Theresa Freed: [00:00] On this week's episode here from Johnson County leaders about this year's legislative priorities both at the state and federal level. Find out how the County is closely tracking activity at the statehouse and ensuring Johnson County's voice is heard ahead of any vote.
Announcer: [00:14] Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.
Theresa Freed: [00:28] Thanks for joining us for JoCo On the Go. I'm your host, Theresa Freed, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. Ahead of the legislative session which started January 15th Johnson County leaders including the Board of County Commissioners take a close look at the issues that impact residents and develop a list of priorities, taking a position on the possible proposals that could help improve the lives of residents and make good use of taxpayer-funded resources. To tell us about those issues and more, welcome Johnson County Chairman Ed Eilert. Thank you for being here.
Ed Eilert: [00:59] Thank you. Always glad to share the information.
Theresa Freed: [01:03] All right, well first question, what exactly are our legislative priorities this year?
Ed Eilert: [01:06] Each, each year we develop a legislative agenda and we have several items that are on our priority list. Mental health, compensating use tax for online services, the ability to, to collect sales tax, also property tax relief for seniors the homestead exemption, transportation. Those are some of the issues that will be on our priority list.
Theresa Freed: [01:39] All right. How exactly are those priorities decided? Is it just based on the issues that come up that you all are passionate about or is there some something tied to it?
Ed Eilert: [01:48] Well, for instance, a Medicaid expansion is one of those priorities. And of course that's included in the governor's plan. And I think there is a compromise and Medicaid expansion bill that'll be moving through the legislature. We've had that on our list for a couple of years. We provide a significant amount of uncompensated services in mental health, public health, MED-ACT services that the local taxpayers have to pay for. And with Medicaid expansion, we could reduce that local contribution.
Theresa Freed: [02:22] Okay. And why do we track legislative activity or how are we doing that? Because obviously you all can't be in the room for every hearing and, and debate on the floor. So how do we do that?
Ed Eilert: [02:33] Well, in recent years going back 15 or so years, we hire a legislative consultant. And this year as last year our consultant has about five or six people on their staff. And so that staff monitors all the committee hearings that go on that on items that might pertain to a County government.
Theresa Freed: [02:55] Okay. And then that information is shared.
Ed Eilert: [02:57] They share that information with us. Sometimes we get daily reports at least weekly reports, and if there are key items that are on our priority list then we have an opportunity to submit testimony or appear in person and give testimony, then we also, they also coordinate that activity.
Theresa Freed: [03:17] Okay. And especially when you're talking about things like Medicaid expansion, it makes complete sense that we would be part of the conversation as the largest County here in Kansas. But on the federal level, what's our, what's our interest there?
Ed Eilert: [03:30] Well similar interest only once more removed. We do not have a legislative consultant that works with us in DC, in the Congress. We do rely upon our congressional representative, ours, our U S senators from Kansas. We do stay in touch with their local representatives to keep us apprised of of activities. We also work through the National Association of Counties who does have a presence in Washington, D C and represent counties on many issues.
Theresa Freed: [04:05] Okay. And just back to our state politics. Given the current political climate, are we expecting, expecting to make some progress on some of those priorities? I know, again, Medicaid expansion is something that's been on our radar for a while and there was some recent action, bipartisan action taken. So what do we expect?
Ed Eilert: [04:26] Well, that's based upon a meeting we had yesterday. It's called Local Government Day and county commissioners as well as city officials meet in Topeka and we hear from a panel of of senators as well as representatives. The governor was there speaking to us yesterday. Medicaid expansion again is, is I think going to proceed. Mental health funding is another big issue for us and across the state. Undetermined what the result is going to be. The transportation plan, not only Johnson County but again across the state. And hopefully that will move forward. We have been asking the last couple of years to expand the Homestead Exemption and the SAFSRS program for senior citizens, which give some property tax relief really uncertain as to what might happen there. Obviously there is a fiscal note attached to that and that's important to the state also.
Theresa Freed: [05:29] Okay. And we've had a couple of podcast episodes just talking about the affordability of Johnson County and making sure that older adults are able to remain in their homes if they choose to do so. And so how can they find out kind of the latest of, of what's happening with that?
Ed Eilert: [05:46] Well we share that information and discuss that information many times from the dais. I'm not sure whether there's a specific item on our website which relates to that. Our proposal in regards to those two possibilities is to expand. They are fairly restrictive both as to income and amount. And so we are asking that those two programs be expanded to allow more seniors to benefit.
Theresa Freed: [06:15] Okay. And just talking a little bit more about the financial impact of, of all of our priorities, we're, we're hoping to make good use of the resources that we have and make sure that, you know, a proper amount is allocated to, to the County. How, how important or what kind of impact do we see when things don't go our way? At the statehouse in terms of financial?
Ed Eilert: [06:40] Well, there's always next year. I guess I would, I would say it that way. And so, you know, for instance, one item that is supported by U S Supreme Court decision is the collection of sales tax compensating use tax on online transactions. Now, I'm not sure how big a number that would be for Johnson County because we already have Amazon who has locations here and other online providers who have locations here. So they're already collecting that sales tax. So but there would be a positive impact if we could the state has to authorize the collection there. So if they would do that, both the state as well as local governments would benefit. So sometimes you just have to keep at it and many times there are issues that don't get full hearings or don't get to action on the floor of either the House or the Senate. And so you if they're significant, if they're important, then you just present them again the following year.
Theresa Freed: [07:44] Okay. Well that sounds good. Just last question. When, when there is something of, of importance that's being discussed at the statehouse. I know that we've got people there monitoring for us, but are we actually, are we going and testifying or submitting testimony?
Ed Eilert: [08:02] Oh, many times. Frequently we will submit written testimony and then if it's if it's an issue that we feel like that we need to be there in person to support then we will also be there offering verbal testimony based upon the written testimony that we submitted.
Theresa Freed: [08:20] All right. I'm sure it's great for our residents to know that we are very active there at the state house and at the federal level watching out for, for their best interest.
Ed Eilert: [08:27] There's also another activity that we engage in a about halfway through the session we will host a luncheon for members of the Johnson County delegation and so that gives us an opportunity to interact face to face with the members of the house and Senate from Johnson County and we can give them an update on where our priorities are at and what kind of support that they can give us.
Theresa Freed: [08:52] All right. That sounds great. We'll keep an eye on what happens with session this year. All right. Thanks for joining us.
Ed Eilert: [08:57] Thank you very much.
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