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Crimes, insurance, schools are pending issues, Gonzalez reports

The Oskaloosa Independent of Oskaloosa, Kansas

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Representative says he probably won't seek reelection

Rep. Ramon Gonzalez, R-47th District, has an interim committee meeting coming up concerning corrections and juvenile justice.

He thinks the group of six representatives and seven senators will be focusing on bed space.

"Every time we criminalize something we have to consider how many more will be incarcerated and how many more beds will that take," he said.

"Whenever you look at passing laws you have to look at the fiscal impact because somebody has to pay for it besides the criminal," he said.

That also goes for re-evaluating sentencing. Do we continue to "put people away or rely more on community corrections," he said.

Gonzalez is an advocate of "ankle monitoring" for nonviolent offenses.

"It's the wave of the future," he said. "Rather than putting the burden on the citizens, the [offender] can be out in the workforce."

Under this system the person convicted remains at home and feeds himself and even keeps working if he has a job. The court charges the daily monitoring fee to the criminal.

The representative notes that they are monitored 24 hours a day and they can be tracked when there are limitations on where they can go, such as a school, liquor store, or the victim's residence.

Gonzalez is midway through his third term and will return to the Legislature when it takes up in January. Another issue that he's working on that failed to get passed last session is to increase the insurance limits on auto liability.

"They haven't been changed in 35 years while the cost of a vehicle has tripled," he said. "Now with the price of a vehicle between $30,000 and $40,000 the minimum limits do not cover the cost."

He is also on the Telecommunications Committee and Transportation and Public Safety.

He has just left one of the most contentious sessions and the longest one in the state's history.

His wife, Yolanda, scheduled a knee replacement for early June.

"We never dreamed the session would stretch into June let alone consume the whole month," he said.

Finally, the last week, Ramon would be in his legislative seat when the gavel fell and shortly after be at the hospital when recess was called.

"I had more recesses than I did in grade school," he said.

The Legislature had to make up a shortfall in the budget and on the table were cigarette and liquor taxes, the LLC tax, sales tax, and no tax.

Gonzalez said he was frustrated but unlike some other legislators he was not anxious or upset. He said he tries to keep things in perspective.

The effort of trying to hammer out a legislative deal in the State-house is nothing for an old lawman to get worked up about.

"It doesn't come close to the threats in my line of work. At least I didn't worry about being shot or beaten up," he said.

Gonzalez is the Chief of Police for the city of Perry and a detective with the Jefferson County Sheriff Department.

His mailbox contains 25 to 30 pieces of mail each day pertaining to some legislative matter. Most of it is informational pieces, but on this day he had three invitations to attend various functions around the state, many of which he tries to attend. These ranged from events in Ulysses and Hays to Kansas City.

"I have my district, but I also represent the state," he said. When he travels, however, he uses a private car and never puts in for mileage.

"That way if I want to take the longer scenic route I can," he said.

The biggest issue the Legislature will face in the next session — Gonzalez's sixth — will be school finance that consumes over half of the state budget. The current block grant program put in place last year was only for two years and then it sunsets.

Either a new finance formula will have to be devised or the sunset provision extended, he said.

Gonzalez did not vote for the governor's block grant provision to fund schools and is somewhat in the dark as to who drove it through the legislative process.

Gonzalez knows Gov. Brownback wanted it along with some representatives, but it was not supported by the school establishment nor the public as far as he knows.

There has been an elimination of the various "buckets" or funds under the block grant that Gonzalez believes is helpful. He cited examples of not being able to fix some problems, not because there wasn't money, but rather that money was in a different fund and could not be used. He indicated with the block grant the schools are more free to manage the money as they see fit.

He also did not support eliminating income taxes for the owners of certain businesses, such as limited-liability corporations. The state estimated fewer than 200,000 would take advantage, but that number has soared over 300,000.

"The purpose was to create jobs but that has not materialized," he said.

Gonzalez said a year ago he favored waiting to see if the effort would work, but now he has his doubts. He at one point in the long negotiations in June voted to restore part of the tax but it ultimately went down to defeat. He was among only six who voted for it and he later changed his vote.

"That was the only vote I ever changed," he said, noting that a lot of fellow legislators are conflicted when voting — always worried about the next election.

"I've tried to never think about the next election when voting," he said. "I tell the guy sitting next to me that there's no 'maybe' button."

Gonzalez, 68, has always said he doesn't believe in "career" politicians and apparently is starting to think maybe three terms are enough. He did not say he was done after this next session but he is leaning in that direction.

He's looking forward to a trip to San Antonio, Texas, in September for a reunion of Vietnam veterans. He spent 19 months fighting that war and hopes to reconnect with some of his comrades.

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Original Publication Date: August 27, 2015

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