Legislation is the key

The 2019 Kansas Legislative Session has been open for two weeks. Already, the Kansas Senate has introduced 48 new bills. The Kansas House has introduced 89. Many are procedural, some are common sense, some affect a small portion of Kansas law, others are simply declarations. And some are major, important bills that affect every Kansan. Already we've seen bills introduced for the state's budget, for changes to the tax code, for education financing, and more. But, and we cannot overstate this, the very conservative leadership in the Legislature has already introduced bills at odds with the stated goals of the Governor, and this impasse will likely lead to little getting accomplished until the very end of the session. Again.

As the session proceeds, MainStream will be tracking a selection of bills on our KS Legislative Tracker. You can visit the page to see where certain bills are, or what the trend is in certain areas, like taxes or school finance. But we thought we'd give you a brief overview in this update.

If you're the sort who wants to look it up yourself, here are the links we use to keep track of what is going on, along with our visits to Topeka, conversations with lawmakers, and scouring of news reports.

Taxes and financing the business of the State

Gov. Kelly introduced her budget as early as she could, knowing it would meet resistance from the ultra conservative leadership in the Legislature. And sure enough, it had hardly been printed when Sen. Denning (R 19%) dismissed it as unworkable and publicly doubted it would receive support in the Senate.

We wrote last week about Gov. Kelly's budget, and it remains true: ultra-conservatives like Sen. Denning had little problem kicking the state's financial health down the road during the Brownback years, with a risky gamble on the stock market that has not paid off, but now find it unthinkable that a prudent refinancing of debt is in order.

In fact, they have introduced two bills, SB9 and SB13, one to repay KPERS (after they were responsible for delaying payments the last eight years), the other to eliminate many of the tax changes made in 2017 that have put Kansas back on track after Brownback's tax folly. Not only that, Sen. President Susan Wagle (R 7%), created a special tax committee, and appointed herself chair, to push through talking point tax bills that position her as a no-tax conservative as she considers a run for the US Senate.

School Finance

Before the session even began, House leaders Ron Ryckman (R 23%) and Daniel Hawkins (R 23%) went public with their plans to not only not comply with the Kansas Supreme Court's ruling on school finance, but to even consider scrapping the entire school finance plan passed last year (in which the funding formula received the Court's blessing).

Gov. Kelly's school finance plan has been introduced in the Kansas House as HB 2078. She is in favor of adding the money to cover inflation that the Court has required, and keeping the Court approved plan. In past years, school finance bills have been many, have been introduced, then reintroduced with different names, have been debated, or not, amended, bundled, gutted and gone, and eventually turned up as entirely new bills, so tracking them is challenging. But this is a starting point this year.

Medicaid Expansion

Medicaid, known in Kansas as KanCare, is once again on the table for expansion. Taking the money offered by the Federal government for expansion, money Kansans already pay, and have been paying for years in Federal taxes, would allow 150,000 working Kansans to receive health care coverage. Parents, veterans, and others deserve health security.

The Governor has convened a task force to make suggestions on how to expand KanCare, while ultra-conservatives have gone on the record saying that they see no way forward for expansion legislation.

What are the prospects for these efforts?

As we alluded to at the beginning, the Legislature's leadership has stacked important committees with ultra-conservative chairs, and in Kansas, the chairs and leadership have virtually uncontested control over whether bills come up for debate or vote. There are, of course procedural tricks and other avenues that can be used to bring legislation to a vote, but these are not a guarantee, and can be blocked.

At the moment, it looks like ultra-conservative leadership will stand in the way of good legislation that could help all Kansans, while  the Governor's veto will have to stand in the way of bad legislation that serves just the few.

We hope we're wrong.

What can you do? Let your Kansas legislators know what you think, and what you want them to do. We voted in 2018. Now, we hold them accountable.

Do more than vote.

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