The 2015 legislative session is into its third week, with over 200 bills and resolutions introduced and no shortage of something to offend everyone. The underlying themes woven throughout the majority of these bills, and many more to come, should alarm us all into action.
Action will be necessary to prevent the pending onslaught of state laws that will further diminish the separation of powers, the separation of church and state, and further erode investments in opportunities for all Kansans to succeed - quality public education, social safety nets, well maintained roads and infrastructure.
Be aware that 2015 committee assignments have been strategically altered in such a way that the votes to put an early stop to ‘bad government’ bills are all but gone. Most bills of major concern are expected to be fought on the House floor. One exception to this dynamic may be the House Vision 2020 Committee, in which Rep. Jim Ward recently introduced bills to expand Medicaid eligibility and another to pull Kansas from the health-care compact. We'll keep you posted on this committee's voice of reason For now, we turn back to the bills of major concern.
The mounting $1 Billion budget deficit, as noted previously, is a self-inflicted wound created by this administration's ideological drive to zero-out income taxes and downsize government, despite collateral damage. Consider just three examples of the fallout --- two bond downgrades, over 50% of Kansas kids now living in a level of poverty that qualifies them for free/reduced school lunch, and 169,000 eligible Kansans denied health insurance. Nonetheless, the prevailing sentiment among our elected officials is to 'starve the beast' - meaning cut more services, borrow from KDOT, and float a $1.5 billion obligation bond. Note, the beast in this scenario as defined by the Governor's Budget Director, Shawn Sullivan are "the cost drivers of K-12, KPERS and Medicaid" and the governor's budget proposal was designed to "attack the cost drivers - public education, teachers pensions, and medical aid for the children and families" (Wichita Eagle). The legislature is under urgent financial pressure at present to approve rescission bills by Tuesday in order to balance the FY15 budget deficit, following Mr. Sullivan's announcement that the state would not have enough cash in two weeks time to make their regular state aid payment to K12 schools.
Despite campaign promises, over three quarters of our state legislators side with the belief that our K12 public schools are wasteful and don't need any more money. This position includes about 75% of Johnson County legislators. The governor's proposal to 'take a two-year time out' from the constitutional school finance formula is nothing more than a 'bait and switch' to distract us from the real issue at hand. Our public schools have been chronically underfunded for years, by about $550 million or more. The governor's working budget allots $0 towards this District and Supreme court rulings, cuts $127 million out of K12 revenues and level funds schools at the present unconstitutional rate for two more years. Level funding means no adjustment for inflation. Zero new education dollars for the next three years is the best-case scenario. The Senate's 'solution' (SB71) to filling this year's budget shortfall includes cutting millions in aid to schools over the next 4 months: SMSD cut $4.2 million, Blue Valley cut $3.3 million, Olathe cut $2.6.
At the same time, bills that undermine and stress the K12 infrastructure are multiplying rapidly. To date, these bills include banning Common Core education standards, stripping teachers' Professional Negotiations Act, establishing an unfunded mandate for annual district "efficiency" audits, usurping Kansas Department of Education and State Board of Education authority to determine state education standards, increasing reporting requirements for public funds used for lobbying, and expanding the new voucher-esk "scholarship" program that diverts public tax dollars to religious and private schools. For a full list of related bills, see KASB
Serious moves from in and outside the state are underway to remake the Kansas Supreme Court into a partisan branch of government, tucked directly under the influence of the executive branch. This proposed constitutional amendment is another attempt by the governor to double-down and expand on his executive branch takeover of the District Courts. The House anonymously proposed three Continuing Resolutions (HCR) to strip the courts of integrity and impartiality. HCR5004 to 5006 essentially eliminate the current merit-based selection process with a highly partisan gubernatorial appointment method. These amendments would allow the governor to hand pick Supreme Court justices who prefer to defund our public schools in favor of taxpayer vouchers for religious schools and who are likely to act on personal religious ideology rather than rule of law. He has done it already via the District Courts. In less than 6 months, Governor Brownback spearheaded this exact change to the appointment of District Court judges, added a seat to the bench, and placed an outspoken pro-life, pro-voucher justice to the second highest court in the state, then got him into the nominee pool and appointed to the Kansas Supreme Court and is now hand picking another District Court judge for replacement - all behind closed doors. So much for transparency.
Elections and Local Gov't
Now let's talk about your front yard. Do you think state legislators or homes associations should dictate how and when political yard signs can or can't be posted? A new bill asserts this is a state matter. Kansas leadership claims to value limited government, as evidenced by the zero-income tax policy and reduction of government employees, to name a few, except when it doesn't. If they cannot control voters or local governments, next step is to usurp them. Bills to move non-partisan spring elections of local officials to the fall partisan cycle are back from last session, crowding a full ballot and excluding military personnel from the option of holding office. Another bill would override city and county ordinances governing guns and ammunition, in terms of carrying, sale, taxation, storage. Additional 'bad government' voter laws include mindless one-ticket clicking options.
In follow up to the governor's state of the state promise to keep Kansas "the most pro-life state in the union", new bills to further restrict womens reproductive rights are among the most extreme. More details on related bills here.
One way to shed more light on what is really happening in Topeka is to voice your support for the Transparency Act (HB2148 and SB86) which would authorities live broadcasts of committee meetings. The State Capitol building is hard wired and ready to roll. Contact your legislator today about this or any other bills of concern to you.