Mike has created a news reel answering questions about this legislative session and his time as a representative for the people of the 43rd district of the Great State of Kansas.
The long column by Kansas Senate President Steve Morris in the June 25 paper cannot remain unchallenged , and I’m frankly surprised there was no editorial commentary. Let me therefore comment on his extraordinary attempt to run from his record and to cover those who voted with him in support of the calamitous budget bill. I speak for the legislators who acted responsibly and lost the battle in the House to make the state live within its means by two votes. Morris argues that there was no alternate but to raise taxes. He is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts, which are as follows:
Starting last fall, the Appropriations Committee met to develop the upcoming budget with the need to address a substantial shortfall in revenues. In this effort, five subcommittees laboriously went through department budgets line by line to see what cost savings were possible. I served on one of these subcommittees and in the aggregate we spent more than 1,000 hours to arrive at a balanced budget without a tax increase. This was ready by the end of March and Morris never let it come to the Senate floor to be debated. Therefore deliberations were deferred until the week of May 3, the wrap up session which is to last 5 days.
The much ridiculed attempt by Clay Chastain to promote a light rail system for Kansas City is back in the news. Although city voters approved Chastain\’s latest scheme, it is doubtful, however, that it will ever be built. It makes no economic sense and does not address the true transportation challenges facing not only the city but the entire metropolitan area.
Lack of hearing ,whether acquired at birth or later in life is a very serious problem for those suffering from it. For children it is not without danger.The scenario of a deaf child unable to hear an approaching threat is bone chilling. lt also poses great difficulties in providing a solid fundamental education necessary to develop into productive adults. Educating such children is complicated and costly,requiring exceptional teachers who are not only experts in their academic specialty but also in their desire and ability to communicate with deaf kids. We are fortunate to have the Kansas School for the Deaf in Olathe whose dedicated staff does great work under difficult circumstances.Unlike our other public schools KSD does not have the ability to raise funds under local option budget provisions and therefore budgetary constraints resulted in much lower salaries for KSD teachers.Last session Rep Arlen Siegfreid introduced legislation which brought KSD teacher salaries in line with what those teaching in Olathe schools get paid.With the help of the Olathe delegation this law passed. Technological and medical advances have helped the deaf . Cochlear implants can improve or restore hearing and modern hearing aides can assure that the wall of silence isolating those with hearing loss from the rest of society can be penetrated .Hearing aids are expensive ,ranging from $ 3000 to $ 6000, and they may need to be replaced every few years.This is an obvious burden on the elderly who live on fixed incomes. A constituent fro Spring Hill brought to my attention that insurance coverage for hearing aids is unavailable in Kansas.Not a single company writes it,you simply cannot buy it.Thinking this would be a quick fix I introduced HB 2125 which mandates that health insurance carriers must offer coverage.
If you meet the citizenship and residence requirements for concealed firearm carriage you may proceed with a rather slow and laborious process to apply. You fill in the necessary forms, pay $140 to the sheriff get fingerprinted and photographed, pay another $150 for a KBI investigation of your suitability and take an 8 hour course on gun safety, the law and self defense. Then you must demonstrate your ability to shoot by hitting a target from various distances. (The target is actually sent to the attorney General\’s office!) A few weeks later, providing you cleared all these hurdles you get approval and instructions to proceed to the drivers license bureau to complete the process. It turns out that everything you\’ve done so far is much less frustrating than what you are about to experience. Here is what happened to me:
Next to education Medicaid is the largest single expense in the Kansas budget. Those two items make up 80% of total state spending. Cost have been rising at double-digit rates during the past few years while fraud and abuse take an alarming share of every Medicaid dollar spent. I serve on the House/Senate Committee charged with addressing the problems the Kansas Medicaid program is facing and we held several weeks of hearings to do so. To begin with it must be understood that Medicaid insures the poorest of the poor, providing proper medical care to a special population, from small dependent children to the feeble old. The majority of funding comes from the federal government, the state pays little more than 40%. With the money from Washington come certain mandates, services which must be provided. Kansas has chosen to offer coverage or care beyond the Federal requirements. We were aced with two equally unpalatable choices to save costs: Tighten eligibility requirements and eliminate a umber of people now covered (this was done in Missouri) or limit coverage only to what is required under federal law. I determined early on that I could not support either solution, believing that we have a duty to take care of the weakest, the most vulnerable and defenseless amongst us. One area of great potential savings is the elimination of fraud and abuse. Testimony revealed that huge amounts of money are wasted on those who, by virtue of their own resources, are not eligible for Medicaid. There is also ample evidence of substantial provider fraud. Therefore the committee unanimously recommended and created a special position in the attorney generals office charged with investigating and prosecuting fraud. It is anticipated that conservatively estimating tens of millions dollars will be saved by this measure alone. It is hoped that this will improve the financial situation in the near term. The goal is to bring Medicaid spending under control without lowering the quality of care received by Medicaid patients. In the long term we\’ll need to find ways to involve the private sector health care providers to make to make Medicaid more patient friendly and less costly.
In our Democracy different levels of government make important decisions, which affect each of us directly. The municipal/county government has the task to assure police protection, garbage collection, and provision of proper utility services, park maintenance and the like. Party affiliation for County or City officials is therefore of marginal importance and, indeed, most city council elections are non-partisan.
The Watergate scandal in the early 1970\’s was impetus for the passage of ethics laws at all levels of government. State governments, in particular, began to create an ethics infrastructure that included stronger laws, training courses in ethics, and oversight entities to ensure compliance by public officials. Thirty nine states including Kansas, exercise oversight through an ethics commission which has some jurisdiction over legislators and the executive branch.
As a legal immigrant who left war-ravaged Europe for a better life in this country I can appreciate why so many are attempting to come to look for the same opportunities. When they do so legally, that is to say with proper visas, background checks, health certificates and a local sponsor they will be welcome additions to our melting pot. But what are we to do about those who flaunt our laws by crossing our borders illegally, so that we have no idea who they are (for all we know they could be criminals or, worse, terrorists)? We must stop them from entering the US for our own safety. Securing our borders is the responsibility of the Federal government, which has been lax in doing it\’s job in the past. To its credit the present administration is the first which seems willing to tackle the problem. Whether we build a fence or use the military we have to take measures to keep out illegals.
Monday June 6th, Zachary Kiegerl, age 11, set his alarm clock for 4 a.m. so he could meet his Opa at the Olathe Lung & Heart Center where Opa was scheduled for open heart surgery. Zachary had prepared a card which brought tears to the old man\’s eyes. \”I love you so much Opa that I thank God for you every day\” it said. After a few more words of love and affection, Zachary added \”Be nice to the nurses.\” He couldn\’t have imagined what those very nurses were about to do to his Opa during the next 4 days: poking, injecting, pulling out and restarting lines, making him blow into an insufferable breathing device and more, all to help cure him. Had Zachary known the indignities to be inflicted on Grandpa\’s poor body, he might have offered that admonition later.