The Kansas Legislature wrapped its 2018 session last weekend, and this session resulted in big changes in school funding, an adoption bill allowing organizations to discriminate against gays, transparency bill, a hemp law and even some additional funding for a few state organizations.
Here’s a look at a few of the issues the legislature passed this year.
Compensation Approved for Wrongly Convicted
The Kansas Legislature passed a bill providing compensation for those wrongly convicted of crimes. Under the bill, those wrongfully convicted of a felony would have to show in district court, or the state Supreme Court, that they met certain conditions to establish that they did not commit the felony crime. Once those conditions were met, individuals would receive $65,000 for each year spent in prison, and $25,000 for each year spent on parole.
The first payment would be either $100,000 or 25%, whichever is larger, with the rest coming in $80,000 annual payments until the total is reached. A person bringing a claim can also designate beneficiaries to receive the payments.
Legislators Pass School Funding Increase, Wait to Hear From Courts
The deal to increase public education funding squeaked through with the bare minimum of votes amid desperate Statehouse gamesmanship during the last minutes of the regular session, followed by a vote to fix an $80 million error during the wrap up session.
The funding will boost state aid to schools over the next five years, eventually adding more than half a billion dollars in annual funding.
In October, the Kansas Supreme Court found the state wasn’t meeting its obligation to suitably fund education. It pointed, in part, to the quarter of public school students lagging behind grade level in math and reading. The Court gave the State until April 30 to adopt a plan to “adequately” fund schools.
This year’s legislation comes after the Legislature signed off on a two-year $300 million increase a year earlier. The Kansas Supreme Court allowed that plan to take effect but found it unconstitutional and ordered the state to fix it this spring.
Lawmakers Approve Increased Spending in Other Areas
Kansas lawmakers voted to inject money into state services, pensions and higher education during the last few hours of the session. After several years of austere budgets, driven by a tax cut plan that the legislature reversed during the 2017 session, the legislature was finally able to add money to the budget.
The spending plan includes $15 million from the state general fund to boost pay for state workers. Employees passed over for a raise last year will get larger increases under the budget plan. Additional raises will also target judicial branch employees and corrections workers. The raises won’t apply to university employees, state legislators and Kansas Highway Patrol officers.
Lawmakers had previously underfunded the state pension plan, KPERS, to help balance the budget. The Senate’s lead budget writer, Republican Carolyn McGinn, said the spending plan will make a missed $194 million payment over two budget years.
The budget will also reverse some of the cuts universities and colleges absorbed in 2016 at the order of then-Gov. Sam Brownback. The new spending plan restores about $15 million of the $30 million that was cut.
Discrimination is Approved in Adoption and Foster Care
The Kansas Legislature narrowly approved a controversial measure allowing faith-based adoption and foster care agencies in Kansas to be reimbursed by the state for placement services, even if they turn away prospective parents who don’t fit their religious beliefs. Opponents argued the religious protections would open the door to state-sponsored discrimination, particularly against same-sex couples, but also single people and minorities.
“Christian slaveholders used the Bible and their strongly or sincerely held religious beliefs to justify slavery,” said Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Democrat from Lawrence.
Proponents contend the measure will keep more adoption agencies in Kansas at a time when more than 7,000 children are awaiting permanent homes. Department for Children and Families Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel endorsed the measure.
“This bill simply ensures that all providers can stay in the field and continue to serve children, unafraid of government censorship,” said Rep. Susan Humphries, the Wichita Republican who sponsored the measure.
Humphries described the religious protections as “preemptive,” enabling faith-based placement agencies to weather lawsuits and withstand changes in state leadership.
Some Effort Finalized to Make Kansas Government More Transparent
In the wake of a Kansas City Star series highlighting the lack of transparency in Kansas government, the 2018 Legislative session saw the introduction of numerous bills designed to bring about change.
Republican and Democratic leaders called for lobbyists to disclose when they approach the governor or agencies about state contracts and legislation was proposed requiring legislatures to put their name on bills they introduce. In the end only a few measures passed.
The legislature approved a bill shortening significantly the time it takes for police to release body camera footage relevant to shootings. The bill says people in the videos or their families must be given access to the recordings within 20 days. In the past, it could take months for families to see a video and find out what happened in a fatal police shooting.
In response to several high-profile cases where a child had been brought.