Opinions

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Sen. Pat Pettey
Sen. Pat Pettey

Legislative update from Sen. Pat Pettey, D-6th Dist.

Jan. 20, 2015
In this issue:

• 2015 session convenes
• New committee assignment
• Governor delivers Inaugural Address
• Governor delivers State of the State Message
• Democrats respond
• Budget outlined
• Kansas ranks Among the “Terrible Ten” for regressive taxes
• President Obama’s visit

2015 session convenes

The 2015 legislative session is underway. Legislators ceremoniously convened Monday, Jan. 12, and awaited the annual State of the State address on Thursday, Jan. 15. Committees continue to meet this week to review proposed legislation.

Legislators will have full plates this year, as we debate a number of important issues including education funding and the budget deficits created by the governor’s reckless economic experiment.

I welcome your input on any of these issues. Please feel free to visit or contact me at 785-296-7375, if you should have any questions. Or stop by my legislative office, located in room 125-E of the Topeka Statehouse.

Daily calendars, committee and district information, and full text and summaries of bills are all available online at www.kslegislature.org. To hear legislative proceedings, just click on “Listen in Live.”

New committee assignment

Senate leadership created a new committee to help relieve the Judiciary committee’s workload. This committee is the Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee. I am serving on this committee as the ranking member. I am the only Democrat who serves on this seven-person committee. The committee meets daily at 9:30 a.m.

Governor delivers inaugural address

Gov. Brownback was sworn in for his second term on Monday and delivered his Inaugural address. While he finally recognized that the state is facing severe economic problems, he gave blame to a “crisis of the family” rather than taking responsibility for the results of his disastrous economic experiment.

There is a big difference between a “crisis of the family” and a “family in crisis.” The governor’s policies have created the latter. Gov. Brownback needs to recognize the impact his tax policy has had on average, hardworking Kansans.

Governor delivers state of the state message

On Thursday, Jan. 15, Gov. Sam Brownback delivered his fifth State of the State Address before a joint session of Senate and House members, cabinet secretaries and dozens of state dignitaries.

In his speech, Gov. Brownback outlined his 2015 legislative priorities, including:
• Overhauling the school finance formula
• Continuing on the “glide path to zero” income taxes
• Moving local elections to November
• Changes to the selection of Supreme Court justices

Unlike in his Inaugural address, the governor placed blame on the state’s self-imposed budget crisis on the “increases in K-12 spending since Fiscal Year 2014.” The reality is Brownback and his allies have cut statewide funding by nearly $442 million over the past three years.

From 2007 to 2009, the state lost $600 million due to the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Last year, our state’s revenue dropped by $700 million and it is the direct result of Gov. Brownback’s disastrous “real live experiment.”

Democrats respond: The state of our state is bad

As is tradition, the minority party outlined its own legislative priorities during an official response to the State of the State. This year, the response was given by Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley.

The Kansas Legislature faces one of the most serious and significant situations the state has seen in a long time, if ever. Democrats remain committed to finding real solutions that embrace our shared Kansas values:

• Ensuring all Kansas children – regardless of where they live or how much money their parents make – receive the first class education they deserve.
• Creating good paying, quality jobs that allow Kansans to support their families. This means continuing to oppose raids of the highway funds. Studies have shown our current transportation plan will create 175,000 jobs. This is more certain that what might be created by the governor’s experiment.
• Easing the burden on low-income and middle-class families as well as those living on fixed incomes.
• Maintaining a solvent pension fund for Kansas public employees.
• Opposing further cuts to important state investments that have yet to recover from the Great Recession.

I also remain committed to being fiscally responsible and making sure everyone pays their fair share. I believe our state will prosper when we invest in the people of Kansas.

Budget revisions outlined

Gov. Brownback released his proposal for the FY 2016 and FY 2017 budget on Friday, Jan. 16. The proposal includes some very concerning components, including eliminating the school finance formula established in 1992 and replacing it with a block grant. However, very little information is provided as to how the grant would work. It is very likely, though, that would significantly increase the burden at the local level – property taxes.

I’ll do my best to keep you up-to-date in the coming weeks as legislators begin to work through specific budget issues. In the meantime, to access the Governor’s Budget Report in full, visit the Kansas Division of Budget’s website at http://budget.ks.gov.

Kansas ranks 9th for regressive taxes: report

A 2015 report released by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy that evaluates fairness of state and local tax systems by measuring the taxes paid by different income groups ranked Kansas as the ninth in their list of “terrible ten” most regressive tax state. The report found that in Kansas the poorest 20 percent pay more than 11 percent of their income to taxes—three times what the top 1 percent of earners pay in taxes on their income.

President Obama’s visit

I am honored to have the opportunity to attend the speech that President Obama will be delivering at the University of Kansas on Thursday. I look forward to providing all of you with highlights of his speech in my next newsletter.

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by William Crum

Last Friday night I had an amazing experience. I had the opportunity to ride along with Officer Mike Henderson in the East Patrol division of the Kansas City, Kan., Police Department.

It was 10 o’clock; roll call was made by the watch commander. As I watched I often thought of the old TV show called Hill Street Blues, which many of you will remember. After roll call the watch commander briefed the officers on duty informing them of what is going on in the area that they will patrol. The officers on duty had very few questions to ask, each officer listened closely and they all took notes on what was going on in the area by which they will patrol. At the end of the roll call, the watch commander told everyone to back each other up.

