Opinion Columns & Blogs

Barbara Shelly: It’s a dangerous time for state lawmaking


It’s dangerous letting Kansas lawmakers hang around Topeka this long.

While some lawmakers are preoccupied with the slow-drip process of putting together a tax plan to balance the budget, others are using their time to propose more bad ideas.

Take the proposal to eliminate the Kansas Bioscience Authority.

This is being handled by the Senate Ways and Means Committee. No one is admitting to actually sponsoring the bill, but lawmakers who don’t like it suspect it is a collaborative effort of Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration and some conservative legislators.

At one time, the KBA was a bragging point for Kansas. Savvy and fast on its feet, it recruited high-tech companies more suited for the coasts to locate in Middle America.

It helped promote the “animal science corridor,” the concentration of veterinary and food science companies bookmarked by Columbia, Mo., on the east and Manhattan on the west. It was instrumental in helping Kansas win the federal National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility and played a role in the University of Kansas Cancer Center gaining National Cancer Institute designation.

The authority still recruits companies to Kansas, even as state support for its operations has dwindled to nearly nothing. Now key players want to dismantle the agency and fold its operations and assets into the Kansas Department of Commerce.

That would likely bring a slow halt to bioscience recruitment in Kansas. High-tech companies and specialized financiers aren’t going to want to deal with a state bureaucracy. While Kansas is pulling back, other state are creating entities like the KBA.

This looks like another power play on Brownback’s part, and another desperation move to gain assets and money to balance the state budget. But it will cost Kansas the good-paying kinds of jobs that recruit and retain smart people.

Another malicious “wrap-up” session maneuver is a bill that would defund the entire Kansas judiciary if the state Supreme Court rules a certain law passed last year to be unconstitutional.

The law has to do with how chief judges in district courts are selected. Actually, it has to do with control. Always control.

Before last year, the Kansas Supreme Court appointed chief district judges. Last year’s law assigned that role to other judges in the district. The dispute, of course, is in court – the issue being whether the Legislature has the power to interfere in judicial business like that.

One can quibble with which system is better for selecting chief judges. But threatening the budget of the entire judiciary is beyond the pale. It’s extortion, pure and simple.

Kansas lawmakers have been incredibly disrespectful of the state’s courts and judges, but they ought to respect the right of citizens to have access to a functioning court system.

Barbara Shelly writes for the Kansas City Star.