Last night, Wichita-area legislators met in the jury room at the Sedgwick county courthouse to hear from citizens about their concerns for the upcoming Kansas legislative session. About 22 legislators attended. Absent by my reckoning were Jason Watkins (it was explained that he was in Topeka), Brenda Landwehr, Raj Goyle, Steve Huebert, Mike Petersen, Delia Garcia, Joe McLeland, Tom Sawyer, and Ty Masterson. Perhaps 75 or so citizens attended.
Meeting chair Carolyn McGinn explained that this meeting was primarily a chance for citizens to speak to the legislators, and that’s what happened. The meeting started with each legislator introducing themselves, describing the boundaries of the district they represent, and naming the committees they serve on. Remarkably, no one took this opportunity to speak at length.
30 citizens signed up to speak, so chair McGinn announced that the time limit would be two minutes for each speaker.
Speakers included Candice Hare, who is in charge of communications for the Socialist Party of Kansas. She said that people have a growing expectation of government to solve employment and environment problems. Some form of universal health care is inevitable, she said, and she wants Kansas to be at the forefront of this issue. Also, more rail service is needed in the state transportation system, which would create many jobs. Wichita needs more public transit, too.
Dave Trabert, president of the Flint Hills Center spoke about property tax reform. The appraisal system is what is driving the increase in the property taxes that homeowners and businesses pay. The plan to solve this is called Proposition K, designed by Art Hall of the Center for Applied Economics at KU. The elements of the plan are to establish a baseline value for each piece of property. Then, have a fixed increase each year, probably two percent each year. Finally, adopt a cost-based standard for new construction.
William Davitt spoke about several issues. He wants to get fathers back in the family, taking care of their children. He said we must elect municipal court judges so that they are free and independent, instead of being supervised by the city manager. Locking drunks in jail is not working, and the new drug court will not work, as there is no good long term treatment in Wichita. Finally, he urged legislators to not use eminent domain to destroy our places of business and our homes.
Walt Chappell, who is newly elected to the state board of education, spoke about the three Cs: cooperation, consolidation, and coalitions. We have too many small school districts in Kansas, he said. There could be $200 to $300 million in savings each year by consolidating small school districts. Coalitions are essential. We have too many taxing units.
Many of the speakers spoke about the state child welfare system and alleged abuses within this system. I’ve heard some of these speakers before, and they are very passionate about their cause. Many members of the audience would interject agreement or applause while these people spoke. It seems that a common problem is that grandparents have grandchildren who somehow get involved in the system, and then the grandparents can’t get custody of these children, even though they would very much like to have custody. Some speakers allege corruption at all levels of the system, and name several judges as complicit.
The meeting started shortly after 7:00 pm and ended at about 9:00 pm.