The Kansas Legislature is back in session starting Monday. Here’s an opinionated look at the major issues and some of the people involved in them, from A to Y (sorry, Z).
All week long: Senate and House leaders have talked about meeting seven days a weeks to deal with all the important bills facing them. That’s a bad idea. Exhausted legislators can pass irresponsible laws.
Sam Brownback: Will the governor get a brain (shameless plug for this new blog post on Brownback) and finally take some smart actions to help solve the budget woes he created?
Court actions: The Kansas Supreme Court has told the Legislature to adequately fund K-12 schools. But will that be, say, $50 million extra a year? $500 million or more? Get the details right or the court could threaten to close schools starting this summer.
Democrats: They will play a far more important role than in past years on the budget, schools and Medicaid expansion. Look for lots of quotes from Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka in reporters’ copy.
Expansion of Medicaid: Brownback doesn’t want it, but both the House and Senate passed it earlier this session, even with fellow Republicans in charge. The governor vetoed that bill, but a new attempt could and should come in the near future.
Guns: The Legislature has just a few more weeks to repeal the inane law that would allow conceal carry on college campuses and in state hospitals. Overland Park Rep. Stephanie Clayton correctly wants floor votes on the issue, given the widespread opposition to guns in public institutions.
Income taxes: The Legislature needs to increase them. Create a third bracket that imposes a higher rate on Kansans with more income.
Johnson County schools: Lawmakers need to approve bills to properly fund the public schools that have helped make theirs the largest, richest county in the state. That must include getting help from the conservative Senate and House members who live in Olathe.
Kris Kobach: The mean-spirited, inept secretary of state is a rumored gubernatorial candidate in 2018. That’s bad news for Kansans. Ironically, the good news for Kobach is that the Legislature in the next few weeks could put the Sunflower State on better fiscal footing and reduce the headaches the next governor inherits. (P.S. Hey, Kris, when will you take my $100 bet you are dead wrong on Donald Trump’s immigration policies?)
Moderate Republicans: Their rising strength this session has been great to see, though the group still lacks the numbers needed to easily overcome Brownback’s vetoes. It’s fun to see a quote like this one from Sen. Barbara Bollier of Johnson County, when asked whether moderates should cave in to Brownback and GOP conservatives: “The answer is hell no. We’re not giving. We’re tired of giving. We’ve given and given and given, we’ve had cuts and cuts and cuts and cuts. We have to be the ones to stand up and save the state.”
Pensions: Legislators will debate how far to go in funding public employees’ retirement funds. That guarantees thousands of local and state workers across Kansas will be watching what happens in Topeka.
Melissa Rooker: The Fairway Republican representative is at the center of attempts to craft a new school finance formula. Read her recent newsletter to see how an elected official can effectively communicate with constituents.
Schools: While funding for K-12 schools gets plenty of deserved attention, it’s been demoralizing to see how much public funding has been sliced from state universities in recent years. This regrettable trend needs to be reversed. But that will happen only when the state hikes taxes and begins to collect more revenue.
Utility bills: Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, wants to increase them by $9 a month. That’s incredibly regressive. The Legislature should not approve this action.
Vetoes: Brownback so far in 2017 has been sustained on both of his high-profile vetoes. But the tide could turn starting Monday. The Legislature soon will face tighter deadlines to pass budgets for general funding and for schools.
Susan Wagle: As noted in my recent blog, the Senate president needs to start standing up to Brownback and make it possible to pass bills that benefit Kansans.
Kevin Yoder: The 3rd District congressman is another reported gubernatorial candidate for 2018. Yoder recently has been incapable of telling constituents how he will vote on Trumpcare, generating plenty of negative attention. He could be ripe for defeat as a congressman. Could Kansans see a Yoder-Kobach GOP primary? Brrr. At the least, one bad candidate would be knocked out before the general election.