Legislative Update: 2014 Session Wrap Up

Sine Die is a Latin term meaning without day. 
A legislative body adjourns sine die when it recesses without appointing a day
on which to appear or assemble again within the year.

The 2014 Kansas legislative body has left the Capitol building for the year and many have returned home from Topeka to gear up for the coming campaign season. This gives Kansans a window of time to better understand the impact of recent laws passed and how elected officials voted on key bills.

These 2014 elections will be a historical marker for the state of Kansas. If election results return the current leadership back to Topeka, 2015 is likely to send our state so far beyond the fork in the road, to a place called Really-Limited-Government, that we will spend decades rebuilding the Main Road which offers all Kansans a route to Prosperity.

The wrap up and highlights…

Temporary Victories Over the Far Right Extreme

A tenuous coalition of moderate legislators and outraged citizens in Kansas and across the country were able to fend off some of the most extreme bills floated early in the 2014 legislative session.   

  • Legalized Discrimination.  Rep. Macheers and Kinzer provoked national outrage over their “Protecting Religious Freedom regarding Marriage Act” that passed the House by a 72 to 49 vote.  Governor Brownback and Senate President Wagle were forced to table the bill until after the 2014 elections.    
  • Anti-Community Broadband.  Commerce Committee Chair and ALEC member, Senator Lynn, allowed a corporate lobbyist to introduce the bill in her committee that would have made it illegal for cities like Chanute Kansas to buy, build, lease, maintain, or operate any facility that helps a private business offer telecommunications, video, or broadband services.   
  • Surrogacy Ban, plus.  Health Committee Chair and ALEC member, Senator Pilcher-Cook, was unsuccessful in her efforts to ban surrogate pregnancies in the state of Kansas. Her efforts to undermine the State Board of Education’s authority and restrict access to health and sex education in our schools also failed. Nor were any further restrictions placed on women’s reproductive rights, even after Pilcher-Cook hosted live ultrasounds in the Capitol.
  • Energy & Environment.  Rep. Rhoades' multiple efforts to repeal the Renewable Portfolio Standards, a bill approved by the Senate, were repeatedly blocked by a bipartisan coalition in the House and eloquently shot down by Rep. Jennings.
  • No-Fault Divorce Ban.   Rep. Bradford and Esau’s bill to remove “incompatibility” as a valid reason for divorce met with significant opposition and was disregarded before it got momentum.
  • Anti-Fluoridated Water.  Federal & State Affairs Chair and ALEC member, Rep. Brunk introduced a bill based on research conducted in China whose comparable rate of fluoride in the water is unknown, but nonetheless would have required Kansas municipalities that fluoridate the water to notify users with this exact warning:  "The latest science confirms that ingested fluoride lowers the I.Q. in children.”  
  • Anti-Common Core. Rep. Dove and Education Committee Chair Rep. Kelley’s persistent efforts to interfere with the State Board of Education and ban funding for implementation for the Kansas College and Career Education Standards failed in the 2013 and 2014 sessions. Opposition to the education standards has been perpetuated by misinformation regarding the role and development of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.  
  • Spanking. Rep. Finney introduced a bill to ease restrictions on spanking. The bill never got traction, but would have allowed parents to hit children hard enough to leave redness or bruising and would have allowed parents to give permission to others, including caregivers or teachers, to spank their children.

Damage Done through 2014

If you have been following along these past five months, however, you are aware that each new law has continued to shape dramatic changes in state policy. Governor Brownback is four years closer to actualizing his limited-government roadmap, accelerated by the loss of moderate state senators in the 2012 elections.  These changes can also be attributed in part to low voter turnout and to Americans for Prosperity and ALEC’s pro-corporate agenda, facilitated by ALEC Board members Kansas Senate President Wagle and Speaker of the House Merrick.

Common elements among these new laws are their inclination to weaken the separation of power and blur the lines between church and state. In the name of limited government, state functions have been shifted to private, often for-profit market entities (KanCare), state costs have been passed on to local communities and to users regardless of their ability to pay (K12 education, court services, higher education), except when state government has been limiting local spending authority, local gun control, local election cycles, local curriculum decisions, and women’s reproductive rights.

As noted in a previous blog, the degree of limitation has been set by Governor Brownback’s 2011 tax policy changes. Kansans cannot invest in the future beyond the revenue collected annually (CBPP 2014). Without state income taxes, the State General Fund loses 50% of its revenue and impedes the state’s ability to maintain quality services. Moreover, the Kansas rate of job growth has remained below the regional and national averages, not coming anywhere near the rate of increase required to replace the lost income tax revenue.

The latest revenue shortfalls of $200 million in May on top of the $93 million shortfall in April are just additional examples of the reckless nature of the tax policy put in motion in 2011. In just two months, two short months, the state could have captured the equivalent of nearly three-quarters of the funds needed to restore state education budget cuts trigger by the Great Recession.

Other state laws signed recently have led Kansas further astray and touched on all aspects of state government:

  • Education.  A bundled education budget bill that extorted appropriation of back pay to low wealth districts for state education equalization funds in exchange for  (1) elimination of teacher due process, (2) voucher-type 'scholarships' for private, religious schools and corporate donor selection of which kids get the scholarships, and (3) elimination of teacher licensure requirements.
  • Judicial. A bundled judicial bill that extorted appropriation of basic operational funds required by the courts in exchange for  (1) shifting court fees to the user, regardless of their ability to pay, and (2) decentralizing authority and oversight of the Chief Justice.  Plus, the elimination of merit-based selection of judges to the Kansas Court of Appeal in 2013, in favor of partisan appointment by the governor -- to which Brownback has already assigned an activist, conservative to the bench.
  • Voting. In addition to the original 2012 voter suppression bill referred to as the S.A.F.E. Act, the governor signed in restrictions to changing party affiliation.
  • Health Care. The authorization of a Health Care Compact if federal legislation should change is now Kansas law. Legislative restrictions to Medicaid expansion, as well, which have rendered thousands of Kansans ineligible for health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
  • Safety. Authorization of the open carry gun law, with override of local gun regulations.

The impact on Kansans is real. These new policies have resulted in longer waiting lists for disability services, larger class sizes, thousands of uninsured (many of whom are employed), excessive wait times for court hearings and downgraded authority to borrow money (Kansas Center for Economic Growth).  

The Reins are Back in the Hands of Kansans

Kansans must decide whether to change course and reroute the roadmap, or to continue along the path toward very limited government and privatization of services. The 2015 legislative session could see a return of all the ultra-extreme bills, along with highly problematic legislation such as for-profit run charter schools and expanded voucher-type programs.

The simple solution is to vote this August and November.

  • Click here, here, and here to get more information on your choices – being made with or without you.
  • Click here to register to vote and have your driver’s license handy.
  • Click here to add these important reminders to your calendar.
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