New Governor

Following the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of Governor Brownback as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, he resigned as Governor of Kansas at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 31. Lieutenant-Governor Jeff Colyer succeeded him in a swearing-in ceremony in the Capitol rotunda.

Observers are curious to learn how their new Governor will compare in his policies and outlooks to his predecessor.  Coyler has suggested for months that he will bring a new tone to the Governor’s office but it is tough to gauge what that means in terms of his approach to school finance or Medicaid Expansion, for example. He has been more involved in certain issues than is typically true of the Lt. Governor’s office. He was heavily engaged with the appointment of the new Secretary of Children and Families and he was prominent in the roll-out of KanCare 2.0 – an expansion of Kansas’ Medicaid program which has now been rescinded. Coyler has 11 months in office to burnish his own brand of governing and persuade voters to hire him in his own right in November.


School Finance

Attendees at last week’s Legislative Leaders Forum, or Pie and Politics as some know it, heard from all three Senators serving Shawnee County. Senators Anthony Hensley, Laura Kelly and Vicki Schmidt provided useful background on the current school finance case and some insights into how the legislature may respond. It seems that legislators are essentially hovering around the issue until the hired consultant from Texas A&M, Dr. Lori Taylor, conducts the educational cost study she has been commissioned to do. Once Dr. Taylor’s report comes in, roughly Mar. 15, legislators will need to move quickly to absorb her thoughts and translate them into legislation. Attorney General Derek Schmidt is waiting anxiously to receive the legislature’s plan so he can draft court briefs defending it by the end of April.


Chamber Supports Abandoned Housing Bill

The Chamber submitted testimony last week in favor of legislation to give local governments enhanced abilities to retrieve dilapidated houses from wayward owners and put them in the hands of organizations which will restore them. This type of bill has been debated for years at the Statehouse and even passed the legislature last year, only to be vetoed by the Governor. The new legislation has been tweaked in hopes of addressing any lingering objections. A single blighted house can impair an entire neighborhood. The city has the ability to fine owners who do not keep their houses in compliance with local codes. Sometimes, though, the owner cannot be found and the city can find itself basically powerless to address the problem unless the house becomes so rundown it poses a safety risk to neighbors.  This legislation would be an important new tool in Topeka’s effort to raise the quality of life for all its citizens.


Chamber Supports Creation of Transportation Task Force

The METL coalition, consisting of the Topeka Chamber and the chambers of commerce from Manhattan, Lawrence and Emporia, submitted testimony last week in favor of a bill to establish a joint legislative transportation task force. The legislation was heard by the Senate Ways and Means Committee where numerous supporters emphasized the importance of a good transportation infrastructure to public safety and economic development.