The Kansas Legislature has gone home for their "Spring break," and will return on May 1 for what is usually the "veto session," a time designated for debating any veto the Governor has made to legislation completed in the regular session. Unfortunately, the Kansas Legislature has left town with almost nothing accomplished. No tax reform. No budget. No school finance plan. No solution to the $1 billion revenue crater facing Kansas.
Here are a few things to keep in mind, as we go through the current state of major legislation pending in the Legislature.
First, the veto session is not supposed to be used to create, debate, and pass major legislation. And, in fact, the Legislature has passed major tax reform and KanCare expansion. But none of those are law because a handful of recalcitrant legislators have prevented veto overrides. Now, presented with their failures, the legislative leadership is trying to cast the situation as one of purpose. "We know what we have to do," said Senate President Susan Wagle. "There's a will to get to it quickly and try to resolve our differences."
But earlier in the session, when the legislative body refused to agree to Wagle's further cuts to education, she withdrew the bills in a huff and announced no more work would be done in the Senate if it were not tax and budget related. And here we are with no revenue reform and no budget for the next two years.
Second, there is a hard deadline facing the legislature, in the Kansas Supreme Court's requirement that a constitutional school finance plan be in place by July 1. In previous years, extremists in the Legislature have complained that the Court should not decide how much money to appropriate (for education) and the Court has agreed. But the Legislature has hemmed and hawed all session, producing a complicated plan that may not be constitutional and delays a full commitment to funding. And it has not received a single vote yet.
Third, Leadership is being quoted as telling legislators to kiss their families goodbye during this break, and to expect to work late nights and weekends as they try to cram in a session's worth of business into a few weeks. This is a failure of leadership, plain and simple, and dredges up bad memories of recent sessions past, when 3 am votes and locked doors led to poor legislation that still plagues the state.
It is clear from the votes this session, that there has been a profound change in the Kansas Legislature. Bills that would never have seen the floor in previous years have sailed through with wide margins, only to run afoul of the Governor's veto. The 2014 Governor's race looms large, when Brownback won a last mile squeaker to keep his seat. That said, veto overrides have failed by only two or three votes, and that can be laid at Leadership's feet. In fact, the failure to pass comprehensive, fair, rational tax reform rests on the literal votes of Senate President Susan Wagle and Senate Majority Leader Jm Denning.
The people of Kansas have spoken. In the 2016 election. In surveys. In town halls. And the Leadership of the Kansas Legislature is not listening.
Where do we stand now?
Briefly, here is where we stand on the major issues before the 2017 Legislature, as we identified back in January.
Revenue, taxes, and budget: The Legislature has passed a bill to close the budget gap this year. Known as a recission bill, it is waiting for the Governor's signature. Comprehensive tax reform also passed early in the session, but failed to overcome the Governor's veto by three votes in the Senate. The state continues to miss revenue goals, despite artificially lowering the bar in November. Emboldened by their obstructionism, the extremist "Truth Caucus" tried to push a flat tax through last week, and in a stunning slap-down despite the Governor's blessing, it received only three votes. There is no completed budget plan for the next two years, and there is no tax reform plan to bring Kansas out of crisis.
School finance: With the July 1 deadline looming, the Senate has been idling while the House leadership chases its own tail, ignoring a bill crafted over the past year with input from stakeholders and legislators of both parties. Instead, the House leadership crafted their own bill, a complicated, underfunded affair that rolled tax money for private schools into the law. In committee, moderates and Democrats whittled away at it, cutting out the most egregious aspects, increasing funding, and trying to work within the system. In the end, perhaps displeased with the changes, leadership punted any action on the bill until after the break. And in their final action on Friday, extremists confirmed the hiring of extremist ex-legislator Jeff King (0% on MainStream's scorecard, including a vote for the unconstitutional block grant school funding system), an attorney, to oversee the "constitutionality" of whatever they turn out.
KanCare expansion: Another bill that passed by wide margins, reflecting the will of 82% of Kansans, but encountered the Governor's veto, and failed to be overridden. While there are plans by advocates to attempt another override, this remains a testament to the unwillingness of some legislators to listen to their constituents.
Other legislation: Gun sense advocates continue to push the boulder up the hill, but despite overflowing hearings in favor of repealing campus carry laws, have found little traction in a Legislature beholden to the NRA. A bill putting up more barriers to women's reproductive health has passed, this one requiring additional doctor disclosures, and demonstrating the extremist's disregard for clinical care by mandating 12-point font size to counter "abortionist tactics." And to be sure, the Legislature has passed countless bills this session, as most of governing is managing the minutiae. To date, the Senate has considered 294 bills and resolutions, and the House, 463. (See: 2017 Senate and House Actions Report)
The Legislature returns to work on Monday, May 1. These three weeks are our opportunity to meet with our legislators, call them, email them, and let them know how we feel about these issues. MainStream is hosting several Step Up events to meet local legislators. The League of Women Voters are hosting legislators events. And your legislators themselves will be reaching out to their constituents.
Get in touch with them, and let them know that you want to meet them. Let us know how you fare? We are willing to help you make these connections. Find your legislators and their contact information at:
And don't miss our education forum on April 27th, right before the Legislature reconvenes.
Remember to do more than vote. Get informed. Get involved. Make a difference.