LEGISLATIVE UPDATE:   Session passes midpoint

Representative, 70th District

Hello from the legislative session in Topeka.

We have finally made it past the midway point of the session. While much work lies ahead, we have made progress on many issues. Bills passed by the House will now go to the Senate, and those passed by the Senate will be considered by the House.

I was honored to carry six bills during the first weeks of the session, including bills to enhance opportunities for our military veterans, improve the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, and reform aspects of our Juvenile Justice Code.

Recently, Speaker of the House Ray Merrick invited me to participate in his weekly press conference to discuss pending legislation, and to draw on my experience as a district court judge to elaborate on the use of drug testing in “child in need of care” cases.

While working bills and holding various hearings garner the lion’s share of our time during the session, I’ve been pleased to host constituents who visit the Capitol, including some of our brightest young students. It was a pleasure to visit with four terrific 4-H members from Marion County, and four FFA members from Centre High School. They are a true inspiration and a reminder that the work we do in Topeka needs to lay a foundation for success and a desirable quality of life for future generations.

The legislative debate may take place in Topeka, but the ideas and solutions to keep our state moving forward are found in our communities. I truly enjoy traveling the district, speaking with community groups, and meeting individually to hear your concerns.

Recently, I attended “legislative day” meetings hosted by the Marion Chamber of Commerce and the town of Tampa respectively. I find attending these functions beneficial as we tackle issues affecting our communities.

We continue to debate whether Kansas should move from the state income tax to a greater reliance on sales tax. Gov. Sam Brownback proposes the current state sales tax rate is sufficient to make up for a reduction in income taxes due to anticipated economic growth.

He notes robust growth in states that have no income tax, and increased interest in movement of businesses to Kansas following passage of the income tax reductions that became effective Jan. 1. Tax reform is a complex issue, and I continue to gather more information as we examine the best path forward.

While not yet finalized, it is likely that education funding will again be increased, maintaining average per student funding well above $12,000. The level of per student funding invested by the state has led to closer scrutiny of how those dollars are being spent, and whether student outcomes can be improved.

The Education Committee is seeking reforms to produce a more “child-centric” K-12 education approach that will work with children’s individual abilities, and encourage teaching skills that match more closely with the needs of Kansas employers.

Veterans are given little credit for their training and must undergo costly and time consuming civilian training programs to meet state certification requirements. As a veteran myself, I was honored to carry and move to House passage a bill that will remove these barriers to employment and recognize military training toward fulfillment of state certification requirements.

Please share your thoughts with me on these or any other issue of concern. I can be reached by email at johnbarker2012@yahoo.com or drop me a letter at Rep. John E. Barker; 103 Wassinger Ave.; Abilene, KS 67410. I can be reached via phone in Topeka during the legislative session at (785) 296-7674 or in the district at (785) 479-7519.

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