We had five major legislative focuses this year: KanCare expansion, gunsense legislation, citizen voting rights, distributed generation and energy efficiency, and towards the end, the adoption bill.
First, the good news:
- HB 2042 would have lowered the concealed carry age in Kansas to 18. It went through the whole process and there was a conference committee report but it was never brought to floor of either chamber. Speculation was that leadership didn't think there were the votes to pass it, which is fantastic news.
- HB 2145 passed handily earlier in the session; it prohibits gun possession by convicted domestic abusers and by domestic abusers who are subject to active protection orders and was a major priority of Moms Demand Action – Kansas this year.
- The ill-advised tax cut bill that was proposed in the Senate basically at the last minute didn't pass the House – barely (it failed on a tie vote, which is as close as it can get). You would think Kansas would have learned the lesson of ill-thought-out tax cuts but many of the legislators and well-funded lobbyists who thought Brownback's tax experiment were a good idea are still around.
- And the KanCare 2.0 delay provision was inserted into the budget as an amendment. It requires legislative approval before the governor implements any eligibility changes, such as work requirements. Amazingly, the Trump Administration rejected Kansas' application to put lifetime limits on Medicaid coverage, and you know a policy has to be pretty bad if the Trump Administration says it goes too far.
And that's about it for the good news.
Now, the bad news:
- KanCare expansion never got a real vote on the floor in either chamber. It eventually was brought up as an amendment to a budget bill but the amendment failed. I don't know why the moderate Republicans who voted for it last year (when it almost had a two-thirds majority) didn't vote for it this year; perhaps they felt it wouldn't overcome a veto by the governor. It's worth asking them about it at any upcoming public forums.
The expansion issue illustrates the most frustrating thing about this session: the stonewalling by leadership of important policies. KanCare expansion passed a committee but couldn't get to the floor. The voting rights bills never even got a hearing. The issue is illustrated by the school finance debate: even though everyone knew school finance had to be dealt with, the entire session went by before leadership finally decided to discuss the issue, literally hours before adjournment.
When the hard right was in ascendance and Brownback was in office the committees were all stacked and no progressive policy could get a hearing. After the election of 2016 and the return of a number of new Democrats and Moderate Republicans the committees were a little more friendly and we could usually get a hearing although there was no guarantee that the issue would get to the floor. This year there was a real retrenchment, with leadership using its control of the committee process and the floor calendar to stifle progress at every turn. It was in some ways more frustrating, because hopes had been raised. But as long as the hard right is in leadership, this is what we are likely to get.
- The energy efficiency and distributed energy bills were bottled up in committee. The issue of demand charges on residential solar is back before the KCC next week. Visit CEP's site for more information.
Some folks have asked about the effect of the bill and the possibility of lawsuit. Nothing changes in the near term. Private adoption and foster agencies were always able to discriminate on whatever bases they wanted. What this bill did was to clear the way for such agencies to bid for state contracts in the future. So litigation would require a) an awarded contract, and then b) a plaintiff who was discriminated against. Neither of those exist – yet.
KIFA got more involved in this bill than we have ever been involved in LGBT-related legislation before. (Although, as we pointed out, this bill has a significant potential impact on religious minorities as well.) This has been an area of some sensitivity internally because we want to include more socially conservative religious denominations in our justice work, and they're not all on board with the full menu of LGBT inclusion (yet). But we look at it like we look at this bill: a private agency can do what it wants internally but in the public square it needs to serve everybody. Similarly, KIFA doesn't tell our coalition members what their policies should be within their own religious practice, but when it comes to the public square, we see LGBT rights a vital justice issue, as worthy of our efforts as any other issue we work on. And we hope our friends agree to walk that, sometimes somewhat delicate, path with us.