Legislative Update 2/12/17

This legislative session has been a very busy one for KIFA. The tone of the legislature is much different than in previous years, which is not surprising, since there are a large number of moderate Republicans and Democrats serving this year. From the very start, we knew that (for the first time since I've been around), we might be advocating for positive policy changes, as opposed to just trying to stop terrible things from happening, as has been the case in recent years.

Of course, the elephant in the Capitol is the disastrous Kansas budget deficit, caused by the tax cuts in 2012 and 2013. Kansas faces an over $1 billion deficit over the next two years, and (needless to say) that has attracted a lot of attention. At this stage it is impossible to ask for any legislation that has a cost attached to it.

Of course, that doesn't mean that policy isn't being developed. Here's a list of the proposed legislation that KIFA has taken a position on this year.

Racism/Discrimination:

  • We testified in support of HB 2018, which would limit the use of civil asset forfeiture.

Explanation: Current law allows law enforcement to take property they suspect of being connected with a crime, but no conviction or even arrest is required. That is, a highway patrol officer could stop you, claim to believe your car or other personal possessions are connected with a crime (“hm, I smell pot smoke”) and take them, without even giving you a ticket. This is rife for abuse and it has been abused; it also (unsurprisingly) has a very large racial disparity. This bill would require conviction before permanent forfeiture of property.

Result: There seems to be some resolve to do something about a pretty unregulated system. A subcommittee will be looking at the whole issue of civil asset forfeiture over the summer, to propose legislation for next year.

  • We testified in opposition to SB 37, which is designed to fix a loophole in Kansas' two-tiered voting system.

Explanation: Kansas law requires people registering to vote to produce proof of citizenship, usually a birth certificate. Federal law prohibits this requirement on federal registration forms, so Secretary of State Kris Kobach attempted to institute what has been called a “two-tiered” registration system, with people who have registered with the federal form (and who are not required to present their birth certificate) only allowed to vote in federal elections, while being prohibited from voting in state elections. A federal court threw this out before the November 2016 elections, calling it “a mass denial of a fundamental constitutional right.” This legislation attempts to address some of the complaints of the federal court, thereby further codifying the two-tiered voting system.

Result: The bill has not yet been voted on in committee, but from my analysis of both the makeup of the committee and the mood of the legislature, it is unlikely to be passed out favorably. That doesn't mean the bill is dead, though; Secretary Kobach has proven very adept over the years at bending the legislature to his will.

Economic Justice:

  • We submitted written testimony in support of HB 2064, expanding KanCare.

Explanation: This is one of the biggies of the year, and many of the new legislators specifically ran in favor of this last year. There are a lot of obstacles to this legislation, primary among them being uncertainty on the federal level and the governor's steadfast opposition. But there are a lot of influential parties pushing heavily for it, so I wouldn't count it out.

  •  We submitted written testimony in support of SB 95, the “SOAR Act.”

This bill amends the welfare reform legislation of the past two years to mitigate some of its more damaging provisions. The legislation was proposed by our friends at Kansas Action for Children.

  • We testified in support of HB 2237, the Rise Up Kansas! Plan

Explanation: This legislation is proposed by our friends at the Kansas Council for Economic Growth, and is meant to propose a comprehensive solution to Kansas' ongoing (and self-imposed) budget and tax issues.

One thing we have been certain to mention in all of our discussions of this issue is our concern that Kansas' budget problems not be solved on the backs of working and poor people. For the past several years all revenue enhancement has been through sources that primarily affect lower-income people, including the loss of the homestead exemption for renters, the child care tax credit, and the increase in the sales tax on food, currently one of the highest in the nation. All this, while (due to the LLC exemption) many of the wealthiest Kansans don't pay a dime towards the cost of the infrastructure we all use.

Gun Violence

  • We testified in support of HB 2074 and SB 53, the “campus carry” bills.

Explanation: This is the issue we have spent the most time and effort on these past several months. Our preferred result would simply strike the expiration date of the exemption, essentially repealing the part of the legislation that applies to campuses, public hospitals, and community mental health centers. There was a particularly raucous hearing in Senate Fed and State, and a much more orderly one in the House committee.

Prospect: There's no question to anyone with eyes to see that most Kansans don't want guns on college campuses. In the House committee there were over 80 proponents of keeping the exemption and only 3 opponents. But there are a lot of locked in legislators on this issue, and it wouldn't matter if there were 800 proponents, or 8000, they are not going to endanger their A+ rating from the NRA. One legislator told me, “My A+ from the NRA is what allows me to come here to work on all the other issues I care about. If I didn't have it, I would lose my next election.” This, despite the fact that the NRA's most favoritest legislators lost in their primaries last year. But such impressions die hard.

The Senate bill was voted down in the committee on a voice vote. We believe we had 3 votes (and an 4th who wasn't at the meeting) out of 9. The House committee hasn't voted yet, but we think we're a vote short there too. Fed and State committees are really the bastions of right-wing social activists in the legislature; they have the majority on both committees.

If it does get voted down by the House committee, there are still several ways forward, the most likely being an amendment to a related piece of legislation, such as a bill concerning higher ed funding. We remain confident that a campus carry bill will be heard on the floor of both chambers sometime this year. I think we would win in the House; the Senate is more of a question. And the governor has promised a veto, but he says that about a lot of things.

There are also bills lowering the concealed carry age to 18, and establishing so-called reciprocity with other states, meaning any license in any state would be valid in Kansas. We opposed both of these measures, but did not submit testimony on either, preferring to concentrate on the campus carry issue.

There hasn't been any legislation regarding our fourth mission area, climate disruption.

This week we will testify against bills designed to increase law enforcement on undocumented immigrants, and Thursday is Campus Carry Lobby Day, which we're doing with Moms Demand Action Kansas.

Other important upcoming events include “Stand With Muslim Neighbors” Advocacy Day on March 13, and WEALTH Day on March 16, of which KIFA is a co-sponsor.

 

 

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