A significant portion of the bills through this third week of the 2014 Kansas legislative session can be characterized as extreme or fiscally irresponsible. This Legislative Update starts with the Religious Freedom Marriage bill, coming up for a committee vote this Tues, Feb 4. Click on the Act Now button to send an email and weigh in on the issue.
OUT of Alignment with MAINstream
Separation Church and State–Legalized Discrimination. Coalition PAC Board member and attorney, Micheline Burger, provided testimony in opposition to Rep. Macheers’ Religious Freedom Marriage bill (HB2453). A committee vote is scheduled for Tues, Feb 4 at 9:00 am room 346-S in the Capitol. This bill opens the gateway to legalized discrimination and harm to others in the name of religious convictions. The cost to Kansas taxpayers is estimated to reach $250,000 in court challenges if passed. During the hearing, a committee member asked, "Where in the Constitution does it say anything about separation of church and state?" Read about Jefferson’s perspective on this question from the Library of Congress. Attend the Feb 4 committee hearing and stay for the noon Brightline Legislative Luncheon: Sharing a Commitment to Church/State Separation and Individual Freedom, cosponsored by MAINstream Coalition. Register here.
Fiscal Responsibility–Judicial Budget. Kansas Chief Justice Lawton Nuss cautioned that state judiciary budget allocations do not touch the current $8.25 million shortfall (State of Judiciary, Jan 22, 2014). He reported that Kansas courts face a shutdown July 1, 2014 if the state does not restore necessary funds to fulfill state and federal requirements. Further, Chief Nuss noted that an underfunded court system will serve as a deterrent to corporate relocation and job growth, the antithesis of the Governor’s tax policy goals. Read more here.
Fiscal Responsibility–Funds Transfer from Capital Improvement to Supplemental Aid(SB305). Sen. Jeff King sponsored a bill that takes state money from capital improvement state aid (bricks and mortar) and shifts it to the supplemental general state aid (operational budget for classroom instruction). Essentially this bill would create a new problem to resolve an old one.
Separation Church and State–Women’s Health. On the occasion of the 41st Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Kansas political leadership chose to make a spectacle of women’s health issues. Outside the Capitol, a rally brought Governor Brownback out to give a supporting speech, which U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp continued comparing women’s reproductive rights to slavery and oppression. Further, Kansans for Life declared they would continue to work with Governor Brownback along with other groups to reform the judicial selection process in Kansas, saying, "the makeup of the Supreme Court is important because anti-abortion laws eventually face legal challenges there."
Inside the Capitol, Attorney General Derek Schmidt admitted to the Associate Press that Kansas has spent $1 million defending Governor Brownback’s anti-federal legislation. This fiscal irresponsibility was framed in the context of Sen. Pilcher-Cook’s orchestrated sonograms, live in the Capitol, so committee members could be "educated as to the science of life within the womb." Sen. Public Health and Welfare Committee Chair, Pilcher-Cook introduced a bill to ban surrogate pregnancies in KS (SB302), since killed by Senate President, Susan Wagle. Sen. Pilcher-Cook has recently expressed plans to sponsor a bill restricting health/sex education in Kansas middle schools, via an opt-in parental consent requirement, blurring not only the lines between church and state, but separation of powers between the role of the legislature and the authority of elected members of the State Board of Education.
Strong Public Education–Proposed State Education Budget. The State Board of Education requested $673 million increase for 2015 state education budget, to “fund the law” for school finance based on the statutory $4,492 per pupil base state aid (2012 Statute). This request exceeds Governor Brownback’s proposed education budget increase. The discrepancy is a function of the Governor choice to change state tax policy rather than restore cuts made to education during the Great Recession. He opted to use 2011 revenue growth to provide major income tax cuts to corporations and Kansans in the top income brackets. In doing so, the Governor has broken his pledge to hold schools harmless. Read more here.
Even with insufficient resources, public schools are still expected to produce top quality outcomes and help all students achieve college and career ready standards. Note the House Education Committee will be discussing school funding and performance this coming week.
IN Alignment with MAINstream
In our efforts to reclaim the voice of moderate Kansans, consider these bills calling forResponsible Government. Click on the Act Now button to send an email and help generate some momentum.
Responsible Government–Transparency and Accountability Act (HB2438). Click the Act Now button to email legislators in support of bill to provide for live audio and video broadcasts to all legislative meetings required to be open to the public. At present, only proceedings from a full senate or house meeting are broadcast live, which excludes committee hearings (and more) during which the substantive work of state government is conducted. Bipartisan sponsors include Representatives Clayton, Christmann, Dierks, Hibbard, Hildabrand, Hill, Hineman, Howell, Menghini, Moxley, Perry, Petty, Rooker and Whipple.
Responsible Government–Kansas Protection Against Voter Suppression Act(SB253/HB2428). Click the Act Now button to email legislators in support of these bills to reduce election barriers, erected by Sec. Kris Kobach. This protection bill would allow Kansans and the 20,200 suspended voter registration applicants to submit an affidavit, in lieu of a citizenship document, swearing that they meet the requirements for voter registration in Kansas. Co-sponsors are Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau and Rep. Jim Ward.
Register to Vote at Kansas Online Voter Registration. Help a friend and neighbor register today. Mark the August 5, 2014 primaries on your calendar for state and national elections. Set the calendar reminder to July 14 for advance voting. Local spring general elections are April 1, 2014.
Separation of Powers–Requiring Court of Appeals Applicant Information Made Public(SB252). Click the Act Now button to email legislators in support of this bill which would require Governor Brownback to disclose applicants name and city of residence no less than ten days prior to appointment. While Governor Brownback gained the authority to place ideologically driven judges on the Court of Appeals under his misrepresentation of the federal selection process, this new bill would force some degree of transparency the Governor so erroneously argued the merit based process lacked. Sponsors include Senators Hensley, Faust-Goudeau, Francisco, Haley, Hawk and Pettey.
Strong Public Education–Funding Levels for Local Budget Authority with Equalization(SB277). Click the Act Now button to email legislators in support of this bill which would extend funding the local option authority with state equalization at $4,433 per pupil thru 2019. This current calculation rate is set to expire June 30, 2014 and drop to the current base state aid rate of $3,838 which is a cut of $595 per student. Sponsored by Sen. Ty Masterson.Strong Public Education–All Day Kindergarten. Governor Brownback has been visiting schools, talking about his new strategy to achieve his 4th grade reading goal for the state. However, he has yet to secure legislative leadership needed to introduce an all-day kindergarten bill and work it through committee. One elementary PTA President summed up her expectations in the Governor’s likelihood for success , “I don’t have a lot of faith this is going to happen” (Kansas City Star, 1/23/2014).
he MAINstream Coalition is watching for the Kansas Supreme Court ruling on the Gannon School Finance lawsuit. The court typically files its decisions on Friday mornings. MAINstream will publish a special Legislative Update, following the announcement.
Read more here for a concise and informative summary on the history of school finance in Kansas, a history that has played out with somTe important similarities in states across the country.