to be able to have autonomy and run their own clinics," Weber said. "So we'll have some turf wars going on." Weber's approach is to match the person's education with the scope of their practice. "And in some cases, we have discrepancies. For example, podiatrists in many states are authorized to practice from the knee down but in Kansas it's from the ankle down." The health committee will also be working on additional legislative oversight as KanCare takes effect. KanCare is the state's plan to transition Kansas Medicaid into an integrated care model. "It should be a pretty easy transition for most people, unless your doctor didn't sign up with all three managed care organizations," Weber said. "But we want to make sure people are still being taken care of." No surprise Weber expects the state budget to be this year's hottest issue. "With the state tax cuts that took effect Jan. 1, we'll have some tough budget decisions to make," he said. "We will either see cuts to some agencies or we'll have to rethink part of those tax cuts." Under the new tax structure, individual income tax went from three brackets down to two, with a resulting savings of one to two percent to taxpayers across the board. "The goal is, of course, to grow the state. And some areas of the state don't enjoy the low unemployment we have in southwest Kansas so they need more help. But growth has to be balanced with resources," Weber said. The state's fiscal year ends in June and Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed a two-year budget cycle, so the budget will undoubtedly occupy a fair share of the legislature's time. Workforce Weber also expects a standoff revolving around immigration. "We have one group that wants Arizona-style illegal immigration laws and another group that favors a reasonable pathway and workforce development. My concern is that stricter laws could inadvertently hurt some businesses and create difficulty for law enforcement." Responsibility Weber, who will mark his third session this year, admits to still being in awe of the process and the responsibility. "It can weigh on you pretty heavy," he said. "I had a bill my first year that increased the opportunity for home health care, and it died in committee by one vote — on a Friday. I spent a lot of time that weekend working the votes and worrying. Then I tried it again Monday. It made it through committee and was overwhelmingly passed on the floor. You just go in that room hoping you make the most of every opportunity."