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SPOTLIGHT
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Oil issues from international to local

Published on -4/4/2013, 9:44 AM

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President Barack Obama's refusal to approve the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline that would be used to import oil derived from Canadian oil sands to the United States recently has been at the forefront of national policy discussions. Last month, the U.S. Senate voted 62-37 to back the project in the best interest of the U.S., because of the jobs it would create and the significant step it would be toward energy independence. This vote was significant because the project received the support of six additional senators from last year, when it received 56 favorable votes.

In light of growing support at the national level, the House last week passed HCR 5014, a resolution that urges the U.S. Secretary of State to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline application from TransCanada. The resolution finds that for decades to come the U.S. will remain dependent on imported energy and needs a secure supply of crude oil free from potential threats and disruptions of an unreliable crude oil supply from less-secure parts of the world. It also finds that the project will create approximately 9,000 construction jobs as well as thousands of manufacturing jobs. A copy of the resolution stating these findings, as well as others, would be sent to the president, the secretary of state and each member of the Kansas congressional delegation.

* * *

Oil and gas are major components of the industrial base in many western and southeast Kansas counties. Because these resources will not last forever, the Oil and Gas Valuation Depletion Trust Fund was developed. The money credited to the account currently consists of 12.41 percent of the previous year's severance tax receipts and is meant to provide some economic relief to the affected counties once these resources are used up.

This year, the governor proposed in his budget recommendation for FY 2014 and FY 2015 abolishing the Oil and Gas Valuation Depletion Trust Fund and transferring that money to the state general fund. In response to this recommendation, the House worked on a compromise to keep the fund but to decrease the amount of money contributed to it. This week the House passed that compromise, Substitute for HB 2262, which would lower the percentage annually credited to the fund based on the previous year's severance tax receipts from 12.41 percent to 8.25 percent. This lower percentage contribution to the Oil and Gas Valuation Depletion Trust Fund would increase the amount transferred to SGF by $5 million in FY 2014 and $6.7 million in FY 2015.

* * *

Last week, the House passed SB 199 which would establish the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center at the University of Kansas Medical Center. This center would focus on scientific advances for adult, cord blood and related stem cell and non-embryonic stem cell research, and therapies for patient treatments. This facility will also produce clinical grade stem cells and facilitate the delivery of therapies. They will conduct clinical trials while also maintaining a resource database for physicians, and provide education training for physicians while informing the public of therapeutic options regarding stem cell advances.

* * *

An increasing number of states have adopted or are considering measures to ensure government assistance is being used for its intended purposes. In 2012 alone, 28 states considered legislation regarding drug testing of welfare and food stamp recipients. This session, legislation along these same lines was drafted and passed in the Senate and, last week, was subsequently passed in the House.

The bill, SB 149, would prohibit an individual who fails a drug test from receiving assistance until they have completed drug treatment and job training programs. A second failed drug test would result in the individual having their assistance suspended for a year. Long-term suspension would be for recipients who fail a third, or subsequent, drug test. In instances where a parent fails a drug test, the portion of cash assistance allocated for their children could go to a third party to administer on the child's behalf.

Last February, Congress approved a measure allowing states to drug-test individuals who receive unemployment benefits. Under this legislation, Kansas would also require potential employers who have a job applicant fail or refuse to take a drug test report that outcome to the Kansas Department of Labor. Failure of or refusal to take the drug test would result in the individual losing their unemployment benefits until they complete drug treatment and job training programs. This provision is similar to laws already enacted in Mississippi, Georgia, Arizona and Indiana.

The bill is not intended to be punitive to those who rely on these programs but to identify those with substance abuse problems and assist them in getting the help and job skills needed to be productive members of the job market. The end result must be one that is a responsible, targeted approach to help families overcome the evils of drug addiction and ensure the proper use of welfare and unemployment benefits.

Travis Couture-Lovelady represents the 110th District in the Kansas House of Representatives. travis@travisforkansas.com

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