The Dodge City Chamber of Commerce held their first legislative forum of the year Saturday at the High Plains Journal conference room.
State Sen. Garrett Love (R) Dist. 38, state Rep. Brian Weber (R) Dist. 119 and state Rep. John Ewy (R) Dist. 117 were present to take questions from the audience. State Rep. Ronald Ryckman (R) Dist. 115 sent word that he was ill.
Weber reported that much of his day is taken up with work on the social services budget.
In an effort to provide more home/community-based services, the committee is working through a process to consolidate services at state hospitals then redirect the savings to help people currently on a number of waiting lists.
Love said his biggest issues are related to agriculture, particularly water.
"When you look at our crops, our cattle and our packing plants, that's a lot of water. We're looking at ways to encourage conservation. We've eliminated a lot of the 'Use it or Lose It' policies. And we're working to claim the state's water rights to the Missouri River. Then we may need to build an aqueduct across the state," Love said.
Love also mentioned ongoing discussions about human trafficking in the state.
"Young girls are being forced into the sex trade. And in some cases, a 15-year-old girl would be in more trouble legally than the man who paid for her services," Love said.
Ewy noted that there's a lot for a freshman legislator to learn and there are a lot of miles to cover.
"I’ve been surprised to learn more about Larned State Hospital, which is in my district," Ewy said.
"With close to 1,000 full time employees, they are the biggest employer in the 117th district," he said.
Issues raised by the audience included the weighting of funding for at-risk students. Alan Cunningham, superintendent of USD 443 said "We have a very good program and we can intervene with there students before they fail. The new proposal would withhold funding until the student has already failed. Sen. bill 44 would cost the district $1.2 to $1.9 million."
In the ensuing discussion about student problems, Weber told the story of an elementary student who claimed to be hungry but wasn't eating his lunch. When a teacher asked him why he wasn't eating, the student said his mouth hurt too much. The student was taken to the emergency room and a doctor found the condition of the student's mouth so bad that all the teeth had to be pulled.
"We need better preventative oral care," Weber said.
He proceeded to describe a proposal that will create a new dental position between hygienist and dentist, similar to the health practitioner position.
Love addressed the student funding situation by saying "A three-judge panel said Jan. 9 that the state should put about $500 million more into school funding. That will push the legislature to change the school finance formula."
Page 2 of 2 - Another question from the audience brought up proposed changed to the tax credit program.
"It was because of a comment made at one of these forum's last year that I was able to get similar changes out of a bill and I hope it won't be brought up this year," Love said.
Weber agreed. "The governor has proposed eliminating lots of tax credits but the majority of Kansans are not in agreement."
The issue of changes to rules governing teachers unions came up in several questions.
Weber tried to provide details.
"There have always been things that unions, including the teachers union, can't do and political activity is one of those things. The union PACs can do that but not the union," he said. "That is not changing. The bill does change the definition of political activity."
In addition, the proposal would give the power to negotiate their own contract to individual members of the union.
"The educators I've talked to say 'I don't want that and I wouldn't use it.'"
"I have concerns and I've expressed them to the leadership," Weber said.
"I don't believe that the government should be part of the political process, and there is a cost to process payroll deductions. That's why I think those contributions should be made by another method," Love said.
Another question highlighted concern about problems with doctors receiving reimbursements under the new KanCare program.
"We are working to make adjustments in that process," Weber said.
"There has to be legislative oversight and we will get that done this year," he added.
In summation, Weber said "When you're reaching out to any legislator remember that party doesn't define the issue. I take each issue bill by bill regardless of who the governor is or which party is in control of which house. When it comes to making decisions, it's Kansas — it's Kansans."