Legislators share thoughts on new session

Taxes, medical marijuana and moral issues are likely to be hot topics during the 2023 session of the Kansas Legislature, according to the four lawmakers who represent Jackson County at the Kansas State Capitol.

That’s four lawmakers this year, as opposed to three as in previous years, due to last year’s redistricting, which added a third Kansas House of Representatives district in the county — District 47, which covers southeastern Jackson County, including the cities of Hoyt and Mayetta, and is covered by Rep. Ron Ellis (R-Meriden).

House Districts 61 and 62, which cover the western and northern parts of the county, are covered by Francis Awerkamp (R-St. Marys) and Randy Garber (R-Sabetha), respectively. The county also remains in Senate District 1, which is represented by Sen. Dennis Pyle (I—Hiawatha).

One of the major topics for legislators at the start of the session is how to use about $2 billion in budget surplus from 2022, and that already has some legislators talking about cutting taxes — but not, as Rep. Ellis said, as former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback did during his time in office.

“Everybody has an idea on how to spend money, and they’re all good ideas,” Rep. Ellis said. “But we’ve got to set priorities. That’s one of the big things I’m hoping to get through.”

Last year, current Gov. Laura Kelly and the Legislature worked to cut the sales tax on food, phasing it out over time and eliminating it entirely by 2025. Gov. Kelly has recently stated that she wants to speed up that phase-out.

Sen. Pyle expressed more interest in eliminating state income taxes on retirement benefits, such as Social Security, “in order to be fair and equal to all retirees,” not just whose who benefit from KPERS, which is not subject to state income taxes.

“Kansas needs to work harder to keep our retirees here, rather than watch them migrate to states with no income tax,” Pyle said.

Rep. Awerkamp said he plans to reintroduce a bill on eliminating the sales tax on utilities for businesses, as they are for homeowners — a bill that did not “get through the process” during the 2022 session.

Moral issues are also expected to be a part of this year’s legislative session, particularly on the matter of abortion. This past August, Kansans voted against the “Value Them Both” constitutional amendment, which would have given legislators the right to restrict abortion as they saw fit.

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