Labor secretary learned early about importance of good workers

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Opinion column


by Murrel Bland

Delia Garcia knows how important having a qualified workforce is to a business. She grew up and worked in a family restaurant, Connie’s Mexico Café in Wichita. She also learned the importance of good customer service.

Garcia was the featured speaker at the monthly meeting of the Congressional Forum Friday, May 17, at Children’s Mercy Park. The Kansas City, Kansas, Area Chamber of Commerce sponsors the forum.

Gov. Laura Kelly appointed Garcia as Kansas secretary of labor earlier this year. The Kansas Senate confirmed the appointment 38-1.

Garcia, 42, served in the Kansas House from 2005 until 2010, representing the 103rd District in Wichita. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Wichita State University and a Master of Arts degree from St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, Texas. She also worked as a professor at Butler County Community College, El Dorado, Kansas. She was a member of the Kansas Democratic Caucus.

The Kansas Department of Labor administers unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, employment standards and industrial health and safety. The agency also records statistics for the state of Kansas labor market, keeping tract of employment and unemployment data, noting information by industry and wages. Labor force needs also are forecast.

Garcia said her agency also works with the Kansas departments of commerce and education to help assure that there is an adequate and well-trained workforce. She also said she works with the Department of Corrections to help train those who are incarcerated.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.

Legislative update by Rep. Pam Curtis, D-32nd Dist.

Rep. Pam Curtis

Opinion column

by Rep. Pam Curtis

The Legislature hit the ground running when we returned for the veto session on Wednesday, May 1. It was a short veto session.

We worked late into the night on Saturday, May 4, with the House adjourning around 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, May 5, and Senate adjourning around 2:45 a.m. The House Majority Leader moved to suspend Rule 101, known as the midnight rule. The rule was created for safety reasons as the result of a legislator passing away on the drive home after working through the night several years ago. With the rule in place, the Legislature may not begin to address any legislation after midnight however, that rule is often suspended.

The domestic violence bill to enhance notification at time of arrest that I co-sponsored with Rep. Ponka-We Victors did make it through the Senate in the final days and is headed to the governor for her signature.

Rep. Jerry Stogsdill and I worked on increasing funding for the arts through the budget committee process and I am happy to report that the arts funding for FY 2020 was increased to $500,000. This is a good first step in restoring the commitment to state funding for the arts. Additionally, the Legislative Post Audit Committee approved our request for a study on the Economic Impact of the Arts in Kansas.

The bill I introduced to return to local control the ability to require prevailing wage be paid on local public construction projects is still in committee and remains alive until next year. This gives a little more time to talk to legislators and convince more of them of the benefit of paying prevailing wage and the importance of this policy to Wyandotte County.

The Legislature has adjourned until sine die (the formal last day of session), Wednesday, May 29, at 10 a.m.

It is a special honor to serve as your state representative. I value and appreciate your input on issues facing state government. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions. My office address at the Statehouse is: Room 452-S, 300 SW 10th, Topeka, KS 66612. You can reach me at 785-296-7430 or call the legislative hotline at 1-800-432-3924 to leave a message for me. You can also email me at: pam.curtis@house.ks.gov.

Stalemate over budget and Medicaid expansion ends

During the veto session, the House and Senate budget conference committee kicked out the omnibus budget for a vote in both chambers – SB 25. This was a good budget, closely aligning with the governor’s budget proposal presented in January. The budget would fully fund our schools, includes significant support for our most vulnerable Kansans and families, raises the pay for corrections officers as well as state employees, while paying down state debt and increasing funding for the Board of Regents. There were many other good pieces in this legislation.

There was a lot to like in that budget, but one key piece was missing: Medicaid expansion. More than 70 percent of Kansans, a majority of both legislative chambers, and the governor all support expansion. A strong bipartisan coalition came together on Friday, May 3, to block the budget in protest. The coalition planned to block the budget (the one piece of legislation required to pass before the legislature can adjourn the session) until Medicaid expansion received a debate in the Senate. The votes to pass expansion are there, but Republican leadership continued to block efforts to bring the bill to the floor for debate and a vote.

This bipartisan movement upset the ultra-conservative leadership. As a result, the budget was sent back to committee and cuts were made to vital pieces of the budget. Many stood strong in hopes of having both a good budget and Medicaid expansion. The budget was voted down on Friday night by the coalition of House Democrats and moderate Republicans.

However, threats continued from Republican leadership in an effort to punish legislators and force them to abandon Medicaid expansion. Moderate Republicans began to abandon the effort. This left the former bipartisan coalition significantly short of the votes we needed to continue our effort. The budget – with cuts – eventually passed the House after the vote was left open while arm-twisting ensued and votes were flipped.

Overall, it is still a good budget, but it is not the budget we desired. One of the biggest changes is within the budget for the Kansas Department of Corrections, making it more difficult to raise the pay for corrections officers. This is especially concerning considering we are in the midst of a state of emergency within our prison system. The governor’s original budget directed $35 million in new funding for KDOC to address dire staffing problems and overcrowding in state prisons. Now, the corrections department will have to request financial approval from the council, which will create further hurdles for a system already in crisis.

