Kansas Senate engages in cabin-fever ruckus on rental fees at state parks (The Topeka Capital-Journal)

The Kansas Senate hiked into a pitched battle Wednesday over legislation granting the state parks secretary unilateral authority to adjust rental fees on lake cabins and campsites.

The bill appearing to be of minor consequence on the Senate calendar attracted Republican opposition like ants zeroing in on a picnic spread. The debate on Senate Bill 49 served as a platform to express opposition among GOP lawmakers to a state agency operating rental housing in state parks instead of allowing the private sector to serve those customers.

“This is a prime example of when we should ask ourselves what should government be doing?” said Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Parker Republican. “We have cabins that are competing with private companies, private mom-and-pop businesses. Is this a function of government?”

Under Senate Bill 49, the secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism would assume rental-rate authority held by the state parks commission, which endorsed the bill.

Sen. Dan Kerschen, a Garden Plain Republican, said the secretary would be able to nimbly adjust rates for the 115 cabins in state parks and for hundreds of campsites in response to market demand rather than await decisions by the commission.

“One size doesn’t fit all in this particular deal on cabin sites,” Kerschen said.

Most of the state park cabins rent for $85 to $115 per night, but the bill would remove a maximum cap of $250 per night.

Passing pricing decisions to the secretary could open the door to holiday discounts capable of attracting more people to overnight stays in the parks, said Sen. Marci Francisco, a Lawrence Democrat.

After the dust cleared, the bill was adopted 29-11, with all of the dissent arising from GOP conservatives.

Senators plowed through more than two dozen pieces of legislation ahead of a weeklong break from work in Topeka.

Sen. Kevin Braun, R-Kansas City, convinced colleagues to approve Senate Bill 62, which would formally free law enforcement officers from adherence to vehicle safety laws when performing official duties. The bill would allow officers and deputies clear authorization to ignore speed limit and parking regulations. In addition, the bill adopted 34-4 would enable officers to drive vehicles without turning on lights or sirens when following other vehicles.

“Law enforcement officers are required to violate the law to conduct their official duties,” Braun said, “although they are not typically prosecuted.”

Democratic Sen. David Haley, also of Kansas City, Kan., said there was no justification for a measure cloaking law enforcement officers from traffic offenses because no prosecutor had the audacity to charge an officer who was doing his or her job.

“To have a speeding car go by without lights or sirens does cause me great concern,” said Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City.

The Senate also adopted Senate Bill 77 to require children in foster care suspected of sexual behavior problems to be promptly referred to counseling by the Kansas Department for Children and Families. The bill would apply to people under the age of 18 who allegedly committed a sexual offense against another person under the age of 18.

The voluntary counseling for children and their families would cost the state an estimated $210,000 annually and provide treatment to 275 children and 820 family members.

 

This article was originally published on The Topeka Capital-Journal website, here.