As the pace is picking up for the session, issues become more difficult to follow. Committees are kicking out bills rapidly now and the number of bills waiting floor action is large. Bills continue to be introduced, although at this point they must go through an exempt committee rather than a regular committee. Exempt committees are Appropriations and Taxation, which can introduce a bill at any time.
The Appropriations Committee is assembling the budget. They are putting the pieces together from the budget subcommittees into one large budget package. In the budget committee I am on, we are making very few changes to the governor’s recommendations, and it appears the other budget committees are doing something similar. Once that package is put together, the entire appropriations committee has the ability to change anything before sending it out to the House floor.
An interesting development Monday was that the Senate Ways & Means apparently introduced a separate budget bill for the Courts. The implications are that a stand-alone budget is much more difficult to modify because of the rules the Legislature has regarding changes to budget bills. It is somewhat unusual, but not unheard of, to work a budget in this manner.
I attended a presentation on passing what is called an Article 5 convention. Essentially, if 34 States request that a Constitutional convention be called, then delegates would be selected to meet and determine if an amendment is needed in the US Constitution. There has been talk about wanting to put a balanced budget amendment in the US Constitution for a couple years. The number of States that have passed this so far is less than 20.
Another informational presentation I attended was about the projections for revenue and expenditures for the next several years. It was interesting to learn that apparently the plan is to run a budget deficit and to take money from KDOT and other agencies to fill the gap. That would also likely mean looking for cuts to schools and departments as well. Having a structural imbalance in the budget is very challenging. That means revenues and expenditures are out of balance and as long as that is the case, we can expect to see some strange things occurring to shore up the budget.
There is continuing work being done regarding water policy. At this point it is difficult to see how some of the changes will conserve and extend the Ogallala Aquifer life in western Kansas, although that is the goal. Because of the budget imbalance, I wonder how funding the conservation programs will occur as well. I suppose we will see if this is a priority when the final budget comes before us.
The bill that would change the Judicial selection process has been sent out of the Judiciary Committee. Changing the selection process to something similar to the Federal government has been an ongoing discussion for several years. The Governor is very much in favor of doing that, but some legislative members are skeptical. It would involve a constitutional change, meaning supermajorities in the House and Senate. That is a very high mark to reach so we will see if that occurs.
There is a legislative coffee scheduled for Saturday, February 28 at Charlie’s Restaurant in Newton at 9am. I anticipate Sen McGinn, Rep Rhoades, and Rep Schroeder will be there. Obviously, there is much to discuss so the time will go fast. Please join us there on Saturday morning.