Category Archives: Kansas government

Legal cost of anti-abortion laws keeps climbing

gavelThe state’s legal cost of defending recent anti-abortion laws has now topped $1 million. Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office has paid more than $612,000 to the Lawrence firm of Thompson, Ramsdell and Qualseth and more than $418,000 to the Wichita firm of Foulston Siefkin. Lawmakers were warned that the laws likely were unconstitutional, but they passed them (and Gov. Sam Brownback signed them) anyway.

KDHE quietly approved massive hog-farm expansion

seaboardhogsGiven all the controversy, debate and public hearings in the late 1990s and early 2000s about corporate hog farming, it was stunning how quietly the Kansas Department of Health and Environment approved a massive expansion of a Seaboard Foods hog-feeding operation in western Kansas. The permit was signed on Feb. 26 but wasn’t public until last week, when the Sierra Club sent out a news release criticizing the state’s approval, Associated Press reported. With the expansion, the facility in Greeley County will become the nation’s second-largest hog-feeding operation, according to the Sierra Club, and will generate roughly twice as much waste as the city of Wichita. Concerns about corporate hog farms haven’t changed: pollution, overwhelming smell and depletion of water supply.

So they said

bbackmug“I’m hoping the championship game is between two Kansas teams, and then I’m debating on what I’ll bet myself at that time.” – Gov. Sam Brownback (in photo), after explaining his WuShock pin to

“They’re grinders. They’re hard workers. They’re scrappy and they’re fighters with big hearts. They reflect our town and the best of America and we love them. Godspeed to them. Go, Shox.” – Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, in a speech praising the WSU men’s basketball team on the House floor

“They’re American…. I wish Harry Reid would do his job of running the Senate.” – Brownback again, when asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s criticism of the Koch brothers as un-American

Let locals control timing of local elections

votingboothAt least a Kansas Senate committee decided against placing municipal and school board elections on the same ballot as state and federal elections. But in voting to move local elections from the spring to August and November of odd-numbered years, the Senate panel dismissed the wishes of local officials, who overwhelmingly oppose the change. Why is this the Legislature’s concern? What happened to local control?

Fitness clubs unlikely to get tax break

taxrevenueA bill to grant property-tax exemptions to fitness clubs appears dead this session. The House Taxation Committee tabled Senate Bill 72 and doesn’t intend to take it up again, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. The bill was promoted by Rodney Steven, president of Genesis Health Clubs in Wichita, as a way to level the playing field with nonprofits like the YMCA. Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, who chairs the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee, agreed with the decision to table the bill. Instead of granting new tax exemptions, Donovan favors stripping YMCAs of their sales-tax exemption on memberships. “That’s a much cleaner, more reasonable approach,” he said.

Constituents aren’t supposed to be on Senate floor

arnold,kellySenate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, questioned why Kansas Republican Party chairman Kelly Arnold (in photo) was present for the Senate’s debate on a bill to prevent pre-primary party switching. Arnold, who is also Sedgwick County clerk, told The Eagle: “I think it’s appropriate for any constituent that wants to see the legislative process to be on the Senate floor.” Actually, Senate rules dictate that someone like Arnold (who isn’t a legislator or legislative employee, elective state officer, former senator or card-carrying media member) should only be on the floor by signed invitation of a senator and the Senate president. It also says anyone violating the rule shall be ejected from the chamber and “thereafter be denied admission.” Visitors are supposed to stay in the galleries.

On KU’s needs, Masterson thinks he knows best

candidateNo one disputes the need for more physicians in Kansas, which ranks 39th among states for doctors per capita. And University of Kansas chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little and others repeatedly have told lawmakers that a new $75 million health education building is necessary to train more physicians and maintain accreditation. Yet on Tuesday the Senate Ways and Means Committee declined to give KU what it needs to get the building under construction and open in 2017 – access to a $25 million FICA refund and $1.4 million annually from the state to help retire $15 million in bonds. (The rest of the money would be raised privately.) Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, R-Andover, seems to think he knows better than KU what KU needs. “I don’t feel the accreditation is in jeopardy,” he told the Lawrence Journal-World. He also said: “It’s just prioritization. If they want to prioritize the accreditation as a project, they have the resources to do that.”

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.