Kansas is about halfway through the 2015 legislative session, having just finished week seven. This midpoint is known as Turnaround Week, which refers to a deadline requiring most bills to pass out of their chamber of origin. The operative word is MOST bills. Select legislation remained dormant, such as those pertaining to the Battle for Impartial Elections, only to be resurrected later through other means, including amendments, exempt committees and last minute bundling.
Nonetheless, the House had a list of over 60 bills and resolutions to work with and the Senate had just about as many. A majority of the bills selected for action this past week reflect more of the social policy bills, such as those reflecting the Battle for Teachers. Tax and budget bills will be worked later in the session, deferring the Battle for Equality and Adequacy.
Overall, last week was marked by further efforts to impose ideologically driven views, some more successfully than others. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, for example, split on a few of his self-appointed missions.
Efforts to repeal the Kansas DREAM Act (SB 2139) stalled in Committee. This law has provided in-state tuition for undocumented students for over a decade and nearly 600 youth who have lived in Kansas for over three years and earned a high school diploma. If bundled into the budget bill at the end of the session, this bill will force hundreds of talented Kansas high school graduates to seek opportunities in other states. Kansas is stronger when we welcome immigrants and keep their talent here in our economies and our communities. This is just one among many examples of how MainStream differs from the Governor’s definition of pro-education.
- On the other hand, the Senate fiercely debated on Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s measure that would allow his office to prosecute voting law violations, regardless of the recent US Attorney report verifying the ‘problem’ is non-existent. Hawver’s reported that “Senator Hensley said there are 105 county attorneys in Kansas plus the attorney general to do that work and that Kobach is so highly politicized—with his own PAC and has campaigned against members of the Legislature—that it is dangerous to give him that authority.” The vote to remove SOS prosecutorial authority failed 15-23.
While Kansas is experiencing the logical consequences of low voter turnout, does this justify the hard turn into limited-government policies that are dramatically transforming Kansas into a state of privatized services and volunteer-based safety nets? We can only assume Rep Schwab and his allies would answer ‘yes’ to this question. “The reason why Conservatives gained control of the House, the Senate and the Governor’s Office is because the people wanted us to,” said state Rep Schwab, a six-term veteran from Olathe. “If we get here and we don’t make the changes that the people sent us to do, then we fail them” (Kansas City Star).
In the November 2014 Governor's race, 433,196 voted with the conservative view and 401,100 voted for a moderate approach and 910,000 did not cast a vote. Is a 20% primary voter turnout and a 49% general election turnout a mandate?
And the shenanigans continue. Most recently, the Social Services Budget Committee voted to strip more than $7 million in funding from Parents as Teachers early childhood program and $2 million from the Kansas Endowment for Youth. Both decisions endanger if not eliminate these early childhood programs. This budget cut was made with expedience, at the recommendation of Rep Mast, Speaker Pro Tem (second in command of the House) “if we don’t vote for a motion now, we [will] hear from constituents,” she said, as tweeted by fellow committee member Rep Clayton.
Status of Key Bills Following Turnaround Week
For a refresher on How a Bill Becomes a Law read Brief here.
PASSED out of chamber of origin and moving on:
Good news first…
- Educator’s Compromise Bill regarding Professional Negotiations Act (HB 2326, SB 136). This passed both the House and Senate. Both worked the original educators Compromise bill, but the Senate reduced the number of negotiable items on each side from five to three.
- Sen Hensley’s amendment to the Open Meetings Act (SB 197) concerning judicial nominating commissions added Governor Brownback’s judicial selection process to the same open records requirements. The governor will no longer be able to pick judges behind closed doors, if passed by the House–unless vetoed by the Governor himself.
- In-state tuition for military families (HB 2228). This passed unanimously and is on to the Senate.
Now the bad news recap…
- Local elections, such as school boards, changed to the fall – odd years, non-partisan– for now (SB 171). This passed the Senate and is moving onto the House with expectations of amendments toward the original bill. In fact during the committee meeting, Senate President Wagle and Sen Fitzgerald said the discussion on partisanship should continue. MainStream testimony in opposition can be found here.
