My name is Amanda Gress, and this semester I have the opportunity to work as an intern for Rep. Bollier. This week, I will be sharing my perspective of what is happening here in Topeka.
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I chose to intern at the Statehouse during my final semester in college because I care deeply about the future of our state. I grew up in Overland Park, and I met Barbara last summer during the primary campaign. After knocking on just a few doors in District 21 with her I knew that she would be a fantastic mentor and guide for me here in Topeka. I will graduate from the University of Kansas with degrees in economics and political science in May, and I plan to work with an advocacy or lobbying group in Kansas for a few years before returning to graduate school.
I begin a typical day on the job by reading the House Calendar, which includes the agendas for committee hearings and the bills that will be heard on the floor. (Anyone can access the House and Senate Calendars online.) The Capitol is a bit like a three-ring circus: there may be multiple notable debates and hearings happening at any given time during the day. As representatives must attend their own committees, oftentimes interns will serve as their eyes and ears in other parts of the Statehouse. I usually attend the House Appropriations, Education, and Taxation Committees. That has given me a front row seat to both the challenge of crafting a $6 billion dollar state budget, and to some of the most contentious debates during the session thus far.
Given the state's troubling fiscal trajectory and my background studying state finance, I most wanted to learn about the budget process when I began working here. I'll take a moment to share how the state budget gets put together, because it's a fascinating process that I did not completely understand before watching it in person. During the first week of the Session, the Governor submits a proposed budget to the Legislature. That recommendation is referred to the major legislative budget committees: House Appropriations and Senate Ways and Means. Those committees then break the budget up into separate pieces and send those pieces to smaller budget committees for review. Each of those committees hears from the agencies submitting budgets and may modify the Governor's recommendations. The amended budgets are then returned back to the major budget committees, which may further modify the proposals. Those budgets then go to the House floor, where they may again be amended for passage. Finally, the separate House and Senate budgets are reconciled. We have now reached the stage where most budgets have been returned to the House Appropriations Committee, which has begun its reviews without major departures from the Governor's recommended budget.
As a newcomer, this process can seem disjointed at times – legislators on individual committees are unable to address the budget as a whole before it comes to the floor for a final vote, and they must make big decisions about agency budgets with limited time to discuss each state agency. Good lawmakers are able to drill down into the detail of those budgets to make adjustments. For example, Rep. Bollier is currently working to adjust the amount of money a school receives once a student has completed a vocational certificate. Last week we met with a lawyer from the Revisor's Office to discuss how the incentive could better reflect the cost of the actual certificate, and I was able to watch legislation be written in about ten minutes.
I have been surprised that the most contentious debates I have seen in the Legislature have occurred in the House Education Committee. Last week, the committee considered a bill requiring parents to grant schools permission to teach sexual education to students. After two days of heated testimony and debate, the committee passed HB 2199. You can read more about that debate here.
This Monday, the committee listened to an equally controversial bill to bar Kansas schools from receiving any federal money conditioned on the implementation of Common Core educational standards. You can read more about HB 2292 here.
Wichita Eagle article
Today, the committee listened to testimony on HB 2139, a bill repealing the 2003 Kansas DREAM Act. Currently, Kansas students who are undocumented immigrants and meet certain criteria receive in-state tuition. Several KU students testified in opposition to the bill.
This is "turnaround" week, meaning that legislation must be passed out of either the House or the Senate and sent to the other house for consideration by Friday. In the House, if a bill has originated or been referred to the Appropriations, Taxation, or Federal and State Affairs Committees it is exempt from this deadline. Today I learned that often the legislature works around this deadline by temporarily referring a bill to an exempt committee. Committees will not meet this Wednesday through Friday, and legislators will spend the majority of their days on the House Floor debating legislation and voting.
This committee continues to hear testimony about the state's long-term water outlook. The budget crisis affects every aspect of state government, and the state's water policy is no different: according to the Kansas Water Authority, only the highest priority projects have escaped cuts. Rep. Bollier encouraged the Water Authority to continue communicating with the Governor, who did not fund the state's share of the Kansas Water Plan in his budget. You can read more about the state of water finance here.
Health and Human Services
Rep. Bollier introduced HB 2149, which would allow the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to reimburse medical facilities for donor breast milk prescribed to infants with KanCare insurance. The committee unanimously passed the bill.
The committee also approved HB 2282, legalizing medicinal hemp oil for individuals suffering seizure disorders. Rep. Bollier supported the narrowly tailored measure
Last week, the committee approved the Governor's budget for K-12 public schools and the Kansas State Department of Education. Although over a month has passed since the State of the State address, no details are forthcoming regarding the Governor's proposed block grant for public school funding while the Legislature develops a new school finance formula. (In fact, last week the House Education Committee Chair remarked that "nobody knows what a block grant would look like at this point" during committee.) During the Education Budget Committee's hearings, superintendents expressed concern that an inflexible block grant could not account for increases or decreases in enrollment. Rep. Bollier suggested that the state instead utilize the existing school finance formula until a new allocation method is developed; that suggestion did not gain the support of the committee.
Last Thursday, Rep. Bollier participated in a legislative forum on the state of school finance hosted by the Mainstream Coalition, which also included Rep. Melissa Rooker, Rep. Nancy Lusk, and State Board of Education member Janet Waugh. You can watch a recording here.
Kansas Library Resources
The state librarian continues to share state resources with Rep. Bollier to pass along to her constituents. The State Library subscribes to the LearningExpress Library (www.tinyurl.com/kansaslel) a compilation of online educational resources. These include basic skills tutorials, preparation materials for standardized exams, and career development tools.
These links are accessible via the Internet from the state of Kansas. If you're accessing these resources outside of Kansas, you'll need to sign up for an eCard at your local library.
The State Library is located in the north wing, on the third floor of the Kansas Capitol Building and serves state government, librarians, and every Kansas resident. You can find them online at www.kslib.info.
Pages at the Capitol
Last Thursday, Ethan, Evan, and Will from Prairie Elementary School spent the day as legislative pages at the Capitol. These young men joined the representatives on the House floor, toured the Statehouse, and emphasized the value of their own public education while they spoke with Rep. Bollier. I was particularly impressed by their knowledge of state government and Kansas history, and it was a delight to have them in the office for the day. Below is a photo taken with Lieutenant Governor Colyer.
I am thankful for this opportunity to learn about my state's government firsthand from one of the kindest, most knowledgeable representatives in the Capitol. Rest assured, Representative Bollier is very good at representing you. She works hard to prepare for committees and research legislation, she seeks out other legislators to share her information and viewpoint, and she always prioritizes voting her conscience over making politically easy decisions. She also absolutely loves to hear from constituents, so make sure you contact her with your opinions and concerns. I am looking forward to watching the rest of the session unfold, and to helping Rep. Bollier serve the residents of District 21.
My thanks to Amanda for sharing with you her experiences. She has been a fabulous intern and I am grateful for her assistance this session! As always, it is a pleasure to serve you here in the State House. Feel free to contact me as needed.
Rep. Barbara Bollier
State Representative, District 21
Kansas House of Representatives
785-296-7686 (Topeka Office)