Politics & Government

Legislators hear constituents’ concerns at public forum

More than two dozen people, many wearing American Federation of Teachers T-shirts, spoke out Saturday at a legislative forum about issues including voters rights, the legalization of marijuana, education funding and immigration.

Rep. Jim Howell, R-Derby, moderated the forum, sponsored by the South Central Kansas Legislative Delegation, of which he is chairman. He instituted new rules for the 90-minute forum at the National Center for Aviation Training, asking people to sign up to speak by topic and giving them three minutes to do so. One person used most of his time at the microphone to complain about the rules. Howell, running his first forum as chairman of the delegation, said he opted to have people sign up by topic and give each person three minutes to speak to avoid having a long list of people wishing to speak and running out of time. He said that has happened at past forums. About a third of the delegation attended the forum, which drew about 110 people.

Carolina Hernandez, a student at Wichita State University, told legislators that she has lived in Wichita since she was 3 years old. Her parents, she said, are undocumented immigrants.

“My parents have risked everything,” she said, to give her a better life.

She gave thanks to President Obama for ceasing deportation of young people such as herself, even though the Dream Act did not pass, but said she still fears for her parents.

Her generation, she said, “we call ourselves dreamers.”

Others spoke out against Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s Kansas Secure and Fair Elections Act, saying the state is violating people’s Constitutional rights and is spending money that could be better used for other purposes, such as education, on defending the law.

Michael Nucci, who moved to Wichita from New York, expressed frustration about his voter registration being suspended. Nucci, who has epilepsy, said he arranged transportation twice to get a Kansas identification card and register to vote. When he moved into a home for the disabled, he said, he tried to update his voter registration but later was told it was on hold.

He received a standing ovation from several people in the crowd for talking about his desire to vote in the state in which he now lives. Nucci, active in Kansas People’s Action, which represents people whose registrations were suspended because of proof-of-citizenship requirements, said he went to great lengths to register.

Grace Decker, who said she works for the Kansas Department for Children and Families, asked legislators to vote against a House bill, HB 2750, that would take away longevity bonuses for state employees.

She said she’s spent 31 years going into dangerous homes and situations to protect children and “this is the thanks I get.”

Several people in the audience also rose for her.

A few speakers, including Mark Unruh, urged legislators to step aside on education issues and “avoid a misguided attempt to interfere with state education standards.”

“Frankly, I think you need to let the board of education do its work,” he said.

The next legislative forum will be at 6:30 p.m. April 28 at the Derby Welcome Center, 611 N. Mulberry.