The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

December 31, 2013

Southeast Kansas officials to gather for annual send-off of state legislators

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Southeast Kansas leaders will gather Friday morning for what has become an annual tradition: a send-off of state policymakers to Topeka before the Legislature resumes on Jan. 13.

The send-off, put on by the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce, will be held at 7:30 a.m. in Wilkinson Alumni Center at Pittsburg State University.

“This event allows our members to ask questions and voice concerns over items that have a tangible impact on their businesses and on our community,” said Devin Gorman, vice president of operations for the chamber.

Sen. Jake LaTurner, R-Pittsburg, and Rep. Julie Menghini, D-Pittsburg, will be among those in attendance. A question-and-answer session will follow their presentations.

Menghini said earlier this week that she believes health care and education will be two areas of primary focus this year.

“I suspect that the expansion of Medicaid will be brought up again,” she said. “The Hospital Association has hired a new lobbyist to try to push that. Our hospitals are in jeopardy — especially the smaller ones. Our local hospital already writes off a lot of care. Without the expansion, they’ll get nothing, and they’ll continue to offer the services, because that is part of their mission.”

She said she expects the debate about K-12 school funding to continue, with courts directing the Legislature to address what two studies have shown to be an underfunding of per-pupil spending.

“I don’t think they will give us the dollar figure nor necessarily a time frame, but they will say we need to do something about it,” she said.

Menghini also expects the strategy of bundling of bills to be addressed. She said she would support a resolution to prohibit it.

LaTurner said he thinks K-12 school funding will dominate the spotlight.

“We don’t know what the Supreme Court is going to say yet in their ruling,” he said. “I have some guesses, but we’re not sure what they’re going to say. It will be very, very tough.”

That ruling could come as early as this month, LaTurner said.

He also said policymakers would be tasked with ensuring that budget areas such as transportation don’t get tapped into, and with “fixing other budget areas,” such as higher education funding and funding for prisons.

“That’s why I voted against the budget last year,” he said.

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A Missouri Senate committee has endorsed a 1-cent sales tax increase to fund transportation projects. The proposed constitutional amendment passed the House earlier this month. If passed by the full Senate, the measure would head to the November ballot for voter approval. Would you vote in favor of it?

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