Legislative decisions will affect lives

Does procrastination pay when crafting a historically tough state budget? Kansans will find out when the Legislature reconvenes in Topeka late this month for the wrap-up session. Legislators should pack their bags for more than the traditional three to five days.

Daunted by a $470æmillion-plus shortfall, lawmakers postponed the number crunching last week until they have the benefit of the revenue forecast coming April 16.

But they also made important decisions, including some that will have a direct and positive impact on Kansans’ lives and well-being.

There was that stunning passage of a statewide ban on smoking in most public indoor locations, effective July 1. The absurd, hypocritical exemption for state-owned casinos needs to go next session. But it was time for Kansas to join the states that protect the quality of the indoor air we share against the proven health threat of secondhand smoke. Proponents didn’t take several years of inaction for an answer, and public health finally won.

Just as surprising as the smoking ban: Both chambers overwhelmingly approved a shield law for journalists, to help when courts try to compel them to turn over notes or testify about confidential sources and unpublished information.

Lawmakers and Gov. Mark Parkinson also came together on a fix to ease Kansas companies’ mandatory payments to the state’s unemployment trust fund.

By restoring the historic tax credit program, the Legislature corrected a mistake that had been damaging for key projects in downtown Wichita such as the renovation of the Broadview Hotel.

The Legislature finalized a bill that includes autism therapies in coverage under the state employee health plan — a step testing the financial impact of a proposed statewide mandate. Within that legislation was a commonsense measure sought by Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, to close a loophole by requiring insurers to cover oral cancer-fighting drugs as they do intravenous chemotherapy.

Welcome measures also were passed to strengthen domestic violence laws, and to further explore passenger rail service to include Wichita on a route between Kansas City and Dallas-Fort Worth.

When they return, House lawmakers need to join the Senate in treating both the ban on drivers’ texting and the primary seat-belt law as the public safety priorities they are, and a conference committee needs to reconcile differences in legislation to make child care facilities safer.

Many other legislative issues, including funding for schools and services for those with disabilities, remain in limbo along with the budget.

“There are some bright spots out there,” Parkinson said last week, as the state learned monthly tax receipts were higher than projected for the first time since November.

Maybe by the time the Legislature clocks in again April 28, the budget picture will have brightened, too. In any case, lawmakers will have to figure out what comes after two years of spending cuts totaling more than $1æbillion — more cuts, more taxes or, more likely, both.