After all the recent clowning around at the Statehouse and resulting national media ridicule, the Legislature somewhat redeemed itself last week in time for the session’s midpoint, both in what it did and didn’t do. But the risk to Kansas and its image remains high, with real danger ahead regarding the pending school-finance decision and legislative response.
The poorly vetted, much-criticized (yet House-passed) refusal-of-service bill remains dead, thank goodness, though some issues regarding same-sex couples could arise this week at an informational Senate hearing on the 2013 religious freedom law. Meanwhile, similarly skewered ideas dealing with surrogate parenting, corporal discipline and “no-fault” divorce have gone nowhere.
Last week saw the welcome sidelining of more measures ranging from unwise to unhinged.
The annual attempt to replace the defined-benefit pension system for state employees with a 401(k)-style plan plowed into reality in a House committee. Even conservative proponents acknowledged it would be less costly and more prudent to let recent legislative fixes have a chance to chip away at the existing system’s long-term funding shortfall.
The House Health and Human Services Committee lived up to its name by junking a junk-science bill meant to scare the 62 percent of Kansans with fluoridated water.
And amid all the legislative meddling in K-12 public schools, the Senate at least exhibited second thoughts Friday about a committee-cleared bill, meant to protect minors from “harmful” material, that the Kansas National Education Association had warned would “purge literature from our schools, censor art classes and stop field trips.”
Nor has the House advanced the bills (at least yet) seeking to waste four years of work implementing the multistate Common Core educational standards and opt out of the Affordable Care Act. While largely a symbolic slap at the federal government, the latter bill could jeopardize Kansas’ Medicare funding, according to Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger.
Some of the “yes” votes last week were worth cheering as well. The House passed bills that would open arrest warrant affidavits to public view and require timelier payment of KanCare claims by its three managed-care contractors. The Senate approved measures to increase the state’s $250,000 limit on noneconomic damages in personal injury lawsuits (unchanged since 1988) and to keep the fees reasonable for acquiring copies of open records.
There are still reasons to worry about higher education and many other neglected budget priorities, and to wonder why the Legislature’s GOP leaders remain so skeptical of the benefits of all-day kindergarten. It’s maddening that the governor and GOP legislative leaders seem unconcerned about the thousands of Kansas citizens whose voter registrations are hung up on the new documentation hurdle. And judging from the inaction under the dome, you’d never know that 72 percent of the state’s registered voters favor expanding Medicaid.
But considering the staged sonograms and coast-to-coast derision inspired by the session’s first half, it’s some comfort that things could be worse.