The 2013 legislative session turned out to be more activist and constitutionally reckless than any in recent memory, as it pushed Kansas further along what Gov. Sam Brownback calls a “glide path to zero” income tax but what one lawmaker more aptly called a glide path to self-destruction.
Lawmakers trashed a judicial-selection system for the Kansas Court of Appeals that had worked well for 36 years, in a gubernatorial power grab likely to pack the court with partisans and unlikely to serve justice. They also abetted the governor’s questionable efforts to let the Kansas Department of Transportation control the Kansas Turnpike Authority and to eliminate the Juvenile Justice Authority.
Ignoring the warnings of the Kansas Attorney General’s Office, the Legislature passed a gun-rights law that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder already has labeled unconstitutional. Not coincidentally, the state anticipates needing an additional $1.2 million to defend that pointless law, as well as one newly treating welfare recipients and the unemployed like druggies and another mandating that doctors lie to women about a breast cancer-abortion link and declaring that life begins “at fertilization.”
While cutting state support to higher education, lawmakers substituted their judgment for that of the Kansas Board of Regents and University of Kansas officials in mandating a KU adult stem-cell research center and also forbidding KU to cut the School of Medicine programs in Salina and Wichita.
Legislators similarly disregarded the preferences of the regents as well as cities and counties in forcing them to choose between allowing concealed guns in their facilities or spending the big bucks necessary to secure entrances with guards and metal detectors. Then came the gun-lobbying gag order, which will bar use of state dollars to advocate for local control on guns.
Lawmakers also decided they know better than the loved ones of intellectually and developmentally disabled Kansans, opting not to carve out that vulnerable population’s long-term care from KanCare beyond Jan. 1 while never explaining how a carve-out would cost the state $100 million.
OK, so there were a few examples of common sense prevailing over nonsense. The House thought better of the Senate’s proviso to put the brakes on the Common Core education standards, avoiding chaos for the State Department of Education and school districts. House members also showed wisdom in letting election crimes remain the job of local prosecutors, rather than empower Secretary of State Kris Kobach to throw the book at forgetful retirees who show up at their poll after mailing in a ballot. They didn’t follow through on threats to undermine renewable-energy goals, ban sustainable planning or waste time on illegal immigration.
Lawmakers wisely ended the statute of limitations on prosecuting rape and cracked down on human trafficking.
And the final tax bill not only allowed counties to abate property taxes on homes destroyed by natural disasters but did so retroactively. That means the victims of last year’s Oaklawn-area tornado could see some deserved relief from what was an offensive tax policy.
Meanwhile, lawmakers dramatically lowered boat taxes, reforming a system that had many boat owners registering their boats out of state (illegally).
Of course, the session also gave Kansans a new reason to never believe a politician’s promise that a tax increase will be temporary. Meanwhile, it was only the first of what are sure to be a number of sessions to be dominated by efforts to fix fiscal problems created by last year’s unaffordable tax cuts.
But at least the Legislature adjourned. That means it can do no harm until January.