OSAWATOMIE – Thirty-one people braved bitterly cold temperatures on a recent Saturday morning to hear four state lawmakers tackle a number of issues during a legislative coffee held at Osawatomie High School.
The Osawatomie Chamber of Commerce-hosted coffee on Feb. 13 also attracted an online audience of a dozen constituents on the chamber's Facebook page.
Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican, said one of her focuses this session is on economic development.
“I think if you drive around anywhere – Miami County, Johnson County, any county, you’re going to see all kinds of businesses that have shuttered,” Baumgardner said.
Businesses have not been able to recover lost revenues during the Gov. Laura Kelly-ordered pandemic shutdown that occurred in March, April, May and June, Baumgardner said.
When asked about increasing the minimum wage, Baumgardner and the other lawmakers were not in favor of it.
“I want us to focus on economic development so that businesses can reopen. I want us to find ways to retrain or to train folks in career and technical areas where they can have a sustaining wage,” Baumgardner said. “To mandate what an employer is going to pay after we mandated that employers had to shut down I think is just not fair.”
Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Parker Republican, is calling on the state-imposed moratorium at the Osawatomie State Hospital (OSH) to be lifted now.
Tyson, a champion of the hospital, stepped in to help secure COVID-19 vaccine doses for OSH when it was overlooked by the state.
“I’ve asked the governor to lift the moratorium, and I think others have too,” Tyson said. “She said they are proposing legislation. It does not need legislation. We need it lifted.”
Tyson turned to look at the coffee’s moderator, OSH Superintendent Kristin Feeback.
“You guys are doing a great job and need to be able to expand and have as many beds as could be available,” Tyson said.
VALUE THEM BOTH
Rep. Samantha Poetter, a Paola Republican, has been a strong proponent of ensuring the Value Them Both Amendment passed through the Legislature by super majority so it could be placed on an upcoming ballot for Kansas voters to decide – not the courts.
Proponents have said the constitutional amendment is not a ban on abortion, but ensures basic regulations can be put in place to protect both mothers and babies.
“It’s called Value Them Both because it’s not just about the baby; it’s about the mother as well,” Poetter said.
She and others have been successful in ensuring that it will be on the August 2022 ballot for voters to consider. It passed through the House and Senate by a two-thirds majority.
“Passing this amendment won’t wipe out Roe vs. Wade, all of those laws are still in place,” Poetter said. “The amendment is just simply saying that the Legislature, through the people, has the right to regulate abortion. I’m looking forward to seeing what the people choose.”
Rep. Mark Samsel, a Wellsville Republican, said he is glad the amendment will be left up to the people to decide.
“There’s a nice banner when we walk into the Capitol every day that says, ‘All power is inherent in the people,’” Samsel said. "If democracy is going to work, people should get to decide. It’s a tough issue, it’s a very divisive issue, but the people of Kansas are getting to decide.”
Tyson said the state needs to be careful of advance ballot fraud.
“One of the (county) clerks told me they saw a person running for office collect over 100 ballots and put those in the mailbox,” Tyson said.
Tyson was also critical of outside money and third party, out-of-state interests trying to play a role in Kansas elections.
“Why is out-of-state money coming in and trying to play a part whether it be a grant or whatever it is for counties?” Tyson said. “They’re setting parameters that the county has to abide by in order to get that money.
"We also had third party, out-of-state interests sending out advance ballot applications prefilled,” she said. “These third-party entities look like they are official. We need to shut that down. I want Kansans deciding who represents Kansas. I don’t want third party influences or out-of-state influences. I think we need to shut that down, and I am working toward that.”
Lawmakers also addressed the encroachment of the NorthPoint Development's Logistics Park Kansas City intermodal facility on the northwest corner of Miami County and its possible effects on the Hillsdale Lake Watershed.
Poetter urged Miami County residents to stay engaged in the Hillsdale Lake Watershed discussion, talk with their county commissioners about the issue and attend county commission meetings.
None of the lawmakers had an appetite for mandating an increase in the minimum wage, and they expressed their disappointment in the Kelly administration’s handling of fraudulent unemployment claims that have racked up millions of dollars in false claims.
“My email is getting blown up about the fraud,” Samsel said. “I want to point out that it’s not Kansans by and large that are submitting these fraud claims. Our system was so bad we were targeted from across the country and across the world by criminals submitting all these false claims.”
Baumgardner, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, talked about the committee’s work on the education budget.
“We want funding for teacher mentoring. We want teacher training, dyslexia training and education,” Baumgardner said. “Those are areas the governor has already struck from her budget proposal, so it’s going to be some heaving lifting, but we’re going to keep working on it.”
Baumgardner also praised Miami County school districts in Osawatomie, Paola and Louisburg for keeping their school doors open for in-person instruction during the pandemic.
“Kids in Miami County are learning because our school districts and our school boards really have taken the position that our kids come first, that we value them and we’re going to make it happen for them,” Baumgardner said. “It hasn’t been lost on me that the Miami County school districts, the superintendents and boards have been leaders in our state in making sure those kids are being served.”