Kansas faces many challenges and the 2021 legislative session will be one of the most consequential in our state’s history.
During August, we’ve seen lawmakers start the process for the 2021 session by convening a series of select committees that were formed to take testimony, study the issues and prepare recommendations for lawmakers to consider when they convene in regular session in January. This year’s select committees are looking at economic recovery, emergency management, foster care and mental health.
Select committees are a normal part of the legislative process and this year’s groups are starting early, which is good. Some of the past panels held their only meetings for a day or two in November and December, looking to cram testimony and thoughtful deliberation into what amounted to six to 12 hours of work in Topeka. Not a lot of time to study issues and leading to questions on how useful these panels are.
While it is good to see the select committees starting work now and laying out plans for more hearings to get a comprehensive view of the issues in their portfolio, the question is will these panels have a long-term impact.
Kansas cannot afford for this year’s select committees to issue recommendations that do not move our state forward and address our most pressing issues. Our state’s economic recovery will be one of our most important concerns in 2021.
This year showed a need to address our state’s emergency management system and its impact on all sectors of Kansas.
Mental health plays a key role in many aspects of society and there are many advocates for mental health in Topeka. This committee is a good step and the panel does consist of many legislative advocates for mental health policy.
Our state’s foster care system has been in crisis for years and the issues facing our state’s most vulnerable children are immense. The foster care committee seems to be acknowledging this by spending the first two days of hearings just going through the issues and any pending work. This includes the work several years ago by a child welfare task force the Legislature created. The committee has also outlined an aggressive set of hearings to put a report together.
Topeka has had too many examples of reports being commissioned and then just collecting dust. The government efficiency report is a prime example. There are also a few examples of studies that impacted good policy, like the 2018 transportation task force.
Time and effort are going into this year’s select committees. Taxpayer money is being spent on these meetings. We need to make sure that this year’s efforts move our state forward and serve as a blueprint for 2021.
Wink Hartman is the CEO of the Hartman Group of Companies in Wichita and the 2018 Republican nominee for lieutenant governor.