The Kansas Legislature finish up their turnaround break and have resumed their work in the capitol. It's a good thing, since they haven't done a whole lot in the first 36 days of the session. So far, they still haven't passed a school funding bill or passed Medicaid Expansion.
With the mid-April deadline set by the Supreme Court looming, the Kansas legislature has yet to complete its job concerned with school funding. Attorney General, Derek Schmidt has indicated that he needs a decision on school funding by March 15th so he would have time to prepare court briefs. Some lawmakers and community leaders are showing frustration, but today is March 13 and so far - no votes! Some of the litigants in the court case have expressed concern about the level of spending proposed and this has prompted Senator Wagle to threaten to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. And, to top it all off we now have a good-ole voucher bill to distract us from getting the real work of funding public education done. Man, it just shouldn't be this hard to prioritize (and pay for) what we value in Kansas.
Today, the House Appropriations Committee debated the Medicaid Expansion bill, but the bill failed to pass out of committee when the committee chair, Rep Waymaster (R) voted NO to break the 11 to 11 tie. So, the bill won't get a debate on the House floor unless something creative happens. This is in spite of clear evidence that Medicaid expansion could help us save rural community hospitals.
Johnson County Citizen’s Academy
What Happens Locally Matters, By Janet Milkovich
It was during the months following the last presidential election, a time when I felt powerless to stop the chaos happening in the nation’s capital, that I attended a League of Women Voters event at the Blue Valley Library. Representative Joy Koesten was on a panel with other representatives and senators and fielding questions about gun control and education funding, among others. Some panelists waffled, skillfully avoiding taking a clear position but not Joy! I was so impressed with the clarity of her answers and with her knowledge of what was happening at the state level that I waited in line after the forum to speak with her. My takeaway? What happens locally matters. Get involved on a city, county and state level where people like me can make a difference.
Listening to her, hearing truth in her confidently spoken words, I felt my panic subside and I realized that I could be an influencer rather than a helpless by-stander.
I’ve lived in Overland Park twice and have participated in city council meetings numerous times but I knew little about the county government structure or the role of the county commissioners. I was unaware that Johnson County Government provides 350 services and programs including health and human services, mental health services, public works, criminal justice and correction programs. I wanted to know more!
Joy sent me information about the Johnson County Citizens Academy and suggested that I apply. In their introductory materials was a quote by Margaret Mead. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.”
I applied and was thrilled to be selected from a field of 160 applicants for a class of 40 citizens. I’m now halfway through the ten-week program and have gleaned a better understanding of the Johnson County Government Structure. Each week we hear from three county departments and do an on-site tour of one. Sitting in the Emergency Operations Center surrounded by screens with real time action in the county was akin to being in a Tom Cruise movie. A tour of the elections warehouse helped me see the giant scope of operations and the importance of election volunteers. My favorite field trip so far is the Emergency Management & Communications Center where trained staff and police officers respond to 911 calls.
Getting back to Joy’s advice. Because of my participation in the JOCO Citizens Academy, I am more familiar with how the county and city governments function and how citizens can participate through service on boards, commissions and committees. I need not by a helpless bystander. There are many ways to get involved, to use my life experiences and skill set to be a good citizen and an influencer in my own community.
Joy has blogged extensively about her experience and activities in the legislature and beyond.