It is hard to believe that next week will bring the regular session to a close. This week we spend the days on the floor hearing, debating and amending bills. Next week will be mostly conference committee reports, which means we spend a few minutes on the floor several times per day, followed by hours of time with little to do. Attending the conference committees can be somewhat interesting as the House and Senate conferees negotiate and iron out the differences in bills passed by each chamber.
Many of the bills are simply updating laws to make them current. One that stood out was updating the listing of drug classifications that is done each year. However, that particular bill is amendable to something like medical marijuana, which some call cannabis. Sure enough, the amendment was brought forward and, after a lengthy debate, was eventually defeated by a relatively narrow margin.
Human trafficking continues to be a problem, not only in Kansas but nationwide and even worldwide. We have passed several laws to try to slow the flow of trafficked persons, but this is a very difficult problem to stop. Laws are only as good as the enforcement and penalties backing the laws. The State is trying to do what it can to raise awareness and enforce laws against trafficking.
A bill authorizing the formation of a highway task force was passed by the Senate first, and then the House. This would continue the focus on highways in the State and recommend a plan of action similar to the T-Works program of 10 years ago. We all know that a lot of money has been taken from the T-Works plan, but without that plan the State highways would certainly be in much worse condition than they now are.
Quite a bit of focus remains on how to make schools safer from attack. While there have been proposals everywhere from requiring teachers to carry firearms to tall fences surrounding school grounds, what has passed the House is a bill that puts a little money into encouraging schools and communities to strategically think about children’s safety. What I mean by that is, local law enforcement and schools’ administration and boards are encouraged to work together and develop strategies and plans if something should occur. As an example, something as simple as making sure law enforcement knows the layout of building interiors and grounds can make a big difference in how they respond.
Although we have not finished session for the day, the Committee passed budget is scheduled to be debated on the floor. I had talked about it last week and it has not changed since then. The budget chairs, such as myself, get a little nervous when the budget is run across the floor because we hope our committee recommendations remain and the funding for programs are not diverted for other uses. The item of particular interest to me is keeping the $4M in the State Water Plan to address water quality and quantity issues across the State.
Yesterday evening the Education Budget Committee passed out a plan to address the court decision regarding school funding adequacy. While actual computer runs are not yet available, the bill adds about an additional $70M for 2019 and then about an additional $100M per year for four years. Details are a little sketchy at this time and securing enough votes all around could be challenging. Generally, the thinking is that this would likely meet the court requirements. Certainly there will be those that say it’s too much and those that claim too little, but we need to start somewhere.
As stated earlier, next week brings conference committees and decisions on whether the policies are still intact. Mostly the decisions are fairly easy as votes are a repeat of earlier votes, but sometimes the policies change enough to change sides and vote against.