This is our Legislative Update, a biweekly report during the Kansas Legislative Session.
Kansas is five weeks into the 2015 legislative session. In that short time, the Governor and legislative leadership have become much less cautious about disguising who they truly represent – and it is not the people of Kansas. Chalk up a few more victories for the ideologues and limited-government libertarians from recent battles waged in committee rooms (that no one outside of Topeka can see or hear, unless the Kansas Transparency Act gains some momentum). Losers include our public school teachers and students, advocates for equality, and champions of good government.
Battle for Teachers. For 18 months, four key stakeholders were tasked by the legislature to hammer out a compromise on collective bargaining for teachers. On the day that the House Education Committee was to address the issue, the laboriously negotiated Compromise Bill (HB 2257) from theorganizations representing teachers, administrators, superintendents and school boards was tossed aside in favor of the plan championed by KPI/Koch lobbyist Dave Trabert. In an effort to strip teachers of all rights except wages and hours, the Committee instead introducedthe K12 Commission Minority Report (HB 2034) and subsequently passed it out of committee. To clarify, the solution agreed to by the experts and key stakeholders of the education community, as ordered by the legislature – was rejected. The bill that originated from ALEC, was rejected by the K12 Commission and yet pushed by the Commission’s two paid limited-government lobbyists (Trabert and O’Neal) – was passed. Read more at Under the Dome. To add insult to injury, another senate bill (SB 56) was introduced to criminalize teachers for doing their job and teaching about human sexuality or other materials parents deem ‘harmful to minors’. Read more at Topeka Capital-Journal.
Battle for Equality. Governor Brownback opened the week with an Executive Order that rescinded equal protection under the law for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender state workers. With the stroke of a pen, state employees can now be discriminated against and fired from the jobs for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Read more at CNN. Attacks on women’s health policy continues as well. The senate introduced a bill to severely restrict women’s reproductive rights, essentially triggering Supreme Court changes (SB 95). The week closed with the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs spending two days deliberating marriage and its ‘degeneration of the culture. Read more at Wichita Eagle.
Battle for Local Control & Impartial Elections. The same Kansas leadership who touts the virtues of limited government, selectively ignored its own mantra again for the opportunity to gain partisan power by over-riding local election laws. This deliberate over reach of local authority is packaged in a 54 page bill (SB 171) that outraged so many Kansans, the volume of oppositional testimony overflowed the tables outside the committee room. And note that this testimony was written and delivered all within the insufficient window of 24 hours that Kansas citizens were given to respond. Fatal flaws within this bill are numerous and include: introducing partisan politics into school board elections, changing school board members mid-school year, excluding military personnel from municipal service, overloading November ballots and August primaries with excessive choices discouraging informed voting – or worse – straight ticket voting, embedding an unfunded mandate that requires all public school districts to make “suitable” school buildings available for polling places and canceling school for the day.
The battle for Kansas continues to wage in committee and on the chamber floors. Your views matter. Let’s stay informed. Let’s stay engaged and put our elected officials back to work for Kansas citizens.