By Aaron Strain / Web Master
Representative Jason Probst hosted the second of two town hall meetings sponsored by Hutchinson Community College’s Student Publications on Tuesday in Shears Technology Center. Probst represents Kansas’ 102nd House District, which includes southern Hutchinson.
He spoke about his work in the legislature, and what he hopes to accomplish in the upcoming legislative year.
Like many Hutchinson residents on a certain August morning, Probst thought a truck hit his home when his computer monitor suddenly started shaking, followed by the rest of his house.
The Kansas and US Geological Surveys suspect that those 4.0-plus-magnitude earthquakes resulted from oil and gas wastewater injection. As fluid pressure from injection wells in southern Kansas crept northward, faults surrounding Hutchinson became more prone to quakes.
Currently, the KGS studies all of Kansas’ seismic activity with two permanent and several temporary monitoring wells. Earlier this year, Probst proposed drilling 10 additional monitoring wells across the state for use by the KGS. A one-time fee on disposal well drilling permits would fund these monitors.
At the previous town hall, Rep. Paul Waggoner, R-Hutchinson, said this plan “could be overkill.”
Probst said, “I don’t think it’s overkill. Ten wells is a start and financially doable.”
Probst also said the state needs more detailed geological maps.
“We sometimes don’t know there is a fault until there is an earthquake,” he said.
After further research and mapping, Probst said an injection limit should be put in place in the area. In 2015, after reporting high fluid pressure and earthquake rates in Harper and Sumner Counties, the state imposed a limit on injection in those counties and quakes became less frequent.
Student loan debt
Probst said reductions in state support of public institutions and the privatization of student loans cause several economic problems students face.
Historically, students could easily work their way through college, but that has changed.
“The state hasn’t supported public institutions the way they used to … If you go back 30 years, you see a steady decline in the amount of tuition that is supported by state dollars,” Probst said. “The state has lowered its share of the cost, and so that gets spread somewhere else, often to higher tuition and higher fees that are (placed) on students.
“(Loans) have become finance instruments. Instead of being a way to get through school with a reasonably priced loan that you could afford to pay, we’ve let big banks get into the business and make money off of it. We’re sending people out into the workforce with an enormous amount of debt which they can’t get out from under. It’s one of two debts that you can’t get rid of through bankruptcy – taxes and student loan debt. This was very well-crafted legislation for banks, and they did a good job of getting that through.”
Probst said he supports students gaining a technical degree if they believe they are well-suited to a career in that field. He also believes that students should not be punished for wanting a continued education.
“Traditional college is not a fit for everybody … but (trade school) is not a fit for everybody either,” Probst said.
Government and media relations
Before taking office, Probst was a reporter and editorial writer for The Hutchinson News. He is one of the few journalists-turned-politicians in state history.
Probst said being in government “(obligates him) to be thoughtful and mindful about competing ideas” to represent his constituency, unlike when his job was to give his opinion every day.
Probst said the relationship between media and government has eroded.
“The relationship should be adversarial in the same sense that defense attorneys and prosecutors have an adversarial relationship,” Probst said. “In a perfect world, they both serve the same purpose – the pursuit of justice. The media and government should also serve the same purpose: truth and information.”
He said that government officials tend to lack respect for journalists in their role in that “shared goal.”
Turnout for local elections held two weeks ago was low. Probst said that city council incumbents lost in recent elections mainly over housing policy. People in his district who would most benefit from rental licensing and property improvement policies, including a relatively high number in poverty, did not vote. The people who did vote, however, were “people who do not want any interference in how they run their properties,” and they supported opposition candidates.
“Things don’t change until enough people who care vote to put people in office who will do the things that represent what they want. You can not care, and you can not vote. But, there’s another group of people that do care, and they’re making sure that they’re voting.”
Probst said he understands why people feel apathetic towards a system they believe has not worked for them. However, “it definitely doesn’t work if people who could change it don’t participate in it.”