Area legislators arrived for the opening of Monday’s legislative session with the concerns of Manhattan city officials fresh in their minds.
City and legislative representatives met Friday to discuss measures dealing with health insurance, liquor laws and city election dates. All those items are expected to be raised during the new session.
Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, said the Legislature is looking at adding autism coverage to state health insurance. He said he foresees the insurance companies resisting that move, but he wanted city employees to be aware of it since it would affect their health care plans.
Another item officials discussed was the debate in the Senate about whether to allow grocery stores and convenience stores to sell liquor. Currently, those businesses can only sell cereal malt beverages with an alcohol content of less than 3.2 percent.
“I think we are out of step with other states,” Hawk said.
Jason Hilgers, assistant city manager, said such a change would be detrimental to Manhattan and other small towns across Kansas. He expressed concern that such a change would force liquor stores out of business, and that the property tax revenues they currently pay would not be recovered by allowing the larger grocery stores in town to sell liquor.
Mayor Loren Pepperd agreed.
NBAF task force
Pepperd also asked the legislators to lobby the governor to reinstitute the task force for The planned National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility.
Though most future decisions about NBAF are out of state government’s hands, he said the committee, which was made up of community leaders and legislators, kept local governments informed on what was going on, and he would like to have that information available again.
City election dates
Rep. Tom Phillips, R-Manhattan, said another issue that could affect Manhattan voters is a proposal to move city and school board elections to the fall. Commissioner Jim Sherow said the change would be detrimental to city government because the basis for moving the elections to the spring — and away from state and national elections — in the first place was to try to remove party politics from local government.
“City elections would de facto become partisan,” Sherow said. “It would undermine the logic for putting together the city manager/commission form of government.”
Water and the EPA
Rep. Ron Highland, R-Wamego, said two businesses in his district are being hit hard by Environmental Protection Agency water quality regulations and are struggling to keep up because of the costs. He said counties with watershed districts have completely stopped building retention ponds and dams because of EPA demands to fence them off. He said most land owners are not willing to do that because it would allow EPA officials to do whatever they wanted, including pumping out the water or destroying the dams and flooding the land downstream.
Pepperd said Virginia just won a lawsuit against the EPA with $7 million going to the county and another $300 million going to the state. He suggested the state of Kansas take the EPA to court as well. Highland agreed and said he is “on it.”
Mill levy caps
City manager Ron Fehr asked legislators to vote against putting a cap on mill levy increases for city improvements projects. He said he understood the reasoning behind it, but unlike many cities in Kansas, Manhattan is growing.
He said while the cap is good for those areas within the state that have declining or stagnant population growth, that circumstance doesn’t apply to Manhattan. Pepperd said Manhattan has seen 15.5 percent growth over the past 10 years, Geary County has seen a 21 percent growth rate, and Pottawatomie County has seen a 20 percent growth.