A Steady Start

The Kansas legislative year got started with a... whimper last Tuesday with still-Governor Sam Brownback's State of the State speech. But legislators have already hit the ground running with bills covering everything from mundane regulations to honorary holidays to substantive suggestions tackling the state's biggest problems.

The State of the State is... Precarious

Sam Brownback gave a speech on Tuesday that was remarkable in one particular way. MainStream was in attendance, and his speech was so muddled and out of touch with realities in Kansas that it found detractors among Democrats, moderate Republicans, and ultra conservatives! The central tenet, that Kansas can do everything it needs without raising more money, doubled down on Brownback's fantastical misunderstanding of state revenue and spending. He proposed $600 million for Kansas schools, but over five years, resulting in one of the lowest proposals out there, but told listeners that this number could be reached without revenue reform! The "budget" his office released the next day contained omissions related to this magical thinking, and was roundly criticized by every lawmaker asked.

In truth, Kansas is poised to come back from Brownback's tax folly, but this recovery hangs on the outcome of elections this year. A return to Brownback's policies, as promised by Governor-hopeful Kris Kobach, would doom Kansas to a repeat fo the last five years. A return of ultra-conservatives to the Kansas House would similarly stall the progress made last year that resulted in tax reform, gun safety, and a push for health care expansion that fell just short.

All Kansans need to stay involved to make sure we don't slide backwards. MainStream is here to help you stay informed with our forums (on Voter Suppression on January 25th), our analysis, and our publications. Starting now. Here are a few of the bills that have been or are planned for introduction this year.

School Finance

The Court has given lawmakers until April 30 of this year to present a school finance plan that answers the Court's issues. The legislative staff are suggesting the deadline is actually closer to the end of March for an actual bill, given what needs to happen to get it passed and to the Court.

We saw a lot of posturing over the legislative break, about hardline refusal to raise more revenue, and even a suggestion floated seriously about removing the requirement for a "suitable" education from the Kansas Constitution. But nothing really happened there.

On the other hand, Rep. Melissa Rooker of Fairway introduced a bill over the break, HB 2445, that very straightforwardly fixes the issues the Court had with the equity portion of last year's school finance plan. Most of the air has been taken up by the question of adequacy, or what has been boiled dow not how much money is still needed to properly educate all of Kansas' children. But the question of equity, or ensuring that all Kansas children have the opportunity to succeed, is also tied up in this court case. Rep. Rooker's bill takes care of those issues. We hope to see it taken up and passed quickly, that the legislature can spend a suitable amount of time on the adequacy question before their deadline.


Rep. Stephanie Clayton of Overland Park plans to introduce a bill designed to do away with the practice of introducing bills with anonymous sponsors. This is a tactic often employed by legislators using ALEC-provided boilerplate language, or from other interest groups. Last year, according to the Kansas City Star, 94% of bills passed by the Legislature had no sponsor listed.

Gun Safety

Two bills to improve gun safety are now in the Legislature. The first is HB 2442, a bill to ban the use and sale of bump-stocks, introduced by Rep. Vic Miller of Topeka. The other would make it a crime to abandon a loaded weapon in a public space. Designed to ensure gun owners take responsibility for their weapons, HB 2443 was introduced by Rep. Dennis Highberger of Lawrence. Both bills are in the Committee on Federal and State Affairs.

And more to come

To be sure, many bills have been introduced already this session, and many more are in the planning stages. Because of the two-year cycle of the Kansas Legislature (it matches up with the two-year length of a Kansas State Representative's term in office), most of the bills that were introduced last year and not passed are still on the docket and available to committees to work. These are the so-called "zombie" bills that may have been defeated and withdrawn last year, but live to rear their heads again this year. A full list of the legislation in consideration in the Legislature is available on the Kansas Legislature's website.

We'd like to call your attention to our Kansas Legislative Tracker, where we will strive to keep up on important bills and their status in the Legislature.

We know it can be confusing to follow the Kansas Legislature, and we will do our best to do it for you. Keep following us in this update, or online, and we will let you know when action is needed. But don't just sit back! We need you to continue to get informed, get involved, and make a difference. The change we need to see starts with you.

It starts here.

Do more than vote.

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