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Drug tests, economy on Senate's plate

By March 1, the Legislature will have reached the halfway point for the 2013 session, known as turnaround. This date is when each chamber begins to consider the bills from the other chamber.

The pace for the next couple of weeks will pick up as there will be more bills reaching the Senate floor for debate as committees continue to pass bills.

Legislation is pending that would require drug testing for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, who are eligible for cash assistance and unemployment compensation, to undergo drug testing if there is reasonable suspicion they are using illegal substances. SB149 has been introduced and has been referred to the Senate Commerce Committee for hearings.

Strengthening the state economy is a pressing issue this session. The goal is to develop a favorable tax policy that would further enable employers to create jobs and at the same time move toward a zero income tax rate. The Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee last week moved to leave in place the deduction for property taxes Kansans pay on their property.

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Last week, the Senate honored students from the Kansas Academy of Math and Science, which is sponsored by Fort Hays State University. I was honored to meet Amber Predew from Goodland High School. Amber also was questioned in the Senate Education Committee and came across as being very knowledgeable. This KAMS program is growing each year, and FHSU should be very proud of its success.

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It is town hall meeting time again.

Saturday

* 8 to 9 a.m., St. Francis, Cuppa Joe Espresso

* 10 to 11 a.m., Atwood, Williams Bros. Grocery

* Noon to 1 p.m., Oberlin, Decatur County Courthouse

* 2 to 3 p.m., Norton, Town and Country Kitchen

* 4 to 5 p.m., Logan, Hansen Memorial Plaza

There are still some slots open for Senate pages this session. On March 25, there are four places available. For more information, contact my office at (785) 296-7399 or ralph.ostmeyer@senate.ks.gov.

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Important hard facts

* Kansas Department of Education stated taxpayer support for education will set a new record this year at $12,738 total per pupil spending.

* By 2033, 21 percent of Kansas' population is projected to be on Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (up from 13 percent currently).

* Kansas' Medicaid Expenditures projected to grow by an additional $4.7 billion (29% percent beyond the increase projected without the Affordable Care Act).

* Legislators can only control about 30 percent of the budget by making a commitment to hold schools harmless and honoring all statutory obligations built into the budget. State and local governments obtain the largest portion of tax revenues from property and sales tax.

* Paycheck protection empowers employees by requiring labor unions to obtain prior approval from members to spend their contributions for political activities, parties, advocacy or candidates.

Ralph Ostmeyer represents the 40th Senate District. ralph.ostmeyer@senate.ks.gov