Senate continues to obstruct Medicaid expansion

Despite having support from 70 percent of Kansans and passing the House with a bipartisan majority, Senate leadership continues to obstruct Medicaid expansion. Prior to first adjournment, a procedural motion was made to pull the bill out of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. On May 1, voting for the motion were 23 senators, but it required 24 votes to succeed. Despite the failed motion, the vote showed that a majority, like in the House, of senators support expansion. At this point, just two people in Senate leadership standing between lifesaving care for more than 150,000 Kansans.

As a strategy of stalling Medicaid expansion for another year, ultra-conservative leadership said that yet another study will be conducted and we will see a bill in January. Medicaid expansion has been thoroughly studied and discussed for over five years. The benefits are innumerable. Meanwhile, Kansas loses more than $2 million every day we fail to implement Medicaid expansion and our neighbors struggling with illness or disability are left to fend for their health another year.

Veto override attempt fails

On April 22, Gov. Kelly vetoed Senate Bill 67, the abortion “reversal” pill. The bill has no basis in scientific fact, and is not only unproven to be effective, but is not even FDA approved.

On May 1, Republican leadership attempted an override of the governor’s veto. The veto was successfully overridden in the Senate with a 27 to 13 vote. On the House side, however, the 84 votes necessary to override were not there – one Republican stood alongside every House Democrat to sustain the governor’s veto.


Brownback tax plan 3.0 introduced

Earlier this session, Gov. Kelly vetoed Senate Bill 22, a bill that favored giant, multinational corporations at the expense of working Kansans. There was going to be an effort in both the House and Senate to override her veto, however, it didn’t gain traction when Republican leadership realized they didn’t have the votes. For a variety of reasons, this bill has been disliked by many varying political factions, Republican and Democratic alike.

The new version of Senate Bill 22 (House Bill 2033) is different in a few small aspects, but the meat of the bill is still the same. HB 2033 is another attempt at a repeat of the failed Brownback tax experiment. Preliminary estimates show that the bill would cost the state $245 million over the next three years, with the impact being a major hit to hardworking Kansans. Because this bill was hastily drafted and many of the financial impacts are still relatively unknown, the House Democrats pushed for an interim committee and to revisit the bill in January so that it can be thoroughly studied.

HB 2033 passed the senate with a 27 to 13 vote and passed the house with 83 to 41 votes.


Week on the floor


During the veto session, the House worked several conference committee reports on the floor. All of these bills passed through the chamber. They are as follows:
HB 2223: Adopting economic development program evaluation and information disclosure regimes and expanding economic development incentive financing to address housing shortages.
SB 25: House Substitute for SB 25 by Committee on Appropriations – Appropriations for FY 2019, FY 2020, FY 2021 and FY 2022 for various state agencies.
HB 2140: Allowing agents of the KBI to participate in the Kansas DROP act and extending the sunset date for the act.
HB 2033: Providing sales tax authority for Finney County, and specifying certain county sales tax collection requirements of director of taxation.
SB 28: Updating the expiration date of risk-based capital instructions.
SB 53: Designating the official red and white wine grapes of Kansas.
HB 2290: Creating a crime victims compensation division within the attorney general’s office.
HB 2203: Exempting individuals employed by the Kansas academies of U.S. department of defense STARBASE program from KPERS working after retirement requirements and authorizing reimbursement of suspended retirement benefits for certain retirants.
HB 2248: Allowing all-terrain vehicles to cross federal or state highways.


Resources

My Legislative Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/PamCurtisKCK.
My Twitter account, https://twitter.com/pcurtiskck
My website, https://www.curtisforkck.com/
Kansas Legislature website, http://kslegislature.org/

State representative tells of frustration during recent session

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Opinion column


by Murrel Bland

There is an old saying that goes something like this:

“Those who like legislation and sausage would do well not to see either of them being made.”

That certainly proved true during the recent session of the Kansas Legislature. And that process proved very disappointing to State Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore (D-36th Dist.) of western Wyandotte County. She explained her severe frustration at a meeting of the Legislative Committee Friday, May 10, at the Chamber of Commerce office.

Rep. Moore was particularly upset that the proposed Medicaid expansion bill failed to pass. It was even more disgusting to Rep. Moore to see the way that conservative Republican leadership twisted arms to kill the measure.

Rep. Moore knows firsthand how important expanded Medicaid could be to the 150,000 Kansans who do not have any health insurance coverage. She works for the University of Kansas Health System.

At one time, there were 70 members of the Kansas House and 24 members of the Kansas Senate who favored the expanded Medicaid. This was a coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats.

But in final days of the legislative session, Rep. Moore said she saw the conservative leadership pick off Medicaid proponents, even though polls and Kansas hospitals overwhelmingly favored the expansion. The bill, which would have been funded 90 percent by the federal government, would have been particularly helpful for uninsured residents of Wyandotte County.

Rep. Moore said that State Sen. Jim Denning (R- Eighth Dist.) of Overland Park has said he will sponsor a bill next year that will be a version of such an expansion, suggesting that there needs to be a “work provision” in the law. She said that sounds good — that a person needs to work to receive the benefits. However, she said that in other states enforcing that work provision proved too costly.

Another discouraging aspect of this legislative session was that it ended at 3:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.