Area state legislators can’t wait to move Kansas forward with solid legislation session in 2019.
The Kansas Legislature convenes Monday for its 90-day session. The legislators said working with new governor Laura Kelly should not be a problem.
Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, Rep. Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, and Rep. Mark Samsel, R-Wellsville, said the 2019 session could be a very productive session.
“I am looking forward to the session and maybe we can get some good legislation [passed],” Tyson said. “It is going to be interesting because of the new [governor’s] administration. I put policy above politics. We need more people that are willing to worry about the solutions and the policy we are putting forward. How it does impact Kansans? I think that Kansas is a great place to live. We can make it a better state by working together. I appreciate my constituents and I look forward to hearing from them. I want to hear their concerns and thoughts.”
Samsel, who begins his first legislative session after being elected in November, said it is an honor to serve.
“It was a humbling feeling walking in on that floor for the first time when we had our orientation meeting to elect our new leadership team,” Samsel said. “It hits home for me and I hope for every public servant who walks in there. Realizing our role and responsibility is not just our votes we cast or policy we are setting for our state, but the examples we set for everybody else who watches us not just when we are in Topeka, but when we are back home.”
Finch was elected by his peers as the House Pro Tem for the 2019 session.
“I am looking forward to coming back to Topeka and taking on this new role and service to the House,” Finch said. “It is real honor and humbling to have the confidence of your peers. It is a service job. It is a new function and different responsibilities. It will be challenging at times. I have a great team up here. I always remember it is an honor and a privilege to be here.”
Tyson, who is the Senate’s tax committee chair, has already been working on tax legislation and will introduce those bills once the session starts.
“It is all legislation we looked at last year,” Tyson said. “We are in a two-year bill cycle. The odd year starts the cycle and the even year ends it. Because last year was an even year, any bill that didn’t [get passed], they all died. The legislation we worked on at the end of the year, it passed the Senate and failed the House by four votes. We are quickly re-engaging with that legislation. Majority of the reason is that it has impact to individuals. In 2017, the federal government changed tax law and increased the standard deduction, so the majority of the people that itemized in Kansas may not be able to itemize. We are trying to make it so it is optional, so they can itemize on their tax returns. Otherwise, they are going to have a tax increase. We are trying to stop a tax increase. We have had plenty of tax increases in the state of Kansas and we need to stop that.”
Another bill she will pre-file is to brace up the KPERS fund, which could save the state $9 million, Tyson said.
Finch is excited to work with the new legislators and administration.
“We get new people with new ideas and new ways of doing things to the table,” Finch said. “That always refreshes the process. We have a new governor so you are dealing with a completely new person in charge of one of the branches of government. They will bring a different perspective. We are going to have an adjustment [period]. Everybody will be figuring out what the other is all about. It will be different.”
Tyson, who has been a legislator for a decade, and Finch, since 2012, understand compromise and the political process to get bills passed.
“It is about relationships,” Tyson said. “One person cannot pass legislation. You need 21 in the Senate and 63 in the House and you need the governor’s signature or you have to have super majority in the Legislature.”
Finch said legislators grow and learn the process the longer they serve.
“There are a lot of things that you learn by being here and doing,” he said. “We talk all time about 63, 21 and 1. The system is designed to kill legislation instead of pass it. There are so many ways that a bill can fall short. The founders did design a good system, hopefully the best-of-the-best ideas get through and the rest don’t make it.”
The Legislature still needs to get past the Gannon case, which involves school funding. Last session, a $500 million bill spread over five years was passed, but the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the Legislature must compensate for inflation.
Tyson and Finch are in favor of Kansans voting on a constitutional amendment, which hopefully could be a long-term solution.
“The court should not be naming a number,” Tyson said. “Hopefully, we can get a constitutional amendment — not one that stops lawsuits — but puts the breaks on them. It defines the language that is ambiguous. That is what my goal would be. A constitutional vote would allow the people [to have a say]. It is needed.”
Finch’s hope this is the last session of dealing with the Gannon case.
“I would hope more than that we would find a long-term solution,” Finch said. “How do we prevent the next case from happening? We have needs in other areas of the budget. The school funding takes up so much of the debate and of the bandwith up here. Ninety cents of every dollar that we spend is K-12, KPERS and social services. When you have to fund everything else out of that last dime, it is difficult to do.”
All three legislators agree mental health issues need to be out front in this session.
“The need is across all spectrums of our society,” Samsel said. “Teenage depression and suicide, veterans, even just regular folks. We have made it harder for our middle class, working class and low income class to get by day-to-day. There is a lot more stress and pressure to go along with life. The need for mental health is there.”
Tyson and Kelly, when she was in the Senate, together worked on mental health legislation.
“I know that is a priority of hers,” Tyson said. “It is not just [state hospitals], it is how it effects law enforcement, schools and the community. We have the community health centers that are part of that equation. There are so many pieces to this puzzle. We need to make sure it is getting the resources that it needs. It has been a battle I have fought and one that Gov.-elect [Kelly] and I have worked on.”
Finch has actively been involved getting funding for mental health in the past.
“Over the last several years, I have tried to do at least one piece of legislation each year for mental health issues,” he said. “Last year, it was juvenile crisis centers in trying to get those online. We will have more opportunities to talk about mental health this year. We need to be talking about mental health and finding ways to strengthen the safety net for those who have a mental health crisis. I am hopeful we can find a way to make investments in [Osawatomie State Hospital], updates, changes, and things it needs, so it can fulfill its mission.”
Samsel said schools and mental health are issues that are large and impact most Kansans.
Tyson and Finch said the food sales tax issue could receive traction this session. Tyson said bills to lower sales tax has passed one chamber or the other since she has been a legislator, but never both chambers in the same year.
“Hopefully that is something we can address this year,” Tyson said. “I know the governor made that one of her priorities. It is one of mine since I have been in the legislature.”
Taxes is still a hot button for the legislators.
“The government — if we would look diligent and see how they are spending their money — they are wasting money,” Tyson said. “I have found ways to save. I will continue to fight that battle. One of my goals is to get the tax legislation — the windfall from the federal government — keep that in the Kansas taxpayers hands and not grow Kansas government. We have had over $1 billion tax increase if you count the 2015 and 2017 [increases]. The last thing we should do is ask the taxpayers for more money.”
Finch said Kansans can only survive so much tax burden.
“We know people are willing to pay some level of taxes to have what they feel is essential,” he said. “We are a very small population state. Most of our economy is contingent on agriculture, which is seasonal and not always predictable. There is a tolerance on how much the taxpayers can pay. We cannot continue to see explosive growths in spending that we have to come up with tax revenue for. We have to be disciplined in our spending and taxation.”