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Doll, Jennings at town hall in Tribune

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Senator John Doll and Representative Russ Jennings (center right) visited with Greeley County voters at the Senior Center.

Story Photo

Senator John Doll and Representative Russ Jennings (center right) visited with Greeley County voters at the Senior Center.

John Doll, Kansas State Senator, and Russ Jennings, Kansas State Representative, both representing District 1 which includes Greeley County, met with interested citizens on Thursday, April 15, in a town hall meeting at the senior center. About 16 persons attended.
Doll first updated the group on the legislative calendar, saying they just completed the “drop dead” session, in which all bills are completed. Legislators will be back in Topeka for the veto session beginning May 3. There are still some bills such as the education bill that must be passed. Education is 57% of budget. Public education is extremely important in western Kansas, Doll said. Continuing to talk about education, Doll mentioned requiring students to take a civics test, and in his opinion, this should already be taught as a part in local school classes, and we should not require teachers to spend class time to teach to a specific test.
Concerning the transgender bill, Doll said he voted against it. Men should not be competing against women. Kansas is a unitary government. Organizations such as the Kansas State High School Activity Association can make rules and regulations, but not law.  He added that, in his opinion, the legislature spent a lot of time duplicating efforts. 
Jenning talked about the budget and the former governor Brownback’s tax debacle that brought state operations to its knees; it dried up resources for core state functions. “We have spent a lot of time to get that fixed and now have a better tax policy than we had at that time,” he said.  “We are still dealing with long term consequences.” The legislature is now faced with similar-feeling issues, he said. The primary beneficiaries of the current tax plan are multi-national corporations. This bill would allow for deductions of 6% for wage earners. A standard deduction decrease but doesn’t mean much. This budget leaves a $10 million ending balance out of $9 billion of expenditures in the state, which is only a .01% ending balance to meet unexpected expenses. Jennings didn’t vote for the budget. What is really needed for the people of Kansas is property tax relief. He added that everything is interrelated; for example, a change in tax codes influences the budget and other issues. 
Jennings said that for years there have been 20 mills assessed statewide for funding education. In that time the growth of revenue has doubled when compared to the increase for cost of living adjustment. Russ wanted to reduce this assessment by 1 mill this year and 1 next year to reduce property tax. “We have  a lot of work to do in May. Education must be done right or we will be back in June and July to make good on our promise.”
Jennings also told the group that criminal justice reform commission recommendations have been made to help inmates with mental health and substance abuse. Those with addictions can get help in prison. There is a career campus pilot project at Lansing to teach inmates skill sets needed by companies, who will then hire them and offenders will have jobs after being released from prison. This is a more cost-effective plan, since it takes $25,000 a year to keep an offender in prison.
Question/issue:  the water table in western Kansas and Greeley County is dropping and people are running out of water; irrigators are sucking the water out from under us. We need something done.
Doll:  There are policies in place and also LEMA projects in some areas. There is metered water, those with water rights can have so much per year.  Jennings:  This is an historic problem, but we know now that the Ogallala aquifer will not last forever. Historically, water rights are a property right that is conveyed with a sale, or can be obtained by applying through Topeka. There is currently not new expansion of water rights or wells being drilled that are not already owned. Technology advances exist to help water conservation. Talk to Greeley County’s Water District representative in Scott City. Comment: The Playa Lake restoration and development in western Kansas can stabilize the trend of Ogallala aquifer. We know that the aquifer does replenish but at a slow rate.  This way, it isn’t an impact on farming. Jennings: domestic water that comes to Kansas through Colorado has a concentration of uranium; water will soon be not only an issue of quantity but of quality. It’s a huge issue and we need a fresh water supply for people, animals, farming.  Kansas has a compact with Colorado that Colorado must allow an amount of water to pass through to Kansas,
Question/issue – What about a convention of states? Doll: In such a convention, the U.S. Constitution can be changed. There are three types of government — federal, unitary, and confederate (all power lies within state). Such a convention wants more power to go to states. Who sits at that table would be like the founders of the nation. They have made an issue of term limits but that would not be the only issue. Jennings: Republicans are not in control and republican thinking people might not be in control with such a  convention. Look at national picture to see how this might go. This is not the time for it, since there is so much division and fragility. We need a unifying event.  
 Question/issue – What about the future of Rural Opportunity Zone. Can it get extended? It has been an excellent tool in recruiting medical personnel and others to Greeley County.  Doll: I am confident that the ROZ will be extended either 2 or 5 years. Question/issue: Our health care system serves the two smallest counties in Kansas and we are not qualifying in HIPPA to recruit.  Doll: I believe healthcare will look very different in 10 years. We must fight like crazy for rural Kansas. Telemedicine and broadband will play a great part. People with the smallest populations will struggle to have a voice. Jennings: I am curious how the idea of becoming a Rural Healthcare emergency transfer station would be. Comment:  To become a transfer station and go down one doc would be detrimental to our served population.  Here in Greeley County we need to sustain what we have.  Doll: the Feds will have a big part in future healthcare. Medicare and Medicaid will be drivers.  
 Doll: “Greeley County is known as a progressive county, not letting things die. Be proud of what you have here – keep doing what you’re doing. The State Commerce Department here in knows where Greeley County is and what good things are happening in rural counties, because you care about your community.  That is not always the case in many other counties. You are a model.
 Question/issue – What about public transportation for smaller counties? Housing? Is there any state assistance available? It is a struggle for seniors who don’t drive themselves to get to an out-of-town doctor’s appointment or to shop. Also, lack of housing makes recruitment to Greeley County more difficult. 
Doll:  Although she has done some good things, Governor Kelly hasn’t taken good care of western Kansas. Housing program dollars haven’t reached western Kansas. Keep applying for moderate income housing grants. Concerning transportation – T-works expired – each county is guaranteed $8 million from gasoline tax, and the county government decides where this is used. District 1 has the oldest median age of any district in the country. 
Doll and Jennings encouraged people to email or call them with questions or comments. 

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