Throughout the history of Kansas politics, political theater has always played a role, but the Statehouse debate has not always drawn a wide audience - at least not in recent times. This past weekend changed all that. An engaged audience of Kansans, including MainStream members and hundreds of teachers in Topeka, and a nationwide social media presence, all watched, listened and followed as the weekend's deplorable events unfolded.
What Exactly Happened Last Weekend?
The informal timeline that follows is only a glimpse at the performance played out in our legislature this past weekend. It does not tell the background story of the intense lobbying, arm twisting for votes, and promises or threats made to legislators by well-funded organizations. Nor does it express the profound realization of many that public education has suffered a tremendous blow to put it alongside Kansans' judicial and health systems.
Thursday, April 3
Deliberations begin on education funding plans to comply with the Supreme Court ruling. Take note that the Supreme Court published this ruling nearly 4 weeks prior, letting 19 days of committee meetings pass before leadership prioritized the debate and leaving just 2 days to make critical decisions regarding half of the state's general funds. The drama had been building from Monday of this week when the House Appropriations chair, Marc Rhoades, steps down after pushing a plan with game-changing education reforms and large cuts that immediately draws outrage from districts across the state. Debate continues overnight as the full Senate, at 1:30 a.m., not only pushes but also shoves a bill loaded with policy privatizing public education, allowing public tax dollars to pay for private education, de-funding education standards and eliminating due process for teachers. The Senate vote passes, 23-17.
Friday, April 4
The House passes their bi-partisan plan 91-31. This plan, supported by the Governor, limits education policy changes and provides full equity funding. With each chamber having passed an education plan, both bills move to a conference committee.
The conference committee meets around 9:00 p.m. and details of the Senate and House plans are explained. Senator Ty Masterson, Chair, asks for time to allow each major party to caucus (Republicans and Democrats) and to present a “global offer” at 9:30 Saturday morning.
Saturday morning, April 5
The first round of negotiations occur and then a second, dragging on through mid afternoon when a consolidated bill emerges, looking more like the extreme Senate bill than the good faith compromise of the House. At this time, hundreds of teachers who were in Topeka for a workshop, begin to pour into the statehouse after it becomes clear that public education and teachers remain under attack.
Afternoon turns into late evening as delay after delay, presumably due to leadership counting possible votes and the hope that the teachers will go home. The House finally begins debating the consolidated bill after 10:00 p.m. Once again the debate ends and a final vote occurs around 1:00 a.m. with the House rejecting the plan 55-67. About an hour later the negotiators met briefly and agree to run a slightly altered plan and to recess until 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning.
In the wee hours of Sunday morning, April 6
According to the Lawrence Journal World, after the statehouse has cleared out, Republican leadership schedules another meeting with little notice, raising doubts as to its legality.
At 9:30 a.m. the conference committee meets and a new plan emerges. This time the Senate is set to run the bill first and debate is to begin at 10:30 a.m. Teachers, parents, community members and public education supporters once again fill the statehouse for the second day, this time prepared to stay the night if needed.
After several delays, leadership calls for another conference committee meeting and debate finally begins around 4:00 p.m. in the Senate, over five hours behind schedule. The opening discussion centers on the possible open meeting and rules violations regarding the hastily called 4:00 a.m. meeting. The Attorney General advises that the last minute meeting change is at worst a misdemeanor but, according to Senator King, does not negate proceedings. Proceedings resume on the consolidated education bill, while proponents of the bill are still trying to sway legislators to pass it. Suddenly, Senator Pat Apple makes a motion to end debate. Leadership apparently got the votes needed to pass the bill, angering exhausted Senate Republicans and Democrats who appear played and manipulated through an unnecessarily grueling process. A vote is taken and the consolidated bill passes in the Senate 22-16. The bill now moves to the House for debate sometime after 9:00 p.m.
The Republicans caucus on the bill before entering their chamber. Many announce that the vote will be very close. Debate is short and the bill passes 63-57, in front of a gallery and statehouse full of Kansans standing their ground in history. It garners just the minimum 63 votes needed to pass. The final education bill, which allows for public monies to flow to private school students, ends due process for teachers, reduces at-risk funding, and allows an increase in local funding, is now in the hands of the Governor for his signature or veto. Here is a summary of the plans and what passed.
An unflagging audience of teachers, parents, and community members filled the galleries of both chambers, while hundreds listened online and followed social media. Kansas constituents and education advocates across the country, exposed the ruse to bundle destructive education policy with the constitutional obligation to restore equalization funding to Kansas school districts. This political theater awakened many Kansans across the state. To pass legislation that has never had a public hearing is undemocratic and bad government.
Stay tuned to the veto session scheduled to begin April 30, there could be more.
Other legislation passed on Saturday
IN Alignment with MainStream
Ironically, the Transparency Act passed out of the Senate on a vote of 40-0 and moves to the House. Mainstream provided testimony in support of this legislation. It may be worked in the veto session on the House side. We encourage you to continue emails or calls to House members for this bill to be heard.
OUT of Alignment with MainStream
The trampling of local governments continued when the legislature approved the bill to nullify city and county gun restrictions and ensure the legality to openly carry a gun across the state. The House passed this bill 102-19 and the Senate passed it 37-2. The measure now goes to the Governor for his signature or veto.
The House voted 74-48 to approve the Interstate Health Care Compact. The bill to join the Compact (HB 2553) was proposed by Rep. Brett Hildebrand and aims to allow states to opt out of pieces of the Affordable Care Act. If approved by Congress, the compact would allow Kansas to take over administration of federal funding streams for Kansas health care programs. Many feel that our state would not be prepared to take on this task.
Paul Davis, Minority Leader in the Kansas House - Education Update
Hosted by Johnson County Educators Political Action Committee
Thursday, April 10 at 7:00 pm
Tomahawk Ridge Community Center
11902 Lowell Ave Overland Park KS
Ask the Experts: What's Up with Voting
The League of Women Voters of Johnson County has assembled a panel of experts to answer your questions about voting in Kansas. What do the new Kansas voter registration laws do? Have these laws made it more difficult for citizens to register to vote? What election bills are currently before the legislature? Join the discussion with these election experts:
Brian Newby, Johnson County Election Commissioner
Holly Weatherford, Advocacy Director ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri
Tom Sawyer, Sedgwick County Legislator, Ranking Minority Member House Elections Committee
Scott Schwab, Johnson County Legislator, Chair House Elections Committee
9948 Metcalf Ave Overland Park KS 66212
Lessons for Other States from Kansas' Massive Tax Cuts
Kansas Center for Economic Growth and League of Women Voters invites you to a presentation and moderated discussion regarding the report "Lessons for Other States from Kansas' Massive Tax Cuts". The event features the report’s author, Dr. Mike Leachman, and a bipartisan panel of policymakers, including Senator Pat Pettey and Representatives Barbara Bollier and Melissa Rooker. Tom Robinett, United Community Services of Johnson County Board member, will moderate.
Tuesday, April 29 from 7:00-8:30 pm
Johnson County Central Library
9875 W 87th Street Overland Park KS