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By Michael Byington

Our legislative work for KABVI has been limited mostly to one issue so far this session. There were several other things we wanted to work on as well, but with the death of my mother, and a serious long term illness on the part of Legislative Chair, Mark Coates’ father, we have limited ourselves so far to an issue that can not wait. That is the funding of Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (the Talking Books program) in Kansas.

Talking Books programming in Kansas has received virtually no funding increase sense 1989. Costs have of course escalated subsequent to that time. Although our Talking Books services in Kansas are quite good compared to some states, the inability of funding to keep pace with costs has resulted in some service slow-downs throughout the State. The matter was culminated by the fact that one of the six sub-regional libraries which works cooperatively with the State Talking Books program in Emporia to distribute Talking books pulled out of the system this year, due in part to lack of funds. This was the sub-regional program in Hutchinson, and this has caused the State program in Emporia to have to take on the duties of the missing sub-regional.

The officers and Legislative Committee of KABVI challenged the new leadership of the Kansas State Library to attempt to get funding enhancements for Library Services for the Blind from the Legislature this year. The new State Librarian, Christy Brandau, who has budgetary and administrative authority over Talking Books in Kansas, did indeed request a $75,000.00 budget enhancement for Talking Books in this year’s budget. Governor Sebelius, however, removed this money from the State Library Budget. KABVI’s task thus has become to get the money put back into the State’s budget.

Your Legislative Chair, Mark Coates, and I have visited all 165 Kansas Legislative offices about this issue. We found most Legislators and their staff people to be fairly friendly toward the issue, but many of them knew nothing about the program. They thought that talking books for the blind simply meant getting more commercially recorded audio books into Kansas Libraries. We explained that Talking Books for the Blind are largely federally funded books, recorded at alternative speeds or on alternative media, and distributed and mailed at federal expense. We explained that the federal government funds the provision of the players for the books. The State of Kansas is simply expected to provide the storage and distribution, or checkout, system. It is in that last leg of distribution where the funding crisis exists.

It is hard to write about legislation in this publication because the Legislative session in Kansas moves rather quickly, and our turn around time in getting the printed newsletter out makes it hard to offer the reader the latest information. At this writing, however, late February 2006, both the Kansas House and Senate budget committees have put the $75,000.00 enhancement for talking books back on the budgetary table. Both houses have stated that they think the money should be put back, but they have used differing legislative vehicles to make these statements. This means that the issue will be conference able near the end of the budget year. What this means is that the issue is looking pretty good, but will not absolutely be won or lost until the very last days of the Legislature. This will probably give readers of this magazine time to contact your elected STATE legislators and tell them to fund the $75,000.00 funding enhancement for Talking Books for the Blind, which is located in the State Library budget.


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