Kansas lawmakers support the creation of a Statewide Broadband Expansion Task Force. The debate is over who will sit on the task force.

House Bill 2701 spells out the makeup of the task force. It passed the House 117-0 in February, but only after the original bill’s task force membership was altered in an amendment from State Rep. Jim Gartner, D-Topeka, that was adopted.

The bill will come before the Senate Commerce Committee Friday, March 9. Among those slated to testify is Daniel Friesen, Buhler, chief innovation officer and managing member of IdeaTek Telcom. Friesen declined to make his testimony public before presenting it to the Senate committee.

Originally, the bill called for 23 voting members. Among entities that sought a greater voice on the task force were the League of Kansas Municipalities and Kansas Association of Counties. They were each allocated one seat and told the House Committee on Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications, led by Chairman Joe Seiwert, R-Pretty Prairie, that they wanted a seat for rural cities and counties and a seat for urban cities and urban counties. They didn’t get those extra seats.

However, changes to the bill before it emerged from the House include:

The number of voting members was reduced from 23 to 17.
The Kansas Hospital Association was given one of the seats.
The Republican Speaker of the House can name three representatives, not four, to the task force. The top Democrat in the House can appoint two representatives, not one.
The Kansas Rural Independent Telephone Coalition and the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association can name one person each, not two each. The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Farm Bureau, and the National Federation of Independent Business won’t appoint a to the task force, as thte original bill outlined.
The secretary of the Kansas Department of Transportation, not the Commerce secretary, can name a non-voting member. The Governor can name a non-voting member, not a voting member as originally planned.

The current bill says the task force must submit recommendations to the Legislature on or before Jan. 31, 2019.