Following is a summary of some of the key issues that were debated this past session. You can let me know what you think of these and other issues by texting me at 316-265-7096 or on facebook or by emailing me at email@example.com. It is a pleasure representing you in Topeka and I always enjoy hearing your ideas and concerns. -Tom
If you have any questions concerning the COVID-19 crisis, here is a link to a web-page listing many COVID-19 resources:
For the first time in Kansas History, the House passed a bill that would legalize the use of cannabis for medical purposes.
I worked closely with House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita) to get the bill passed. All 39 Democrats voted for the bill as well as 40 of the 85 Republicans- making it a truly bi-partisan bill.
A sweeping number of states across the country have legalized cannabis in one form or another. Kansas remains one of only a few states where marijuana use is still wholly prohibited and would have been the 48th to legalize medical access. Advocates for the bill point to evidence of unique health benefits and economic boons in states with legalized medical access to cannabis as reason to embrace this policy in Kansas.
The bill now sits in the Senate, where the Senate President has promised to work the bill next session.
While this battle is far from over, Medical Cannabis has a real shot at becoming law next year
The most powerful expression of our values appears in the form of the annual state budget. I believe that the state should budget like a family. A family lives within its means while taking care of its children and its seniors.
I feel that the state should budget like we are on a low sugar diet. We need to cut waste while improving the efficiency & effectiveness of state programs.I feel that we could improve our fiscal management if the state would pay its debts off during the good times, so we won't have to raise taxes or cut vital programs during the bad times.
While we made progress in coming up with real savings and making state government more efficient, we need to do more. For example, in 2009 we implemented a plan to make our state buildings more energy efficient. This plan should save us millions of dollars over the next 20 years.
In 2012 the Legislature passed a reckless tax plan that devastated the state budget. Part of the decline was anticipated, but the reduction in state income tax revenue was much greater than expected.
Overall the state was taking in about $700 million less annually than it did before the reckless 2012 tax plan was implemented. As a result both Moody's and Standard & Poors downgraded the state's credit rating.
As the state spent more than it took in, the Governor Brownback used transfers from the State Highway Fund, the state retirement fund and the Children's Initiative Fund to balance the state budget.
MORE ON THE STATE BUDGET
In 2015, the Legislature passed a huge tax increase (hailed by many newspapers as the largest tax increase in Kansas History). This huge tax increase gave Kansas the second highest sales tax on food in the country. I led the floor debate against this huge tax increase on working families and seniors. Unfortunately we lost as the Pro-Brownback forces were able to get the bare minimum number of votes needed to pass the bill.
Instead of higher food taxes, we needed the 330,000 business owners who were removed completely from the income tax rolls in 2012 to pay their fair share.
State budgeting is a complicated process that involves tough choices,compromise and prioritizing at several levels of government. I am committed to keeping our budget priorities in touch with the priorities of everyday Kansans. I will also continue to work in a bi-partisan manner to balance the budget without tax increases on working families or seniors.
Unfortunately after the passage of the 2012 tax plan, the "Slash & Burn" approach mostly won out over those of us advocating for cutting waste and improving efficiency.
The budget ignored or dramatically reduced funding for a number of key items that are critical to Kansas communities, such as in-home services for seniors, cuts to the food sales tax refund program, many good experienced state employees left state service because they went 10 years without a pay increase, our prison system became overcrowded and understaffed, our colleges and universities took cuts, our schools were forced to make cuts, our highway program was gutted, and it took money away from early childhood and education programs. Just to name a few.
Though lawmakers faced challenges from a state income tax that was vanishing, we had a responsibility to invest in our children, our aging parents and our neighbors in need. Failing to provide for vulnerable seniors, refusing to fund healthcare measures and eliminating necessary social services for Fiscal Year 2016 only moved Kansas in the wrong direction. It was time to redirect our priorities so they reflect the most important values of our state.
It was also time to step up our efforts to cut out waste and make state government run more efficiently. We have made some progress, but we have a lot of work left to do.
So in 2017 I led the fight to repeal part of the 2012 tax plan. The loophole that allowed more than 330,000 business owners to pay no Kansas income tax was repealed. We have now begun to rebuild our State from the damage done by the reckless 2012 tax experiment.
We have begun the process to properly fund our schools, take care of our vulnerable citizens, re-staff our prison system, fund our highway program, restore the cuts made to higher education and the rest of state government. It will take time, but we will re-store our state and recover from the 2012 tax plan disaster.
Funding our children's education is always one of the most important debates we have in the Legislature. Funding of K-12 education takes up about one half of the state general fund.
The House approved legislation in 2008 that increased state funding for public schools by $37.2 million in the 2009-2010 school year. It added a fourth year to the school finance plan originally passed in 2005. The legislation was debated at length and explored differing needs between rural, suburban and urban school districts. Under this plan, base state aid per pupil (BSAPP) increased to $4,492 beginning in the 2009-2010 school year, increasing the rate in place at the time by $59. That is a 1.3% increase in the base funding over 2008. A small increase but it was important because it allowed school districts to almost keep pace with inflation. .
Unfortunately in 2011, the legislature passed and the Governor signed into law, the largest cut to school funding in our state's history. This law cut the base aid per pupil from $4492 to $3800. This cut more than wiped out all of the progress made in school funding from 2005-2009. This cut forced many local school districts to raise property taxes, lay-off teachers and close schools.
It took several years, but after repealing part of the reckless 2012 tax plan in 2017, the Legislature in 2018 finally passed a 5 year plan to fully fund our schools. By 2023, our schools will once again receive funding equivalent to what was passed in 2008. The Kansas Supreme Court has looked at the funding plan and said it does meet the Constitutional requirement that the legislature suitably fund our schools. I will fight to protect this funding.
