By Topeka Capital-Journal, May 8
Kansas legislators finished their work in 79 days this year, 11 days short of the 90 days favored by the Kansas Constitution, which does allow extended legislative sessions.
Given that this newspaper usually encourages our lawmakers to get their work done early, the short session must be recognized here as a positive achievement. The only remaining work is a formal adjournment, scheduled for May 30.
Whether Kansans think what happened during the 79 days qualifies as positive achievement probably depends on which political party they support. Most Republicans likely are pleased, which means Democrats are not. But no one should be surprised.
Legislators had two pressing duties when the session began, finalize the second year of a two-year budget adopted by the 2013 Legislature and address a pending Kansas Supreme Court ruling on the school finance issue. Lawmakers addressed the school finance issue by tweaking the funding mechanism and making additional money available, apparently to the Supreme Court’s satisfaction if not everyone’s, and worked into the wee hours of Saturday, May 3, to complete a budget.
Democrats may rail about how those two issues were handled, but they had no reason to expect anything different. Gov. Sam Brownback and conservative leaders in the Republican-dominated Legislature have staked out their policy on government spending and taxation (increases in both, or either, are not good) and are being faithful to it, even in the face of a $92 million shortfall in revenue expectations for April.
Democrats called for action (changes in tax policy), but Republicans contended reserves were sufficient to cover the shortfall. It also should be noted the shortfall came after months of higher-than-anticipated revenues.
While they weren’t wrangling with school finance or the budget, lawmakers passed some good legislation, including a bill that opens probable cause documents law enforcement officers and prosecutors use to obtain search and arrest warrants.
Other examples of the legislators’ good work includes a bill that requires health insurers to pay for behavioral therapy sessions for some children with autism and one that increases the penalties for Medicaid fraud.
Rejection of a bill that would have granted tax exemptions to privately owned fitness centers goes in legislators’ “good” column for the 2014 session. The bill would have set a dangerous precedent on tax exemptions for private-sector businesses that offer services in field where both sectors, private and government, are active.
Legislators also ultimately declined to pass a proposed “religious freedom” bill, which would have allowed Kansans to deny services to same-sex couples, after business leaders said it could have a negative impact on the private sector.
It was a case of inaction being the right action, and was almost enough to make us forgive the time legislators devoted to making two fossils the official state fossils.