Kansans could exhale over the weekend, as the 2014 Legislature’s adjournment ended the risk of more unexamined and damaging bills popping up on the House or Senate floor and ending up as law.
Some of the worst ideas of the session died in a failure of the House and Senate to agree, reminding Kansans how handy a bicameral Legislature can be.
A Senate-passed idea to exempt private health clubs from property taxes flamed out in a 16-108 House vote. House leaders also nixed the latest meddlesome attempt to defund the Common Core education standards.
The House narrowly refused to go along with the Senate-passed repeal of the 5-year-old renewable portfolio standard. Americans for Prosperity’s dishonest advertising onslaught couldn’t compete with the facts of how the RPS is helping fuel the wind-power boom in Kansas. In the end, the Legislature left municipal and school board elections alone and thought better of a House-passed bill to enable denial of service to gay couples on religious grounds and a Senate-passed bill to prevent Sedgwick Countians from voting on gambling again until 2032.
The Legislature even scored a few points for action as well as inaction, including by ending Kansas’ treatment of probable cause affidavits as secret documents and by upping the state’s $250,000 limit on noneconomic damages in personal injury lawsuits for the first time since 1988. And it improved on its 2013 performance, by restoring some of the funding imprudently cut from prisons, higher education and the National Center for Aviation Training. Proponents should try again next year to pass a bill allowing online streaming video of some hearings.
Unfortunately, the session went wrong more often than not, including by adding Kansas to the states recklessly seeking to opt out of federal health care and by trying to nullify federal law regarding the threatened status of the lesser prairie chicken. It was frustrating to see the Legislature ignore pleas to help the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch stay open and then double down on its punishing cuts to local governments by repealing the mortgage-registration fee. It further overrode locals on open carry of guns. And the executive and legislative branches’ troubling assault on the judiciary branch continued, with a bill tying funding to an erosion of the Kansas Supreme Court’s authority.
The session will stand out for how lawmakers and the governor used a Supreme Court order on school-funding equity as an excuse to take away teachers’ rights to challenge their termination and to force passage of unvetted ideological education policy reforms. As reflected in Moody’s Investors Service’s decision last week to downgrade Kansas’ credit rating, 2014 also may be fondly remembered as the last time Kansas had the money to pay its bills.