2017 Legislative Session Wrap-up

The mood in this year's legislative session was like a reverse bell curve: very high expectations early, a lot of frustration in the middle, and then a great sense of accomplishment at the end. 

The main focus during the entire session was on tax and budget – they basically had to raise $600 million dollars to bring Kansas' budget back into some semblance of balance after the disastrous Brownback tax cuts of 2012 and 2013 left state finances in a giant hole. After the surprising failure of a less-good bill, largely due to Democratic opposition, it looked like they might be there for a long while: anything that was sufficient to address the problems would be vetoed by the governor, and anything that wouldn't be sufficient wouldn't get enough moderate Republican and Democratic votes to pass.

What happened next is really fascinating: a bipartisan women's caucus developed, which started the process that led to the bill that finally passed, SB 30. The details on that are better found elsewhere, but the upshot is that the bill that passed (over the governor's veto) significantly put us on the road to addressing the state's financial crisis.

I'll just add two (unoriginal) thoughts:

  1. Kansas has come through what the federal government is apparently determined to put the rest of the country through: irresponsible tax cuts for the affluent at the cost of necessary services for the entirety of the population. At our annual event Sr. Simone Campbell pointed this out, and told us that we have a unique part to play in relating Kansas' experience to the wider world.

  1. The only reason this outcome could happen is because of the success of bipartisanship and moderation in last year's elections. It provided the margin of votes, and it also indicated to some key conservatives (as did the governor's absolute refusal to take part in the problem-solving) that the plan that came out of the women's caucus process was the way to go. The alternative is what's happening in Oklahoma, where they can't and won't fund their government. There but for the grace of God goes Kansas.

I've already written about the outcome of the gun issue – the passage of S Sub for HB 2278, which continues the ban on concealed carry in public hospitals and community mental-health centers. The bill became law without the governor's signature on June 15.

At the time I expressed ambivalence because campuses weren't included, but in the weeks since I've come to realize that this was actually a pretty big victory. There are literally thousands of doctors, nurses, orderlies, patients, etc. who now won't have to face the prospect of (for instance) a bereft or angry relative carrying a weapon into their place of work or care. That's so huge! Plus, this outcome shows that it is actually possible to pass a law that is opposed by the state NRA. Definitely something to build on. 

I want to point out – actually, I need to point out – that KIFA was closely involved in each of these significant areas throughout the session: testifying; touching base with our friends in the legislature (and quite a few who aren't quite in the category of “friends”); building grassroots support; bringing people to the Capitol; generating emails, phone calls, and letters to the editor. (And praying! Let's not forget that.) And that's not even to mention the things we helped stopped from happening, particularly the voter suppression and anti-immigrant legislation proposed by the secretary of state.

We have one more legislative session before the next election, when we find out if this current period of relative sanity is an aberration or the new normal (or rather, a return to the traditional Kansas normal). While we have this majority, we need to address a number of other issues that got back-burnered this year: Medicaid expansion, which we were so close to this year; rolling back “welfare reform” and voter suppression; criminal justice reform; addressing both the causes and effects (water, resilience) of climate disruption in Kansas; supporting local economic development instead of endlessly giving tax breaks to out-of-state corporations, etc. And, of course, campus carry and the issue of gun violence generally.

The only reason we're able to do so much with so few resources is because of the support of people like you: your activist support, and your financial support. Thanks so much, and if you like the work we're doing, please consider making a donation.

 

 

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