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Budget, working with new lawmakers top KU's 2011 legislative agendas

The new year brings not only another new legislative season, but also a bumper crop of new legislators. Legislative sessions are under way on both the state and federal levels, and both are facing significant budget issues.

KU has outlined its legislative agenda for both the state and federal level, including continuing to show the vitality of the teaching and research at the university to the economic well being of the state and nation. The university will also focus on specific legislation points.

STATE

Kathy Damron, director of KU state relations, said her office’s first priority will be helping new Gov. Sam Brownback and newly elected legislators understand how KU works for Kansas. Through teaching and research, KU puts educated people into the job market and helps drive economic innovation, she said.

“We are encouraged that there is recognition among the governor and his staff of the correlation between higher education and economic development,” Damron said.

Of course, continuing to provide highly qualified candidates for the state’s workforce can be hindered by budget cuts. The Regents system has already absorbed $100 million in cuts, and the university will work hard to encourage the legislature not to make further, potentially damaging cuts.

Damron pointed out that Brownback, in his “Roadmap for Kansas,” calls for strategic investments in areas such as engineering, medicine and cancer research, all areas KU excels in.

Improving efficiencies is important, especially this year, when the state is facing a $550 million budget shortfall. KU will work with the legislature to help improve the process for IT purchases, both to speed the process and allow more methods such as bulk purchasing that ultimately will save money. Damron likened the efforts to KU’s work to improve state purchasing procedures in recent years, which have resulted in millions of dollars of savings.

Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little has played a key role in communicating with legislators, both on behalf of KU and all of Kansas Board of Regents Institutions, Damron said. As the chair of the Regents’ council of presidents, Gray-Little has been a leader in advocating for higher education, “a terrific bonus for KU,” Damron added.

One need not be an administrator to advocate for KU. Damron pointed to the work of Jayhawks for Higher Education, an organization directed by the KU Alumni Association that connects alumni in all 105 counties with their respective representatives. Damron encouraged employees to be in touch with their legislators and to be advocates for KU.

“I’m very proud of the efforts at the alumni association to engage and work with our lawmakers,” she said.

Damron said she will post regular updates on legislative activity throughout the session at govrelations.ku.edu.

FEDERAL

The picture is similar on the federal level. Mid-term elections brought many new legislators, including three new members of the House of Representatives. Keith Yehle, director of federal government relations, said his office has begun reaching out to the state’s lawmakers. For the next several months Gray-Little, Provost Jeffrey Vitter and other administrators “will be jointly telling the story of KU’s undergraduate and graduate teaching and research mission,” Yehle said.

KU will focus on demonstrating its vital role in health care delivery across the state through educating family practice doctors, nurses and performing cutting edge cancer research. Efforts also will be made to keep legislators abreast of developments in KU’s ongoing strategic planning efforts.

The budget outlook is not much different on a federal level. Because of that, there most likely will not be new research funds available, and Yehle said KU will try to prevent further budget cuts are not made to federal research agencies such as the National Institutes for Health and National Science Foundation. Chances are good that there will be across-the-board budget cuts as well as a rescission bill, which would cut previously allocated, but unused federal funding. KU can play a key role in helping legislators understand the serious consequences such cuts would have on the university, and subsequently, the state.

On a more optimistic note, Yehle said KU’s congressional representatives received good committee assignments. Third District Rep. Kevin Yoder, a KU alum and former student body president, is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, one of the body’s most powerful; and 4th District Rep. Mike Pompeo is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Second District Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins was elevated to serve on the House Ways and Means Committee.

“Representative Yoder has already voiced interest in partnering with KU,” Yehle said.

The university can lend expertise to a number of expected pieces of legislation, namely the Federal Research Public Access Act and reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The former is legislation that would require that federally funded research results be made publicly available. KU was the first public university in the nation to adopt an open access policy, which makes such findings available, while allowing publishers to maintain copyrights.

“KU is a leader in the field and should take an active role in showing the benefit of passing this legislation,” Yehle said.

Building relationships also will be key. With the new crop of legislators come many new staff members. KU should reach out to them, many of them alumni, to help establish trust and working relationships. The lack of new research funding should also serve as incentive for researchers to reach out to federal agencies they haven’t previously worked with.

“We have to look for ways to find new partnerships,” Yehle said. “This is not just limited to the biosciences. Humanities and all disciplines can benefit.”

Yehle said he can assist in finding points of contact in Washington for anyone looking to form relationships either with federal agencies or working directly with legislators. He also recommended the Federal Relations Facebook fan page as a way to follow legislative developments throughout the year.

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