Category Archives: Kansas government

Brownback points to welfare cuts with pride

brownbackofficialmugAsked by about being criticized for hurting social services as well as education during his administration, Gov. Sam Brownback said: “What we have done here is really try to encourage work in these programs. So we’ve required people to apply to work if they’re able-bodied. And that’s reduced some of the number of people on social services. But I think most people agree that the way out of poverty isn’t a pittance from the government. It’s work, it’s education, it’s family stability. Those are the real ways out.” According to a December report by the United Community Services of Johnson County, Kansas’ Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program dropped from a monthly average of 38,963 in fiscal 2011 to 21,887 in fiscal 2013. This drop occurred during the same time the number of Kansans living in poverty was increasing.

Latest anti-Obamacare bill another dead end

healthcaregovpageThe Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, chaired by Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, passed a bill last week that would require Affordable Care Act health insurance navigators to undergo background checks, be fingerprinted and pay an annual $100 registration fee, the Kansas Health Institute News Service reported. But as Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, noted, Missouri passed similar requirements, and they were blocked by the courts. Cathy Harding, executive director of the Kansas Association for the Medically Underserved, said it was disheartening “to have policymakers working so hard to put up barriers to people helping their friends and neighbors and community members enroll in private insurance plans in the private market.”

Lawmakers ignoring public opinion on marijuana

marijuanaBills to allow medical marijuana continue to go nowhere at the Statehouse. And Attorney General Derek Schmidt and other law-enforcement officials issued a formal warning last week not to bring pot into Kansas from Colorado, where recreational marijuana use is legal. But the official resistance contrasts sharply with the interest among Kansans that shows up in surveys: 64 percent of the Kansas voters in the recent Public Policy Polling survey said marijuana should be legal for medicinal use, as did 50 percent of Republicans; 42 percent of voters support making it legal for recreational use. A 2013 SurveyUSA poll of Kansas found 70 percent support for legalizing medical pot, which also was endorsed by more than two-thirds of the Kansas Silver-Haired Legislature.

Legislature could learn from Kansas Medical Society

statehouse“The Kansas Legislature might just learn a lesson from the Kansas Medical Society,” wrote Statehouse observer Martin Hawver. He noted how the society spearheaded a bill that would raise the current $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases. The change is in response to a Kansas Supreme Court decision that the cap was constitutional but very low. “The medical society knows that at some time another medical malpractice case is going to go to the Supreme Court, and it can only be helpful for the court to know that the KMS has listened to the court,” Hawver said. In contrast, the Legislature has thumbed its nose at court rulings on school funding. “Maybe the Legislature could learn something from doctors in the way of social skills in dealing with the court,” Hawver wrote.

So they said

“I think what Gov. Brownback has done with the tax laws and forward-thinking for our state of Kansas and the growth of Kansas in jobs is becoming a model states are looking at throughout the nation. I think he has done it in a very nonpartisan manner.” – Rep. Richard Carlson, R-St. Marys, in a Daily Caller article headlined “The next tax reform model for the nation to come from Kansas?”

“My experience with Gov. Brownback after having served for seven other governors is that he is the most partisan governor Kansas has ever had.” – Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, in the same article

“You wouldn’t expect this from me. Cheer Liberal today.” – U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, tweeting on Shrove Tuesday, which was pancake race day in Liberal

GOP wants another barrier to voting

votingnoFirst Republicans in the Legislature passed a law making it harder for people to vote and to register to vote. Now they want to prohibit people from changing their party affiliations from June 1 through Sept. 1. As with their claims of voter fraud, there is no evidence that switching parties is a problem that requires legislative action. Not surprisingly, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach backs the change. His likely Democratic challenger this year, former State Sen. Jean Schodorf of Wichita, opposes it. “Our state government should not use its power to limit an individual’s right to vote in an election because one party or another is losing voters, or because they don’t like the way citizens are voting,” she said. “That is not democracy.”

