Thursday, August 29, 2013

GUEST COMMENTARY: More lawmakers need to attend more national forums

By DAVID HALEY, Kansas Senator

Noted Wichita State University professor, H. Edward Flentje, penned an opinion recently published in the Wichita Eagle strongly suggesting that Kansas lawmakers should pay their own way to attend meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

In short, he contends that taxpayer dollars are wasted where only conservative Kansas legislators go to proselytize and to be proselytized with that fringe of American political perspectives.

Though partially valid, a deeper inspection of new policies enacted by the Kansas Legislature this year exposes a more troubling discrimination in legislative travel policy, which ANY Kansas taxpayers – regardless of political party or ideology – should summarily reject.

The real issue is that taxpayer money is now being used, with rare exception, for lawmakers to only attend dogma-based conferences (primarily hosted by ALEC), while rejecting conferences by decidedly more neutral organizations that offer legislators real world research and mainstream national policies; including the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the Council of State Governments (CSG).

Admittedly, our absence does little to hurt the discourses had in meetings by those organizations.

In many cases, these organizations, and the legislative members from the other 49 participating states, probably miss us about as much as they’d miss Fred Phelps, debates on evolution versus creationism, or other tripe spewed by America’s version of the male-dominated “my-religion-knows-better-for-you-than-your-religion” ‘Taliban-esque’ legislators has exported by Kansas to credible national think tanks.

Undoubtedly, though, inhibiting MOST lawmakers from participating in national discussions on policymaking is detrimental to the development of Kansas and to the prospect of no-label, bipartisan reasonableness as part of our national image.

Future budgets, as have been time honored in Kansas and the majority of States until this year, should include pro-rata taxpayer support, allowing for a certain number of spots across the board for each conference; not just one narrowly drawn ideological conference resulting in a vast discrimination in the amount of taxpayer supported Kansas attendees.

Senator David Haley (Wyandotte) represents the Fourth Senate District and is entering his 20th year in the Kansas Legislature. He served twice as the Democratic nominee for Kansas Secretary of State.