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Eric Smith, Jeff Longbine and Mark Schreiber took part in the Emporia Area Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Dialogue in Feb. 2021. The 2022 legislative session opens Monday.

The 2022 Kansas legislative session will be largely about drawing political lines. As in maps.

“Redistricting will be the main focal point,” State Sen. Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, said. “That is a huge project that consumes a lot of time and a lot of effort.”

Longbine will join 39 other Senators and 125 House members for the start of a new session Monday afternoon. By the time it ends, many people’s district lines could be redrawn.

Emporia was one of many places which held open forums on redistricting last year. But there’s still a mystery about exactly how the state legislative, board of education and Congressional districts will look.

“I don’t know if anybody’s drawn a map that equalizes those at this point,” Longbine said this week.

For one local House member, the sooner a map comes, the better.

“Ten years ago, it ran right up against the deadline,” Rep. Mark Schreiber, R-Emporia, recalled. He said that caused “a lot of confusion on people filing for a seat, not knowing exactly where the boundaries would be.”

The deadline for candidates to file for this year’s election is Wednesday, June 1. The Kansas Primary is Tuesday, Aug. 2.

Longbine said another big topic in Topeka will be the state budget. Another local lawmaker says he’ll watch that closely, because it could be extra-large.

“Folks are going to be trying to spend money,” Rep. Eric Smith, R-Burlington, said.

Schreiber checked projections that state officials made during the fall. They indicated Kansas could have a $3 billion surplus.

“I can’t recall, ever, the state having that kind of funds in an ending balance,” Schreiber said.

The surplus is so potentially big that Gov. Laura Kelly proposed ending the 6.5% state sales tax on food, along with giving a $250 rebate for all residents. Schreiber believes the “axe the tax” part has a “fairly good chance” of becoming law.

“I think it’s something all of us would like to see some movement on,” Smith said. “If not zero, at least somewhat.”

“It will be up to the locals to decide whether they want to do away with the local sales tax side of foods and groceries,” Longbine said. “I would suspect most of them will not, because it would be a huge hit to their income.”

The Emporia City Commission voted this week for a legislative agenda that supports food exemptions at the local level. The local sales tax is 2%.

Meanwhile, Schreiber hopes some of the surplus money can restore recent cuts in higher education.

“We need to start providing some additional funding, so that they can maintain the programs they’ve had in the past,” Schreiber said.

He explained that could attract more out-of-state students to Emporia State University and Flint Hills Technical College, who might remain in Kansas for a career.

“Our population really isn’t growing a lot,” Schreiber said. “We need to do things that encourage growth.”

Smith accepts the idea that state education spending will increase this year. But he’s still wary.

“We’ve got to be careful how much tax we begin to cut,” Smith said. “The surplus would not pay off our debt in this state.”

Smith has a very different topic on his mind for this year’s session. He plans to introduce a bill to make the position of county sheriff part of the state constitution.

“Each county (would) be guaranteed the right to vote for a sheriff,” Smith explained.

Smith said right now, Riley County is the only one in Kansas without a sheriff. It has a county police department instead, with an appointed director. Smith is concerned that other counties may follow that idea.

“That have been some talks about it,” Smith said. “Johnson County was the latest county to suggest, by the county commission, that they were going to switch to an appointed law enforcement position.”

Kansas City’s Sentinel website reported in September that the talk came from one Johnson County Commissioner, who accused the sheriff there of practicing “hyper-partisanship.”

Smith said the sheriff proposal isn’t really his own idea. He’s offering it on behalf of the Kansas Sheriff’s Association and the Kansas Peace Officers Association. But in his version, Riley County wouldn’t have to make any changes.

“They’d be grandfathered in,” Smith said.

But if time grows tight in Topeka, Longbine says the district maps will come first.

“That has to be done this year,” he said. “As far as the number of bills, we probably won’t pass as many.”

(2) comments

Rationa1

What is the need for a Constitutional requirement for County Sheriff? That's an oddly specific amendment to propose, and we've survived pretty well for 161 years without it. It makes me wonder where Smith's election funds come from. It's also odd to me that a good Republican is hesitant to cut taxes. Longbine indicated hesitation for the sales cut tax in an article several weeks back. Smith is hesitant to cut it here. Kelly has proposed tax rebates and tax cuts.... Is this backwards day or something?

Rationa1

According to Wikipedia, Representative Smith is a Coffey County Sheriff Deputy. That explains a lot.

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