State must increase school funding

school-fundingThe state must significantly increase school funding to meet its constitutional obligations, but exactly how much and when is still uncertain. The Kansas Supreme Court ruled today that a three-judge panel needed to look at more than just cost studies to determine the adequacy of funding. The timing of that is unclear. But the court did rule that funding is not equitable and gave the Legislature until July 1 to fix that. How will lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback respond?

Managing Kansas House like herding kittens

humanesocietycatIs the goofiness in the Legislature this session partly due to the fact that half of the members of the Kansas House are freshmen? A recent newsletter by the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce noted that past House speakers have referred to the task of managing the House as “herding cats.” But for House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, the Wichita chamber said, “it’s probably more a matter of getting his kittens to mature so he can move forward with the pro-growth business agenda he promised.”

Still no notice, penalty if lawmakers fail drug test

urinetestBecause it was imposing drug tests on welfare recipients, the Legislature agreed last year to require state lawmakers to get tested if there is “reasonable suspicion” of drug use. But the law has no penalty for lawmakers who fail the drug test, and privacy rules prevent the release of the name of any lawmaker who fails the test. In other words, the requirement is a joke. It should surprise no one that a bill proposed to dock the pay of lawmakers who test positive for substance abuse went nowhere this session.

Brace yourself: School-finance ruling coming Friday

schoolmoneyAt 9:30 a.m. Friday the Kansas Supreme Court will release its ruling in the school-finance case. A three-judge panel ruled last year that state funding for K-12 public schools was unconstitutionally low and needed to be increased by more than $400 million per year. If the Supreme Court agrees, how will lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback respond? Will they defy the court and trigger a constitutional crisis? Could that lead to school closings next fall?

Governing notes competitiveness of Brownback-Davis race

capitoldomeGoverning magazine has shifted Kansas’ 2014 gubernatorial race from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican,” noting Gov. Sam Brownback’s low approval ratings and the “emergence of a plausible contender: state House Minority Leader Paul Davis.” The magazine said: “Despite being a solidly red state, Brownback’s staunchly conservative agenda – and that of Kansas’ even more conservative Republican legislators – hasn’t been universally loved.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post misstated Governing’s change in the race’s status.

What indeed is the matter with Kansas?

stateseal“Our state’s politicians praise unrestricted free enterprise,” political science professor Mark Peterson wrote. “They promise better schools, highways, economic boosterism and support for children. What they have delivered is a severe reduction in tax revenue partially offset with heavy borrowing through the state transportation department to help pay state government’s general expenses. And they engage in antics that waste time, money and the state’s reputation in every quarter of the land. What indeed is the matter with Kansas?”

Public wants Medicaid expansion; Legislature doesn’t care

healthcaregovAnother survey shows strong public support for expanding Medicaid in Kansas. Yet the Legislature still won’t hold a hearing on it. The poll by Public Opinion Strategies, which was commissioned by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, found that 72 percent of Kansans, including 59 percent of Republicans, support accepting federal funds to broaden access to Medicaid. A 2013 Kansas Hospital Association poll found that 60 percent of Kansans support expanding Medicaid. By blocking expansion, Kansas has already lost out on nearly $70 million in Medicaid funds since the start of this year, according to the Kansas Medicaid Access Coalition.

Norquist still likes Brownback in 2016

norquistGov. Sam Brownback’s poll numbers have made re-election this year his first concern. Yet Grover Norquist (in photo), founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, told National Review Online that Brownback would be competitive if he decided to run for president in 2016. “Because he’s done it once, it is credible that he may choose to do it again. He’s thought about it,” Norquist said, praising how Brownback succeeded in replacing nine of 11 moderate Republican state senators in 2012 so he’d have a more like-minded Legislature to support his aggressive economic agenda. Asked about the two surviving moderates, Norquist said: “One, I’m told, is shell-shocked and sits in the corner and doesn’t talk to anybody. And the other sort of came over and rejoined our team.”

Support for extended benefits, $10 minimum wage

minimumwagelogo2Two economic questions on the recent Public Policy Polling survey yielded results that might seem surprising in conservative Kansas: 61 percent said Congress should extend federal unemployment benefits for workers whose state unemployment benefits have ended but who cannot find a job, while 49 percent said they’d support raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour. The latter idea came up Thursday on the Kansas House floor, in the form of an amendment for a $10.10 minimum wage offered by Rep. Valdenia Winn, D-Kansas City, but was rejected on procedural grounds.

