Even with controversial education, court, gun and health care bills already on the books for the year, there is a chance of further troublemaking during the Legislature’s wrap-up session, along with a likelihood that some needed legislation will be willfully neglected.
When they reconvene Wednesday, lawmakers should focus mostly on the fiscal 2015 budget revision made necessary when Gov. Sam Brownback wisely vetoed the dollars for prisons and other corrections programs as insufficient to serve public safety. The prospects of state employee raises and longevity bonuses may be debated, with the state’s economic experts having estimated earlier this month that spending is on track to push the state below the statutorily required 7.5 percent ending balance in 2015. After having gone five years without salary increases, state workers surely deserve and could use more compensation. But, as Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said last week about why budget committees proposed ending guaranteed longevity bonuses: “We were scrambling for dollars.”
That’s a sentiment Kansans can expect to hear a lot from state leaders as the impact of the 2012 income-tax cuts continues to be felt on the state budget.
Beyond fiscal issues, though, the wrap-up calls for more don’ts than dos.
Lawmakers should not act against the federal government’s decision to list the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species, especially because the feds already have told Kansas and other states to proceed with their collaborative rangewide conservation plan. They should not finalize a Senate-passed bill to exempt for-profit health clubs from property taxes. Nor should they further offend local governments and the state’s elected school board by moving municipal and school board elections to the fall or meddling in the state’s implementation of the Common Core education standards.
And several blessedly dead bills should stay that way, including a repeal of the renewable energy standards, an 18-year ban on another Sedgwick County gambling vote and a bill to let gay couples be refused service on religious grounds.
As for the “to-do list”: House GOP leaders, who have shared the heat for a lack of transparency and failure to hold hearings on the school-finance bill’s policy changes, can help themselves and Kansans by advancing Senate Bill 413 to a vote in their chamber. Kansas is badly overdue for the online video access to committee hearings provided by the bill, which the Senate passed unanimously. Similiarly, Senate leadership needs to let its chamber have an opportunity to second the House in unsealing affidavits used by police to justify arrest warrants – joining nearly every other state in treating these documents as public records.
Unfortunately, there appears to be zero chance that lawmakers and the governor will do right by the uninsured Kansans who could benefit from Medicaid expansion. Nor do they seem to care about the thousands of Kansans who risk going into the August and November elections with their voter registrations in limbo because of the 2013 proof-of-citizenship requirement.
But at least there should be no need for the 2014 Legislature to go into overtime.