The Hutchinson News, March 22
Maybe Gov. Sam Brownback is shooting from the hip, or maybe the Kansas Legislature has an itchy trigger finger.
Whatever the cause, one thing is certain: 2013 is the year of the Shotgun Legislature.
Record-setting campaign spending in 2012 led to the election of many conservative legislators who won favor from some of the state's largest lobbyist groups, thus purging moderate Republicans from the Legislature.
As soon as this new Brownback-compliant Legislature convened in January, members began shot-gunning a wide variety of bills in both the House and Senate. No issue has been out of reach of the Legislature's birdshot - corporate farming, judicial appointments, taxes, workers rights, restrictions on lobbying (not from business, just from people), election laws and immigration, to name a few.
This approach betrays a dire sense of urgency from the governor and his legislative followers - almost as if these changes must happen now, before people have a chance to figure out the truth, and perhaps have a change of heart.
There is good reason for that impatience. Given time to research and ponder the legislation, most Kansans would find much of it unpalatable. Some might realize a vast difference between what we've been told and what we could end up living with if some of these bills become law.
For instance, a bill against using public money to pay for lobbyists sounds reasonable on its surface. But deeper exploration reveals the bill doesn't solve the fundamental problem that lobbyists dominate lawmaking; it simply removes lobbyists that most closely represent the people and in effect silences the voices of the common person while giving well-heeled organizations a louder voice.
Likewise, a corporate farming law seems like a fine idea to some when it's gussied up in the language of economic development, jobs and investment. But its sourness comes out once people realize the legislation also robs counties and their residents of their right to control their own backyards.
A tax cut, who doesn't like the idea of a nice big tax cut? But already Kansans are biting down on the pit in that bill and realizing the pain might well come in higher taxes elsewhere or reduced services in their communities.
As for unions, Kansans have never much liked them anyway - especially those unions that represent teachers and government workers who earn their livings from taxpayer dollars. Another shotgun blast brought a flurry of bills designed to erode union power and membership. Yet, in the process, lawmakers have sought to undo civil service protections, which would allow public employees to be hired or fired based on their political affiliation and the changing winds of each election season.
A shotgun Legislature, indeed.
But shotguns aren't used for their precision or accuracy; they're used to spread out a wide pattern in the hope that at least one piece of shot will strike its target. It's a great tool for bird hunting but a terrible approach to lawmaking.
The Hays Daily News, March 22
Students attending postsecondary institutions in Kansas fall into two categories: Those who pay in-state tuition and those who pay out-of-state rates. The difference is significant. In-state rates are less than half what the non-resident pays.
In 2004, the Legislature decided any student who graduated from a Kansas high school and had lived in the state for at least three years qualified for in-state tuition rates -- regardless of residency status. Lawmakers then were under the impression it wasn't fair to punish children with higher tuition merely because their parents weren't legal citizens. The law didn't benefit a great number of Kansas kids, nor did it raise many objections. The grumbling that did occur dissipated after learning the state wasn't paying for the students to attend college.
A challenge to the status quo emerged this year, courtesy of a state official whose passion appears to make life as difficult as possible for immigrants. Secretary of State Kris Kobach was the lead supporter of repealing in-state tuition for Kansas students without legal residency.
"I think that is an absurd reverse incentive," Kobach said during House Bill 2192's hearing in front of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee. "If you follow the law, we're charging you three times more."
Kobach was referring to the fact Regents schools charge out-of-state tuition to students from foreign countries, and those youths need to obtain student visas. The "reverse incentive," in Kobach's mind, is that families entering the country illegally get a benefit they don't deserve.
First of all, this year there are 630 immigrants paying in-state tuition. Of those, more than 500 attend community college. Is Secretary Kobach suggesting families enter the country and live here for three years for the primary purpose of getting discounts on two years' worth of community college? That is difficult to imagine.
We don't believe the secretary is looking at revenue-enhancements for the schools, either. If all 630 students were to switch to the higher rate, the incremental dollar gain would be $1.8 million. Of course, assuming those families merely were gaming the system, they wouldn't be in Kansas. The loss of those 630 college students would be $3.9 million.
It sounds as if Kobach, who sideline business is making life difficult for immigrants around the country, just wanted to stir things up some more in Kansas.
Thankfully, the House committee didn't bite. No action was taken on the bill.
