TOPEKA — Two south central Kansas legislators won the first victories this morning in the House’s budget battle.
Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, got a budget amendment through to protect a Goddard priest’s annual charity cigar dinner from prosecution under the state’s indoor smoking ban.
And Rep. Pete DeGraaf, R-Mulvane, got the House to agree to include legislative employees in a general salary cut for state workers.
In what is expected to be a lengthy debate, the House is considering amendments to the budget proposal presented by its Appropriations Committee. The debate allows any representative to weigh in what he or she thinks should or should not be in the budget.
Ward’s amendment would prohibit police from enforcing the state indoor smoking ban against charitable organizations that have held and continue to hold cigar-oriented fund-raising events.
It is specifically designed to shield the Annual Benefit Cigar Dinner held by The Rev. H. Setter, a Catholic priest and cigar enthusiast.
The dinner raises about $10,000 to $20,000 a year for the Setter Foundation, which gives grants to local groups that help the homeless, unwed mothers, and people with disabilities.
The House had already passed language to protect “Father H’s” event from the smoking ban that passed last year. But it was included in a bill to also ban smoking on the gaming floor of state-owned casinos, a controversial measure that may not make it through the Senate.
“This gives us another vehicle,” Ward said. His amendment passed on a voice vote.
DeGraaf won a narrower victory with his amendment to impose pay cuts on employees of the legislative branch.
The budget contemplates cutting 7.5 percent from the salaries of lawmakers, statewide officeholders, judges and others making $100,000 or more. Employees making $40,000 to $100,000 would take pay cuts ranging from zero to 7.5 percent depending where they fall on a sliding scale.
The Appropriations Committee had recommended exempting employees of the Legislature from the pay cuts.
Noting that employees of the executive and judicial branches will be taking cuts, DeGraaf said “I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to exempt our branch, our workers.”
He got some support Rep. TeriLois Gregory, R-Baldwin City, who said she thinks it sends a message to teachers, highway workers and others that “they’re just not as important because they don’t look us in the eye every day.”
Rep. Vernon Swanson, R-Clay Center, opposed the amendment.
“We should not be about cutting the pay of state workers, any of them, in my opinion,” he said. “I’m not sure how many KDOT (Kansas Department of Transportation) workers we’ll have if we continue on this road of cutting pay.”
DeGraaf’s amendment passed 59-55.
A later amendment by Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan, that would have done away with the pay cuts entirely, was ruled out of order by the House Rules Committee and did not come to a vote.