- Teaching ‘harmful’ material to students is now subject to criminal prosecution (SB 56), done so by removing affirmative defense. This passed the Senate and is onto the House. As a result of this bill, art teachers might be afraid to show pictures that include nudity, health teachers might be hauled before a grand jury for informing students about STD prevention, and science teachers might be reluctant to cover evolution. The sheer volume of these types of bills almost ensures that at least a handful will get through the legislative process, as there are too many to prepare for and fend off in the short time frame.
- Conceal and carry, permissible without a license – no permit, no training required (SB 45). This passed the Senate by a 31 to 7 vote and is moving onto the House.
- Further restriction of women’s reproductive rights, in the form a near abortion ban (SB 95). This passed the Senate by a 31 to 9 vote and is moving onto the House.
- Further indebtedness in the form a $1 Billion KPERS pension bond (SB 168). This bill, on its way to the House, would approve the issuance of $1 billion in pension obligations bonds to pay a portion of the state’s unfunded liability. In essence, the legislature is choosing to collect insufficient revenue, and instead borrow more, to pay off debt at the additional cost of $1 billion plus. Isn’t this the same logic that has legislators demanding high school students take personal finance?
Still alive in an Exempt Committee, but didn’t make it out of Chamber:
The good news….
- Kansas Transparency Act (SB 86, HB 2148), still alive with recommendations to pass from both committees. MainStream testimony can be found here.
- Rep Ward negotiated a separate hearing for Medicaid expansion (possibly HB 2045). This was achieved in the process of working an amendment to Rep Bollier’s bill regarding payment for donor breast milk (HB 2149, which passed the House chamber). In a tweet by Rep Clayton, “those voting on Ward Amendment are in trouble either way: either rejecting Medicaid Expansion, or rejecting Legislative Authority over Gov Brownback and the Executive Branch” Priceless.
The bad news….
- Changes to supplemental general state aid calculations – aka LOB equalization (SB 71) are still alive and will likely come into pay with budget and tax bills. MainStream testimony can be found here.
- CAREing Foster Family non-public school VOUCHER program (SB 158) is still alive in the Judiciary Committee.
- Additional conceal and carry bills, one for public employees (SB65) and one for public places (SB 66) are both alive in Federal and State Affairs.
- Sex education opt-in bill (HB 2199), is awaiting with a recommendation from committee to pass. MainStream testimony can be found here.
- Direct partisan elections of supreme court justices and court of appeals judges, abolishing the supreme court nominating commission (HCR 5004), is awaiting with a recommendation from committee to pass. MainStream testimony can be found here.
- Allowing governor to appoint supreme court justices and court of appeals judges, abolishing the supreme court nominating commission (HCR 5005), is awaiting with a recommendation from committee to pass. MainStream testimony can be found here.
- Six other resolutions were introduced in House Judiciary Committee calling for constitutional amendments to exert executive and legislative authority over the judiciary branch (HCR 5003, 5006, 5009, 5012, 5013, 5015), but have not yet had hearings.
Still on watch for Bundling, but didn’t make it out of Chamber, nor non-exempt Committee:
- Banning use of university titles in media reporting (HB 2234) in Committee on Education.
- Efforts to Repeal the Kansas DREAM Act (HB 2139) stalled in the Committee on Education.
- Expansive Anti-Common Core bill (HB 2292). This attempt to ban all K12 education standards remains in the Education Committee and reflects yet another attempt to override the constitutional authority of our elected State Board of Education in Committee on Education. MainStream testimony can be found here.
Supported by MainStream but dead for the session:
- Overturn Citizen’s United (SCR 1602). Never a likely option, but good to see it in the hopper.
The battle for Kansas continues to wage on the chamber floors and in the exempt committees. If you don’t make an active choice, be aware that others have been choosing for you and the tide is going out. Stay informed. Stay engaged and let’s put our elected officials back to work for Kansas citizens.