So they said

huelskamp,tim“It’s high time we retire John Boehner.” – U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (in photo), R-Fowler, at Thursday’s fifth-anniversary party for the tea party (when the applause died down, Huelskamp completed his sentence, saying it is “high time to retire John Boehner’s biggest excuse that we only control one-third of the government”)

“I would like to commend the body on a good first half of the 2014 session.” – House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, after a marathon voting session Thursday

“No time for a debate on Medicaid expansion but 20 minutes for the state fossil.” – Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, tweeting as the House approved a bill honoring the tylosaurus and pteranodon

“I think we should retire that number and hang it on a banner from the ceiling, showing how wrong that number can go.” – Rep. Steve Becker, R-Buhler, about the refusal-of-service bill, HB 2453, which he voted against

“If elected I will do my best to keep Kansas off Comedy Central.” – Larry Meeker, Johnson County Democrat running for the Kansas House, on Twitter

Brownback to GOP: Talk about poverty, mental health

bbackmugAt Politico’s recent State Solutions Conference, Gov. Sam Brownback said talking more about poverty and mental health could help the Republican Party among women voters and on social issues. “The answer can’t just be cut food stamps. That’s not the model,” he said. “Two-thirds of our prison population in Kansas has mental health, substance abuse or both problems.”

New business filings don’t reflect full picture

smallbusinessBecause the Kansas economy is growing at a lower rate than the economies of neighboring states and the nation, Gov. Sam Brownback has pointed to new business filings as evidence that his tax cuts are starting to work. But noting that the state had more than 15,000 new business filings in 2013 doesn’t reflect the full picture. That’s because more than 16,000 other businesses were dissolved by their owners or forfeited for failure to file an annual report, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C. The net increase in registered businesses, after adding back 4,500 businesses that owners reinstated that year, was only about 3,600. “When you do the math, the net new growth in Kansas in 2013 is actually smaller than before the tax cuts of 2012 took effect,” said Annie McKay, executive director of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth.

So much for 20-year partnership on Finney building

finneybldgThe Brownback administration’s frustrating decision to bail on the city-owned Finney State Office Building is moving forward, though the lease doesn’t expire until Sept. 30. The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services will join the Kansas Corporation Commission, the Kansas Department of Labor and the state Board of Indigents’ Defense Services in the former Ryan International Airlines building at 266 N. Main while the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Human Rights Commission will go to the Garvey Center – which at least keeps these agencies downtown. Meanwhile, the Kansas Department for Children and Families reportedly wants a 96,000-square-feet site the U.S. Postal Service is closing at 2601 S. Oliver. That means DCF’s more than 550 employees will no longer be working downtown and the agency’s low-income clients will have to adjust to an office that isn’t centrally located or accessible by multiple bus routes. Mayor Carl Brewer lobbied the governor personally to try to save the 20-year city-state partnership by offering a $6 million renovation and a deep discount on rent. He told The Eagle editorial board last week that “we’re disappointed at the fact that they chose not to stay” at the Finney building and said the goal now was to keep it from sitting empty.

Secretaries of state shouldn’t be overtly partisan

kobachcandidKansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach was mentioned in a National Public Radio report on “a trend of overtly partisan figures running for a job designed to be neutral when it comes to election administration” – though he defended himself and other officeholders. “The secretaries range on the political spectrum and have policy differences, but I would vouch for every secretary of state to be able to have fair election results,” he said. But Art Sanders, a political science professor at Drake University, sees the politicization of the secretary of state office as “a very good symbol of how low our politics have sunk.”

