Though the list of the city’s 21 legislative priorities is varied, Lawrence city commissioners say the overall theme is local control.
The Commission approved the list at its most recent meeting, and it will be sent to the state legislative delegation. Assistant City Manager Diane Stoddard told the Commission that in general, there has been strong support for local control, but there are several instances where the city has not been able to determine its own destiny.
“There’s been a number of cases, as you know, that that power has been thwarted,” Stoddard said. “We are specifically prohibited to have any different local legislation.”
The city’s support for home rule and local control is at the top of the city’s legislative priority list as its own item, but commissioners said it also underlies several of the other priorities. Those include regulation of weapons in city buildings, authority to annex land, and local taxing and spending decisions.
The city’s statement reads, “Locally elected officials are in the best position to make decisions for Kansas cities and are accountable to voters for those decisions.”
Commissioner Mike Amyx said he thinks the local control priority is one of the biggest parts of the entire statement.
“As I see home rule walking away from us, it’s something that we’ve all fought pretty hard for over the years,” Amyx said. “I just think it’s absolutely wrong, something that’s going on in Topeka, and something that we really need to hammer home.”
The legislative priorities list is sent annually, and several commissioners asked if the city ever sees any results. Stoddard said in addition to being sent to legislators, the city uses it as a reference point when providing testimony for or against state legislation.
State Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, was in attendance at the meeting and also addressed the question. Francisco said the list helps her know when to get in touch with city staff, and that she thinks several of the recently elected senators who have experience in other levels of government may also find it helpful.
“We may have some individuals who understand what we need to be doing in government is working together, so please continue to ask us what we can do for you and how we can best work together,” Francisco said. “That is very important and it’s very good to have a list that we’re working from, so we feel we can call staff or perhaps even say if we know that something’s coming up in committee.”
Three residents who spoke during public comment asked that the city push for elimination of sales tax on groceries as part of the legislative priorities list. The Commission discussed the topic briefly but noted that the local taxes on groceries generate about $5 million annually for the city. The statement indicates that the city is against additional increases in the state sales tax rate, but does not address exempting groceries from the tax.
Other statements on the city’s priority list include:
• State support for affordable housing initiatives;
• State funding for an expansion of the western leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway from two lanes to four lanes;
• A 10-year extension of the time period in which cities and counties must comply with the state's concealed carry law, which will soon allow people to bring concealed handguns into government facilities unless those facilities have metal detectors and other such security measures in place. The city asks the state Legislature to allow the city to not be subject to that requirement at all, but absent that, to extend the grace period in which the city must comply by a decade.
• Restoration of previous state funding levels for the arts;
• Improved state funding levels for community-based mental health services;
• Support for gender and marriage equality. The statement specifically "opposes any legislation that fails to recognize marriages between two people of the same sex. We also strongly encourage the state to amend the Kansas Act Against Discrimination to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity."
The full statement is available on the city’s website, lawrenceks.org.