Afterwards, Officer Henderson and I went down to get the patrol car which we will be riding in. Officer Henderson checked everything that was in the car including all firearms. As we both entered the patrol car we put our seatbelts on. Officer Henderson has roughly 50 pounds of safety equipment on him including a bullet proof vest. As I put my seatbelt on I could feel a sense of anticipation of what I’m soon to see. “You are afraid are you? You be OK,” Officer Henderson said.

As we left the building Officer Henderson checked the siren to make sure it works properly and off we went on our first call. First call was for someone was stopped for speeding. There was several other patrol cars there as well backing each other up. “We expect the worst always. This is why we back each other up,” Officer Henderson said.

As we drove our next call I really got know Officer Henderson. What I found out is he’s a family man who likes being a police officer and likes the community which he patrols.

Our second call was a woman who called the police because someone was knocking on her door. When we got there were several other officers there as well. I talked to them. Every one of the officers that was there was a lot like Officer Henderson. They, like Mike, enjoy being a police officer and enjoy their community where they live. They are a total team and you could see this in their actions and how they interact with each other.

Things were slow at this time so Mike decided to do a patrol. As we drove by we ran across an elderly woman who was parked by the side of the road. Her tire was flat and you could tell she was frightened sitting in her car. Officer Henderson got the car and asked her, “Ma’am are you OK?” “Yes,” she said, “but I’m really scared!” “You will be OK, you have anybody coming to fix you tire?” Officer Henderson said. The woman said, “My son is on his way.” No sooner than she said it, her son pulled up behind the vehicle. Her son got out of the vehicle and said to Officer Henderson, “Thanks for watching my mother till I got here, I really appreciate it, we will be OK. Thank you so very much.”

Officer Henderson said that a lot of people don’t realize that police officers are people too.
“We care about the people in our community, after all they are our friends and neighbors,” he said.

He said he and many other officers chosen this profession because they care about the community, a lot of them don’t like being tied down to desk jobs, and the feeling of helping someone else out when they are in need gives them a sense of purpose in life.

Many of the officers have been working together as a team for 12 years and know each other very well, he said.

As we drove along a call came, this time it was a domestic violence case, where the couple is not getting along with each other. These cases like this are the worst kind’ you really don’t know what to expect, Officer Henderson said. As we got there were other patrol cars as well, keeping an eye on the situation in case someone gets unruly.

As the night progressed not much was going on, everything was quiet for the most part.

We did 11 calls, the reason is the winter months and everything is quiet, Officer Henderson said. During the summer months, the workload triples. “We really get extremely busy during the summer months,” Officer Henderson said.

As the night ended we pulled into the police garage and went upstairs to check out with the watch commander. Come back another time when we are busy and you can really see what we do, this is been a slow night, said the watch commander.

What I learned was police officers are people too. They have families like you and me. They’re going to make mistakes, after all, everyone is human. As I walked to my car I felt a sense of gratification and honor to be a part of one of the most compelling experiences in my life. He gave me a new perspective on life a sense of appreciation and admiration for every officer. This was truly one of the most enlightening experiences I’ve ever had in my life. To be a police officer takes a certain breed of individual, a person who not only cares about himself but about their community as well. I salute every officer for what they’re doing for our community as well. I also want to do thank Officer Mike Henderson and the East Patrol division and others of the Kansas City, Kan., Police Department for what they are doing in our community.

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by Cathi Hahner

On Jan. 19, the nation will honor the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. Communities will come together to remember King and the imprint he left on mankind. He was a man of faith, peace and of service.

One quote attributed to King that resonates with me is, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” This is the perfect time to do a self-examination and take inventory of your service to others.

What do you do to make your neighborhood, your community, your world a better place to be? Do you help your next door neighbor? Are you a scout leader or a little league coach? Do you tutor at the neighborhood school? Have you organized a food drive for the local food pantry? Do you have a couple hours a week to help at the local homeless shelter?

Opportunities to serve are nearby. Our youth need strong adult role models who can mentor, tutor, coach and lead. The homeless need shelter and the hungry need food. The sick need comforting. All these needs can be met by the generosity of great volunteers. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve.” Be great … honor the memory of King through your volunteer service.

Local celebrations include the 30th annual KCK Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Celebration at Jack E. Reardon Convention Center. The event will kick off with a ‘”Motorcade for Hunger” which aims to both call attention to the plight of the hungry and collect food for local pantries. Volunteers are needed to join with their vehicles as the motorcade drives a selected route through the community spreading the word about hunger. Motorcade vehicles will meet at 9 a.m. at Mount Zion Baptist Church, 4th and Richmond. The route will depart promptly at 10 a.m. and end at the convention center.

Volunteers are also welcome to organize a food drive prior to the motorcade or bring non-perishable items to the United Way office, 434 Minnesota, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday-Friday prior to the event. For more information contact Cathi at chahner@unitedway-wyco.org or Emily at eworm@unitedway-wyco.org or call 913-371-3674, Ext. 1308.

Rosedale Development Association is holding “RISE: Reading Inspirational Stories to Empower,” where community volunteers read a story about civil rights to school-age children for about 30 minutes throughout the week. For more information contact Andrea Steere at 913-677-5097 or ahnna@rosedale.org.

To celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. this year, take the MLK Day Challenge by making a commitment to serve not just on one day, but throughout the year. For information on how you can be great through service check out the website at www.unitedway-wyco.org and click on volunteer.

Cathi Hahner is director of volunteer services, United Way of Wyandotte County.

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