On Jan. 14, the Kansas Legislature gathered in Topeka for the House and Senate swearing in and the official start of the 2013 session. Seventy-one freshmen legislators took the oath of office. Among the 125 House members, 55 are freshmen; however, six have previous legislative experience. In the Senate there are 16 freshmen, but 11 have previous legislative experience. My Committee assignments include Agriculture & Natural Resources, Transportation and Federal & State.
Updates from this past week include:
* Tax policy -- Last session, the largest tax cut in state history was signed into law, dropping the top rate from 6.45 percent to 4.9 pecent and the bottom rate from 3.5 percent to 3. percent.
Because of that bold step, the tide is turning. The results from last year's tax reduction are already beginning to show that growth can be achieved by leaving money in the private sector. Kansas saw 1,500 more business filings in 2012 than in 2011 and surrounding states are scrambling to lower rates to remain competitive with Kansas.
* Budget -- On Wednesday, the governor's budget was presented to the House Appropriations Committee. The governor is proposing a two-year budget, rather than the normal one year budget. His proposal protects education funding, essential services for the needy, fully funds T-Works (the transportation plan) and leaves the state with the required 7.5 percent. Over the past two years, the legislatures have worked to return fiscal discipline to Kansas, taking the state from only $876.10 carry-over in the bank, and facing an estimated $550 million shortfall, to closing out the 2012 fiscal year with a positive ending balance of $502.9 million, which helps position Kansas to be economically stable.
* Combining KDOT and KTA -- There are currently two agencies that deal with Kansas highways; the Kansas Department of Transportation and Kansas Turnpike Authority. It is estimated that having KDOT take over the daily operations of KTA would save about $15 million. This is something the governor is urging and the proposal is being studied.
* Judicial selection -- Currently, Kansas appellate court judges are selected through a process by which a commission made up of members of the Kansas Bar Association choose three nominees of whom the governor then appoints one to fill a vacancy on the court.
This places a lot of power in the hands of those who are unelected and are not responsible to the people. Kansas is the only state that gives such authority to its bar association in the judicial nomination process. The governor has asked the legislature to reform the process to a more democratic model. He made two suggestions, one was to model the selection after the federal model, governor appoints and Senate confirms, or direct election. The House will work to achieve reasonable reform.
* Gun rights -- Numerous constituents contacted my office with their concerns about the federal gun control proposals. Possible legislation for Kansas is being discussed.
* Right to life -- On Jan. 22, the Right to Life March converged on the Topeka Capitol. Many families attended from the 4th District and it was good to see some folks from home.
Editor's Note: Marty Read, R-Mound City, is the newly elected District 4 House representative for this area.