“First-years talk about Legislature” – Jack “Miles” Ventimiglia, Editor of JoCo Sun

“First-years talk about Legislature”
Jack “Miles” Ventimiglia, Editor
Johnson County Sun

Rep. Ben Hodge said he wants to cut the ties that bind Kansas public schools to federal funding, Rep. Sheryl Spalding said her constituents want more school funding and Rep. Cindy Neighbor identified health care as a major concern for lawmakers this year.

These members of Johnson County’s delegation in Topeka n Hodge a first-year conservative Republican, Spalding a first-year moderate Republican and Neighbor, a first-year Democrat n discussed their takes on the start of the 2007 legislative session while on the House floor Jan. 18.

BEN HODGE: NO TO FEDERAL SCHOOL FUNDS

Hodge, R-49th, representing Olathe and Overland Park, stood at his desk on the center aisle at the back of the chamber. He said he came to the session with reasonable expectations about what conservative House leaders could accomplish n not any “bold legislation.”

“I have to be somewhat realistic knowing that we have a fairly moderate Senate and a very liberal governor,” Hodge said, taking a shot at Kathleen¬†Sebelius, a Democrat. Increasing the local-option budget beyond the present 30 percent lid has Hodge’s support. LOB budgeting is about school districts being allowed to raise tax funds locally to supplement limited state funds for education.

In association with that idea, Hodge, who also is a Johnson County Community College trustee, said he might pursue a plan to snip the purse strings on federal dollars for public schools in Kansas.

“I’ll just tell you a bill I’m considering having introduced would be to leave the federal education department,” Hodge said. “I think, both conservatives and liberals, this is perhaps something we can agree on. Many conservatives think the federal education department accomplishes little and should never have been created.

SHERYL SPALDING: RAISE THE LOB

A moderate Republican representing 29th District residents in Overland Park, Spalding stood on the right side of the speaker’s dais while saying there has been unexpected demands on her time, including many meet-and-greet opportunities.

“It’s a wonderful week, but very busy,” Spalding said, trying to be heard while keeping her own ears trained on the commotion that represented legislative progress on the floor.

Residents in her district, Spalding said, expect her to focus on schools.

“They elected me because I have a background in education and I’m on the Education Committee, so we will be trying to ? get a little bit more money for some of our school districts in Johnson County,” Spalding said.

Getting more money will be difficult, she said.

“Everybody’s competing for the same general dollars,” Spalding said, with the result being a focus on local-option funding. “If we could be allowed to add more money into the pot for ourselves, we would like to be able to do that.”

The 22-member Johnson County House delegation supports LOB funding, Spalding said.

“We’re very united, both sides of the aisle,” she said.

CINDY NEIGHBOR: FOCUS ON HEALTH

Although starting her first year as a Democrat, Neighbor, representing 18th District residents in Shawnee, knows her way around the House floor. She worked her way back from the floor to a quiet hallway behind the speaker’s dais.

Neighbor represented the 18th District from 2003 to 2005, then lost a primary bid to conservative Republican Mary Pilcher-Cook. Rather than face another likely primary loss to Cook, Neighbor switched parties and relied on a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans to retake the seat Nov. 7.

Neighbor said health insurance could become a major issue this session, with Gov. Sebelius having opened the door on the issue during the state of the state address Jan. 9.

“More than one in 10 of our neighbors has no health insurance. While we strive to reach our hopes and dreams, they have a different kind of hope n they hope they and their children won’t get sick,” Sebelius said during the address, and advocated providing health care this year to every child through age 5. “The cost to the state will be minimal, but the benefit to 15,000 Kansas kids will be immeasurable. It will also ease financial pressure on moms and dads across our state, and let them have different hopes for their kids.”

Neighbor is an Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee member.

“We’re going to be looking at (health care) both from small business aspects ? as well as other places that might want to buy into the state pool,” Neighbor said.

Health costs are no longer a concern just for Democrats, she said.

“Health care is costing employees and employers, and I think that is something (both parties) will probably be able to work together on,” Neighbor said. “We have to sit down and compromise. Everybody has an idea or a proposal and it’s important for all of us to come together ? to meet the needs of all Kansans.”

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