This year for the third year in a row, we fully funded our schools based on the 5 year plan approved by the courts.
I am also fully committed to improving our children's education. Class sizes should be smaller. I feel that the state should set a goal of reducing class sizes to 17 children or less in grades 1 through 3. Those are the most vital grades for children to learn how to read, write and to do basic math. Children who don't learn the basics in the early grades get behind in school and almost never catch up. Most rural districts already have small classes, Wichita children should get the same benefit.
Kansas is one of about a dozen states that still has not passed Medicaid Expansion. When the Congress passed the Affordable Care Act a decade ago, it expanded Medicaid coverage to those families that were 38% above the poverty rate. The federal government paid 100% of the excess cost to expand Medicaid for 3 years, and has paid 90% of the additional cost since then.
Because Kansas has failed to pass Medicaid Expansion, 150,000 Kansans go without Health Care insurance.
These people fall in the gap, they make too much money to qualify for the current Medicaid program but not enough money to receive subsidies under the Affordable Care Act to buy health insurance on the Health Care Exchanges. Without the subsidies, they can not afford the premiums.
The failure to pass Medicaid Expansion has also put a huge financial strain on our hospitals. Hospitals must accept patients that come in for Emergency care whether they can afford to pay for it or not. People without Health Insurance wait until their health needs become dire and seek services in expensive emergency rooms where they can't be turned down.
In 2018, I was a Leader in the fight to pass Medicaid Expansion in the Kansas House. We successfully passed a bill with strong bi-partisan support 69-55. Unfortunately the bill has set in the Senate Health Committee awaiting passage. The Senate has introduced a bi-partisan Medicaid Expansion bill with 22 co-sponsors (11 Democrats and 11 Republicans) which is one more vote then they need to pass a bill. They just need the Senate Leadership to run the bill.
I will continue to work to improve health care coverage for all Kansans to make health care more accessible and affordable, this includes passing Medicaid Expansion.
This session I worked with our Sedgwick County Delegation Chair to pass a bipartisan bill to extend Unemployment insurance in Kansas from 16 weeks to 26 weeks. The bill also gets rid of the one week waiting period to receive unemployment benefits.
We began working early in the session to get the bill passed to deal with the large number of layoffs at Spirit here in Wichita. But by the end of the regular session, the corona virus pandemic made it clear that the need for the bill was much broader.
Governor Kelly introduced a new 10 year Transportation Plan that requires no tax increases. The legislature passed the plan with huge bi-partisan majorities, making a few minor changes.
The New plan replaces the 10 year T-Works plan that never got funded because Governor Brownback diverted over $2 Billion over 7 years to help balance the state budget to make up for the shortfalls caused by the reckless 2012 tax plan.
The New plan will be called the Eisenhower Legacy Plan (one of the minor changes made by the Legislature) and will also include funding for Broadband.
The Legislature passed HCR 5025 which gives the Governor the emergency powers to deal with the COVID-19 crisis until May 1.
After May 1, the Governor can come to the Legislative Coordinating Council (the 7 top leaders of the Legislature) and ask for 30 day extensions.
The Governor only has the power to issue an Emergency Declaration for 15 days, after that she has to get approval from the Legislature. The House originally passed a bill extending her emergency powers until January 2021, but the Senate balked and wanted more Legislative oversight.
The Legislature also passed bills giving some emergency powers to the Courts, so that they can operate during the crisis and gave schools districts the power to ask for wavers from the minimum number of hours required to fulfill a school year.
One of the bright spots of the Kansas economy has been the wind power industry. Kansas ranks #2 out of all the States in total potential wind power, behind only Texas.
So far 13,000 new jobs have been created in Kansas by the wind energy industry. And Kansas ranks #1 in the the nation in the number of wind turbines under production.
I believe that the State should continue to encourage the growth of this very important industry in Kansas
One of the questions I get asked a lot is "does the State of Kansas tax social security benefits?"
In 2008 we passed a law exempting those making $75,000 or less from paying any state income tax on their Social Security benefits.
I supported this tax cut, I feel that seniors have given us a lot and deserve to retire without having the burden of paying state income tax on their social security benefits.
We will be holding
an in-person Town
Hall Meeting this
Senator Mary Ware and myself plan on holding an in-person town hall meeting this fall.
During the pandemic, we switched to virtural town halls. But they just aren't the same. We both look forward to being able to talk and answer your questions in-person again very soon.
Look for a postcard in your mail box with the details of the Town Hall. Right now we are planning to hold it at the Advanced Learning Library at 2nd and McClean Blvd. I will post the date and time on this web-site as soon as it is set.
How to Protect Yourself and Others
Know how it spreads
• There is currently no vaccine to prevent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
• The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus.
• The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person.
» Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
» Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes
» These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
» Recent studies suggest that COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.
Clean your hands often
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
• If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid close contact
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Stay at home as much as possible.
• Put distance between yourself and other people.
» Remember that some people without symptoms may be able to spread virus.
» This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others
You could spread COVID-19 to others even if you do not feel sick.
Everyone should wear a cloth face cover when they have to go out in public,
for example to the grocery store or to pick up other necessities.
» Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing, or is unconscious, incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance.
The cloth face cover is meant to protect other people in case you are infected.
Do NOT use a facemask meant for a healthcare worker.
Continue to keep about 6 feet between yourself and others. The cloth face cover
is not a substitute for social distancing.
Cover coughs and sneezes
If you are in a private setting and do not have on your cloth face covering, remember to always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
Throw used tissues in the trash.
Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, clean your hands with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Clean and disinfect
Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/ disinfecting-your-home.html
If surfaces are dirty, clean them: Use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.