The House examined more than 20 bills Wednesday, including one that would further expand a state program that allows tax breaks and tuition reimbursement for people from other states who move to certain Kansas counties.
House Bill 2417 would add Labette, Montgomery, Cherokee and Sumner counties to the Rural Opportunity Zones program, bringing its total reach to 77 of the state’s 105 counties.
Rep. Sydney Carlin, D-Manhattan, carried the bill to the House floor and said the rural zones program is meeting its stated mission, with more than 1,000 applicants.
“The program helps attract fine investment businesses and job growth in rural areas of the state,” Carlin said.
This Rural Opportunity Zones program was established by Gov. Sam Brownback in 2011 for counties that lost 10 percent population during the previous decade.
The initial proposal included 40 counties, but it jumped to 50 by the time the Legislature approved it. Last year the program expanded to 23 more counties, including Jackson and Wabaunsee.
The program provides income tax exemptions for five years and up to $15,000 in student loan repayment to out-of-state residents who move to counties with declining populations.
Legislators from the southeast Kansas counties involved in the latest expansion program spoke strongly for it Wednesday.
Rep. Don Schroeder, R-Hesston, and other lawmakers talked about the problem of people working in Kansas, but having their residence in bordering Oklahoma. Schroeder said he wanted to see those people live in and be taxpaying citizens of Kansas.
“All of these counties that border the Oklahoma line sometimes struggle to get workers,” Schroeder said. “Let’s see if we can do something to attract people to live and work in this state.”
Rep. Jim Kelly, R-Independence, voiced his support for the bill. Coming from a county close to the Oklahoma border, he said he has seen its potential impact on his community.
“Montgomery County has 12.5 percent of its work force that travels in to work,” Kelly said. “Forty-one million dollars a year is going out of state with wages earned in Kansas jobs in aircraft and equipment manufacturing.”
Kelly went on to say that the Kansas Department of Commerce supported the bill.
Rep. Richard Proehl, R-Parsons, had a similar stance.
“All four counties involved are losing population and suffering,” he said.
The bill, which passed on voice vote, is eligible for final House action.
The House took final action on a number of other bills Wednesday. It passed, 123-0, bills to expand the state’s anti-terrorism statutes (HB 2463), allow on-site burial of hazardous waste (HB 2549), expand protections of anonymity for parents who voluntarily surrender children at approved locations like hospitals and fire stations (HB 2577), and a bill to clarify that churches are exempt from food sales licensing laws that should allow a North Topeka church to renew its taco sales (HB 2582).
Other proposals were slightly more contentious. A bill to alter pharmacy licensing regulations (HB 2561) passed 105-18, and a bill regarding ownership of unclaimed property (HB 2687) passed 119-4.
This story was originally published in The Topeka Capital-Journal on February 26, 2014.