Legislators discuss economy, other issues during forum

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

Help for small businesses, Medicaid expansion and medical marijuana were among the topics discussed this weekend during a forum featuring local legislators.

The Government Affairs Committee of the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce organized the event Saturday morning. The legislative update was conducted through the Zoom online videoconferencing service.

One state senator and four members of the Kansas House of Representatives who represent areas of Leavenworth County participated in the forum.

During the forum, legislators were asked what they are willing to do to help small businesses survive.

State Rep. David French, R-Lansing, said Kansas must reopen following the COVID-19 shutdown.

“We have to get businesses back to going full force,” he said.

He pointed to a bill that amends the Kansas Emergency Management Act. He said the bill would require the governor to work with the Legislature regarding any future lockdowns.

State Sen. Jeff Pittman, D-Leavenworth, said businesses need access to capital.

“We can do that as a state,” he said.

State Rep. Lance Neelly, R-Tonganoxie, said a number of bills have been introduced to help small businesses and programs have been implemented at the state and federal level. He said some are very complicated. And it may be difficult for business owners to keep up on what is available and get the help they need.

State Rep. Pat Proctor, R-Leavenworth, suggested businesses can benefit from property tax relief.

Proctor pointed to a bill he says will force city and county governments to take votes on collecting additional property tax revenue. He said the bill increases accountability and takes the teeth out of valuation increases.

The issue of Medicaid expansion came up as part of a question about mental health.

Proctor said Medicaid expansion in Kansas would not do what its proponents have indicated.

He argued the problems of addiction and depression were made worse by the joblessness and isolation caused by last year’s COVID-19 shutdown.

He said jobs and opportunity have to be brought back to Leavenworth.

Pittman said there is more to mental health than hoping the governor does not shut down the economy.

Pittman believes Medicaid expansion will help obtain mental health services for people who would otherwise be unable to afford them. He said these people may have trouble working because of mental health issues.

“It is a workforce development consideration,” he said.

He said Medicaid expansion would be subsidized 90% by the federal government.

French said proponents of Medicaid expansion believe it is a panacea for all of the state’s problems. But French argued Medicaid expansion will help very few “at the cost of the rest of us.”

“We couldn’t afford Medicaid expansion two years ago,” he said.

And French said the state cannot afford it now.

State Rep. Tim Johnson, R-rural Bonner Springs, said he supports funding for education to help with the delivery of mental health services. He said schools likely can quickly pick up on problems with students.

Legislators also were asked about medical marijuana.

Neelly said he is supportive of allowing medical marijuana in Kansas in a pill form.

French said he is opposed to any form of marijuana coming into the state.

Pittman said he supports medical marijuana. He argued that action should be taken on the issue sooner rather than later in order to help the people who would benefit from the use of medical marijuana as well as potential revenues for the state.

Proctor expressed opposition to medical marijuana. He expressed concern that cartels could move into economically disadvantaged areas and turn homes into growing operations.

Proctor also said he would like a definitive answer regarding whether marijuana is a gateway for other drugs.

Brandon Johannes, president and CEO of the Leavenworth-Lansing Area Chamber of Commerce, said chamber officials plan to host another forum to serve as a wrap up of this year’s legislative session. But no date has been set for the next forum.

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