Kansas Council Leader Receives Advocacy Award

Kansas Council Leader Receives Advocacy Award
Col. Michael Kelly, USAF (Ret), left, legislative chair of MOAA's Kansas Council of Chapters, meets with State Rep. Col. Pat Proctor, USA (Ret), in the House chamber of the Kansas State House in October.

By Contributing Editor Blair Drake


From helping to make food more affordable for military families to ensuring employees at veterans’ care facilities get the pay increases they deserve, Col. Michael Kelly, USAF (Ret), continues to work extensively advocating for the military and veterans’ community in Kansas. 


As legislative liaison for MOAA’s Kansas Council of Chapters, Kelly collaborates with leaders of other veterans’ organizations in the state to create legislative priorities, educate and communicate with state elected officials, organize the Veterans Service Organization Day at the state house, attend hearings and provide testimony on issues, and rally support from fellow MOAA members and members of the military community across the state.        


For his leadership and initiative in advocating for the military community at both the state and national level, MOAA is honoring Kelly as a 2022 recipient of the Colonel Steve Strobridge Legislative Liaison Award. 


[RELATED: Chapter Leader Posthumously Honored for Advocacy Work]


During the past legislative session, Kelly saw success with several issues, among them the passing of House Bill 2106, which will completely eliminate the state sales tax on groceries by 2025. Kansas has one of the highest grocery sales taxes in the nation, at 6.5%. 


“That’s an issue for every young airman and soldier,” said Kelly, who testified on the bill. “They have to pay more if they shop off base, so that bill helped every servicemember in Kansas. We’re proud of that. We weren’t the only voice on this, but we said our piece.” 


He also helped ensure the staff at two state-run nursing homes for veterans received a salary increase that other state employees were receiving. 


[RELATED: MOAA's Military State Report Card and Tax Guide]


“There was a question about whether the nursing home employees would get the raise as well,” Kelly said. “So we supported that legislation … because it was pretty clear this needed to happen. This wasn’t a heavy lift.” 


Some other issues require ongoing work, including getting passed an exemption of taxation on military pay for members of the armed forces and an extension of state benefits for Kansas citizens serving in the National Guard of another state. Kelly hopes to continue to push for passage of both. 


He admits that grassroots advocacy can often be a long and challenging process, but collaboration and strength in numbers are keys to success. 


“MOAA has a good reputation,” he said. “But when you can say all the veterans’ group in the state met, that’s a powerful statement and a powerful voice.” 


Availability also is important. 


“Your best ability is availability,” Kelly said. “When the legislature is addressing an issue, you need to show up. These days you can show up virtually. Your military experiences carry weight. If the state is going to do something that will cause a mess you saw during your career, speak up. Those voices of experience are welcome, and I think legislators pay attention to that. Lived experience is powerful.” 


Col. Michael Slusser, USA (Ret), past president of the Kansas Council of Chapters, said Kelly exemplifies MOAA’s never stop serving motto. 


“Colonel Kelly has gone far above and beyond his duties to promote, advocate, and fulfill state legislation supporting the Kansas military community,” Slusser said. “His tireless leadership, testimony, and advocacy provided long-lasting benefit to our Kansas veterans, military, and their families.”


Blair Drake is a contributing editor for MOAA and lives in Souderton, Pa. She previously served on the editorial team of Military Officer magazine for nine years.

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