Glickman: What happened to Kansas’ civil rights leadership?

glickmanAdd the voice of former Wichita congressman Dan Glickman to those of current and former Kansans expressing disappointment in the House’s passage of the bill that would have enabled government and private-sector employees to use religious beliefs to refuse service to gay couples. Writing for Huffington Post, Glickman wondered what has happened to the state linked to the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 and the first lunch-counter sit-in at a Wichita drugstore in 1958. “I sincerely hope that this bill never rears its ugly head again and that this episode is nothing more than an aberration from the leadership Kansas has taken against discrimination throughout the state’s history,” wrote Glickman, now senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C. “From William Allen White’s fight against the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s to Sen. Bob Dole’s leadership on major civil rights and anti-discrimination legislation, Kansans have a lot to be proud of in their state’s leadership against discrimination.”

Wichita common denominator in some Statehouse nuttiness

wichitaopenthread“The bill stems from an active anti-fluoride movement in Wichita, where fluoride is not added to the water.” “Wichita-based tea party group Kansans for Liberty is launching an e-mail campaign to try to resurrect a bill that would allow government workers and businesses to deny service to gay couples.” “A Democrat from Wichita says she wants to allow up to 10 strikes of the hand and that could leave redness and bruising.” It’s frustrating that Wichita is the common denominator in some of the recent Statehouse nuttiness. At least the No. 2-ranked Wichita State University men’s basketball team is putting a nice shine on the reputation and pride of the state’s largest city.

Pro-con: Did Kansas need religious liberty bill?

Iowa Gay Marriage RallyWill the state force a florist, a caterer, a photographer or a baker – to name only a handful – to provide goods and services to anyone, contrary to their own consciences and religious beliefs? Kansas legislators attempted to answer that question in the negative, and they were right to do so. Some ill-informed commentators have compared what’s happening in Kansas to the old Jim Crow laws that marred the South for much of the 20th century before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They forget that Jim Crow forced businesses to discriminate and segregate by race. The Kansas bill, by contrast, would do nothing more than free private citizens from legal consequences if they choose not to do business associated with same-sex marriage. Compulsion versus choice: See the difference? Kansas lawmakers fought a valiant but doomed effort to preserve a shred of liberty rightly understood – liberty of conscience, liberty of contract, liberty of property, liberty of association. The courts and the culture have shifted. We have very few of those old liberties left. But, oh, goodness, do we have coercion galore. – Ben Boychuk, City Journal

Most Kansans hate Fred Phelps, the notorious anti-gay preacher. But if a “religious freedom” bill passes the Legislature in any form similar to the one that won approval in the Kansas House, well, Kansas will be tied more tightly to the Phelps legacy than ever before. You don’t have to shout “God hates fags” at the top of your lungs to put Phelps’ philosophy into action. And the only reason the bill exists is hysteria. Yes, in Colorado, a gay couple sued a cake maker who refused his services for their wedding. But unlike Colorado, Kansas has no legal protections for gays and lesbians. They have no legal standing to sue anybody for any reason connected to their sexuality. So a bill protecting Christians from gay lawsuits accomplishes almost nothing except to whip up emotions on all sides of the issue. Except this: It sends a signal, loud and clear, to Kansans and the rest of the world, that there is one group – and one group only – that the state gives explicit permission to discriminate against: gay and lesbian Kansans. That’s a breathtaking achievement. And it is wrong. – Joel Mathis, Philadelphia Magazine

Legislature’s priorities messed up on health care

doctoroutHere is how out of whack the Legislature’s priorities are: A bill that would commit Kansas to join a state health care compact, separate and apart from the federal government, cleared a House committee this week without debate. This even though the bill is a complete dead end, as it would require federal approval. Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, can’t even get a hearing on a bill to allow a federal expansion of Medicaid. This even though expansion would inject an estimated $3 billion into the state’s economy and create 4,000 jobs over the next seven years while providing thousands of Kansans with needed insurance.

Kansas providing fodder for late-night comics

kansasgreetingsIt is no surprise that late-night comics are having a field day with recent bills in the Legislature. But it is still painful. Kansas was featured twice in a segment on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” called “The States: Meth Labs of Democracy.” Stewart led off by mocking the spanking bill proposed by Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, which he described as allowing parents to “hit their kids harder.” He later piled on the House-passed bill that would allow people, including government employees, to deny services to same-sex couples, or as Stewart called it, the “no-cake-for-gays bill.”