The 90-day 2018 Kansas Legislative session is underway, and this year will once again be a tough one with the legislature still struggling to find a way to fund the state’s public schools in a way the Kansas Supreme Court finds acceptable, while struggling to meet ends without raising taxes.
It’s a simple struggle many of us are challenged with at home: how to do more with less or possible the same dollars. Well actually, the Kansas coffers should produce more funds thanks in part to an income tax increase passed during the 2017 legislative session. In addition, the legislature overturned a corporate tax cut championed by Gov. Sam Brownback in 2012.
The tax increases are expected to raise an additional $1.2 billion.
Once again, school finance will dominate the Kansas legislative session. Last spring, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled the school funding plan passed by the legislature during their 2017 session inadequate.
Determining a school funding formula is a delicate dance, with rural districts vying against urban districts, and small district vying against the larger ones. It will be difficult to make everyone happy.
A group of community organizations, led by the American Civil Liberties Union, are pushing a bill that restores many of the voter’s rights that have been reduced under Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The group is calling for a hearing on the bill that would:
Appeal the state’s proof of citizenship requirement for voter registration
Enact election-day voter registration a measure that would allow citizens to register and cast a ballot on the same day
Withdraw Kansas from the Interstate Crosscheck system that is designed to catch individuals registered and/or voting in more than one state. So far, the effectiveness and electronic security of that program have been questioned.
Expand early voting with a permanent advance voter status.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Johnson County District Attorney Stephen Howe and Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett are pushing a bill to strengthen the state’s laws against elder abuse.
Their proposal would expand the definition of criminal mistreatment of an elder person to include infliction of physical injury, unreasonable confinement or unreasonable punishment. It would also include violations of the guardian or conservator laws. The current statute prohibits financial abuse but not physical abuse.
As of 2015, Kansas is home to about 397,000 people age 65 and older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A Wichita State University study projects that population to more than double over the next 50 years.
Finally this year, two measures that clamp down, how very slightly, on gun laws.
In response to the mass shooting this fall in October expect the legislature to pass a bill making bump stocks, and similar devices, illegal. The Las Vegas shooter used bump stocks to turn his semi-automatic weapon into an automatic weapon.
After an incident at Wichita State University and Kansas University where individuals abiding by Kansas’ Open Carry Laws, left their guns unattended in public places, a bill has been proposed making it a misdemeanor to leave your gun unattended. Under the law, the action rises to a felony if someone is hurt or killed.
In addition to the on campus incidents, KS Rep. Willie Dove, a Republican from Bonner Springs, left his gun in a committee room during last year’s legislative session.
Even with the efforts on the federal level to end the Affordable Care Act, there will still be a grassroots effort to expand Medicaid, an option that was available under the original affordable care act, but not taken advantage of Kansas. Currently, only individuals with disabilities or individuals with children in their household who earn 38% or less of poverty are eligible for Medicaid.
If passed, individuals up to 138% of the federal poverty level, even those without children in their household, would be eligible for Kancare, Kansas’ privately run Medicaid program. There was a close vote last year to expand the program, but it was vetoed by Gov. Sam Brownback.
This year, Republicans are calling for an elimination of the backlog in signing up people for Kancare before Gov. Brownback’s push for revisions to the program that include a lifetime limit of benefits plus a work requirement to receive Medicaid. For more about these, see the Health story page 7.
During the 2017 Legislative session the Kansas House passed a bill making it legal for state universities to grow and conduct research on hemp plants, but failed to pass the Senate.
Hemp, the close cousin marijuana, but without the intoxication THC, was lumped into federal drug legislation decades ago, even though it doesn’t make your high. If allowed, hemp is a great cash crop that can be turned into food, fabric, paper and other materials.
In the past, the big opposition to this measure has come from the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, Kansas Sheriff’s Association and the Kansas Peace Officers Association, who concerned about how difficult it will be to differentiate Hemp from its intoxicating cousin.
However, the Kansas Sierra Club endorsed the bill, saying an agricultural state like Kansas could benefit economically from legalized hemp crop.
Also expect a few medical marijuana bills to be considered this year. It will be interesting to see if any of these bills advance further this year.