The 2012 legislative session can be divided into the good, the bad and the downright ugly. Unfortunately, the good was swamped by the rest.
• The good: Gov. Sam Brownback was correct to highlight changes to state water policy and the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System as major achievements. The state modified its “use it or lose it” approach to groundwater, and it is using a combination of increased contributions, benefit changes and gambling revenue to help shore up KPERS.
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It also was good that lawmakers agreed to increase funding for K-12 education. Though it’s a fraction of what has been cut in recent years, it is movement in the right direction.
Area lawmakers did good work championing local priorities, including continued state support of the affordable airfares program and the aquifer storage and recharge project.
And good for state lawmakers for allocating $700,000 to the state’s new Creative Arts Industries Commission. Now Brownback needs to not veto the funding.
• The bad: Though the desire to grow the economy is good, the tax plan that Brownback and House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, rammed through the Legislature is extraordinarily reckless. Brownback’s own revenue secretary said it would require major budget cuts beginning in fiscal year 2014. Left unchecked, the tax cuts could result in deficits of more than $2.5 billion by 2018.
Because of divisions between conservative and moderate GOP lawmakers – made worse by interference from the governor’s office and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce – Kansas is the only state in the nation that failed to agree on new redistricting maps. As a result, the districts will be determined by a three-judge panel, and the August primary could be delayed.
• The ugly: Fortunately, the session wasn’t as bad as it could have been, as some new abortion restrictions, voter and immigration rules, and an anti-gay discrimination bill disguised as “religious liberty” didn’t make it through the Senate. But other embarrassing and shameful legislation did.
Lawmakers donned their tinfoil hats and denounced a 20-year-old nonbinding United Nations resolution aimed at encouraging sustainable development. According to lawmakers, the resolution is really a plot to destroy “the American way of life of private property ownership, single family homes, private car ownership, individual travel choices and privately owned farms.”
Lawmakers also passed a bill outlawing the use of Shariah and other foreign legal codes in Kansas courts, even though the Kansas and U.S. constitutions already have this protection. The bill was fueled by anti-Islamic fear, and only three lawmakers in the entire Legislature voted against it. Brownback – who has done excellent work trying to heal past injustices, including apologizing earlier this month to African-Americans – should show moral leadership and veto this bill.
Come to think of it, there is one other good thing about the 2012 session: It’s over.
For the editorial board, Phillip Brownlee