Halfway and little done

The Kansas Legislature has hit its first significant deadline, and the consensus is that there has been little action on the most important issues confronting the state. Of course both chambers did pass a slew of non-controversial bills by last Thursday's Turnaround Day, but budget bills, the education finance lawsuit, and medicaid expansion all sit in committees that can still work on them.

We explained Turnaround Day last week, but basically it's the first deadline to get lawmakers to submit and work on bills. The next deadline is March 27th, when both chambers have to be done with bills that aren't "exempt" from these deadlines like the ones we mentioned above. Remember, the exempt committees are House and Senate Federal and State Affairs, Senate Ways and Means, Senate Assessment and Taxation, House committees on Calendar and Printing, Appropriations, and Taxation, and other committees authorized specifically for that purpose.

Here's a rundown of where we're at on issues important to MainStream members. It may get a bit... wonky. We get wonky so you don't have to! (But if you need more, there's our Kansas Legislative Tracker!)

Fully funding Kansas public schools. Whatever deadline the Legislature may have, the Kansas Supreme Court has its own deadline of April 15 to look at what the state has done to meet its final requirement: that Kansas include inflation adjustments in the plan passed last year. These bills are in exempt committees, and Republican Leadership is dead-set against more money for schools, so little to no action has taken place. A hearing on the latest iteration of the legislation is slated for Wednesday this week, and MainStream will be testifying there.

Getting the Kansas budget back on track. This is another issue seeing no real action. Gov. Kelly proposed a measured budget that did not add or remove taxes, ensured a stable future for the KPERS retirement system, reduced the practice of taking money from other departments, and left the state with an emergency fund (something not seen since Brownback found he could spend it). And yet, the only action Republican Leadership has taken is to try to give $200 million back to the highest earning Kansans and multi-national corporations. Please tell your KS Representative to oppose SB 22, Leadership's tax giveaway.

Giving access to health care to 150,000 working Kansans. Expansion of KanCare (what Kansas calls Medicaid) would extend the safety net to more working adults in Kansas. It would bring hundreds of millions of Kansan-paid Federal taxes back to the state every year. It would bring thousands of health care jobs. And with the Federal government paying for 90% of it, experts say it would be budget neutral (or even positive!). And despite passing overwhelmingly two years ago, and despite a majority of Kansas legislators supporting it, Republican Leadership will not allow it to come up for a vote.

Elections and voting. Still alive is a bill which would require county elections clerks to attempt to contact voters whose ballots would otherwise be thrown out due to a signature problem (either a missing signature or one that did not match records). As it stands now, these voters are never told their vote was thrown out. Bills to remove the prosecutorial power that was given to the Secretary of State when Kris Kobach was in office were moved to an exempt committee, so may still see work.

Other bills that got through, but are not likely to be worked. A number of bills began their legislative life in exempt committees, and as such are still able to be worked, but we think they are unlikely to receive votes. These include the proposed Constitutional amendment to ban abortions in Kansas, so controversial even Kansans for Life don't support it, and, unfortunately, a bill to require full reimbursement for contraceptive prescriptions. Also in this category, transparency bills to: add video streaming to committee rooms; repeal last years' "Adoption Protection Act;" add protections to state statute for LGBTQ+ persons; require clergy to report child abuse. And while almost all the gun safety bills we were tracking survived Turnaround, they did so only because they originated in an exempt committee. None of them received hearings, and remain unlikely to. 

Other bills that did not get through Turnaround. These measures could come up again, of course, as amendments or substituted into an empty shell of a previous bill, but they did not make this first cut. They include a slew of good election reforms, including Election Day registration, automatic registration, and a bill to give electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote in a Presidential election. Bills to abolish the death penalty in Kansas, to prevent spousal battery, and to prevent sexual extortion similarly were left out, too. But on the bright side, some of the egregious education-related bills (religious speech in schools, vouchers) appear to have died, It also appears the legislature has decided to let go of their plan to mandate curriculum (financial literacy, computer courses), when that is the job of the State Board of Education.

That *was* wonky. What does it mean?

Basically, the Legislative Leadership has refused to do meaningful work on the most important issues facing Kansas: budget, education, and health care. That left a huge vacuum during the first part of the session that was filed with passion projects (like the "Optional Elevated Marriage Act") that made headlines but not news. When legislators return on Wednesday, they may (or may not) get the chance to work on the most important pieces of legislation before them. They have until the next deadline, March 27th.

We'll see.

Do more than vote.

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