And at least one lawmaker reframed the conversation in a manner we found refreshing. Rep. Ponka-We Victors, D-Wichita and the only Native American serving in the Legislature, offered this: "I think it's funny, Mr. Kobach, because when you mention illegal immigrant, I think of all of you."
We hope this is the last we hear about attempts to punish Kansas teens for the decisions of their parents.
The Wichita Eagle, March 22
Speak now on budget
The tax and budget debates of the past week have stirred worries and further demonstrated how the Kansas Legislature's makeup and fiscal priorities have changed. Kansans who care about the budget areas being slighted amid the tax-cutting zeal need to make themselves heard loudly and soon.
The chambers' negotiators must reconcile the plans now that the House has declined to extend the higher sales-tax rate after July 1 (as the governor and Senate want to do) or to divert $382 million in sales-tax revenue from the transportation plan over the next two years (as the House Taxation Committee wanted).
The House and Senate would cut funding by $30 million and $15 million, respectively, for the higher-education system of state universities, community colleges and technical schools - which officials say will further drive up tuition rates and endanger programs. Only the Senate would increase K-12 per-pupil funding, and then only by $14 per pupil in fiscal 2014, doing little to ease the severe budget problems districts face statewide.
Area priorities at risk include the National Center for Aviation Training and scheduled highway improvements.
Despite the tenacious efforts on the floor of Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, the Senate-passed budget lacks funding to help Sedgwick County keep the Judge James Riddel Boys Ranch open, to help community mental health centers recover from the deep cuts they've sustained, or to support the arts at the level Kansans fought for two years ago. As it is, the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission would receive just $200,000 - a $500,000 cut from the current year and far from the kind of support needed to reclaim the $1.2 million in annual regional and federal matching grants that enriched Kansas' cultural life.
The week also saw another failed effort by Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, to give $45 million to cities and counties for lowering property taxes - which are the taxes Kansans fear and loathe most.
"At last we're cutting budgets and trying to save the taxpayers some money," said House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell.
Yes, but with what Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, called "a giant leap of faith" - and with far too little regard for the impact that decimating the state's tax base will have on schools, college students and those who rely on state-funded social services.
Let it be said again that the state's revenue crisis is entirely of its own making because of Gov. Sam Brownback's historic bill last year eliminating income taxes for 191,000 businesses and farms and cutting income-tax rates for individuals. Now, when lawmakers should be cautiously trying to repair the damage and mitigate more, they seem eager to cut spending to clear Brownback's desired "glide path to zero" income tax.
If Kansans have a problem with that, it's now time to say so.
The Kansas City Star, March 20
Kansas abortion bill is cruel overreach
With the passage of an anti-abortion bill on Wednesday, Kansas House members revealed themselves as callous and backward-thinking.
Along with imposing new restrictions on patients and providers, the House rejected an amendment to change current law and allow abortions after 22 weeks if the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. In rejecting pleas to allow those exceptions, the bill's supporters displayed a shocking lack of empathy for women.
Young girls, especially, may not understand or acknowledge the physical changes resulting from a pregnancy until that pregnancy is well under way. By removing the option of abortion, legislators are imposing their will and beliefs on people in desperate situations.
The bill contains several overbearing and offensive requirements for doctors. The worst is a requirement that physicians must falsely inform patients that abortion may increase the risk of breast cancer.
An abortion-breast cancer link is wishful thinking on the part of anti-abortion crusaders, buoyed by a few small, early studies. Later, more comprehensive research found no connection. In the early 2000s, the National Cancer Institute convened more than 100 leading experts to review the research. They concluded that neither abortion nor miscarriage increases a woman's chances of developing breast cancer.
But Kansas Rep. Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican who is the driver of the Legislature's anti-abortion legislation, asserted in debate that the Legislature has the authority to tell doctors what to tell patients, even in the face of doubt or conflicting studies.
Kinzer's thinking is arrogant and harmful. Why would a talented young doctor want to practice in a state that requires physicians to perpetuate a discredited scare tactic?
The 70-page House bill's overreaching effort to deny women the right to a private medical decision even prohibits a woman from deducting the cost of an abortion as a medical expense on her income tax form. Abortion providers could no longer claim an exemption from state sales taxes for medical supplies, as other medical providers do.
In testimony to the triumph of zealotry, the House voted 92-31 for the abortion restrictions. We hope the Senate will show some compassion for young women facing the anguish of an unwanted, late-term pregnancy, and understand the negative consequences of promoting a blatant falsehood.