The third week of the 2018 Kansas Legislature continued the languid pace of the first two with committees dominated by agency updates and technical bills. It is assumed that in the coming weeks the Legislature will begin the heavy lifting of the session but that has yet to begin. That is not to say nothing happened this week as a change at the top of government became imminent and a new buzzword flooded the statehouse.
On Wednesday the United States Senate confirmed Governor Brownback to the role of Ambassador for Religious Freedom and on Thursday he sent a letter to Secretary of State Kobach announcing his resignation as Governor effective January 31st. His resignation will complete Lieutenant Governor Colyer’s rise to the position of Governor. The swearing in ceremony will be held on Wednesday January 31st at 3 pm.
An issue barely on the radar before the beginning of the session suddenly became the main talking point this week as a number of different actors offered changes to make Kansas government more transparent.
Senate President Susan Wagle announced her intention to introduce a bill requiring anyone meeting with administration agencies or members to register as lobbyists. Currently, only those who lobby the legislature are required to register in Kansas.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman and House Majority Leader Don Hineman announced a change in how Chairpersons in the House would handle the introduction of bills in committee by requiring the bill have an RS number and that the person or persons introducing the bill be easily identifiable and recorded. Without the need for passage of legislation and with this instead being a change in the rules themselves, Majority Leader Hineman believes it will be a quicker and better way of becoming more transparent.
Further, on Tuesday House and Senate Democrats held a press conference to announce their intention to introduce a number of bills to increase transparency including bills to prohibit outside employment of state office holders, a requirement that all votes in committees be recorded, and ending the practice commonly referred to as “gut-and-go” in which the contents of one bill are stripped and another bill is inserted instead, essentially changing everything about the bill except the number provided the new insert is deemed germane. They also proposed ending expenditures on meals and drinks by lobbyists unless they are provided to the entire legislature, i.e. no more dinners with individual members but the box lunches handed out in the statehouse are okay. They also proposed a measure which would prohibit any elected state officer or lawmaker from contract lobbying within a year of resignation or the end of their term in office. These were proposed along with a number of others dealing with the KBI reporting property recovered following arrests, making public the details of injuries or deaths of children while in state custody, limiting campaign contributions by any company that currently has a contract with the State of Kansas to $10,000.00, and harsher penalties for not responding to Kansas Open Records Act requests in a timely fashion.
Both budget committees continued with informational hearings in the third week of the session.
The House Appropriations Committee reviewed the report from a Legislative mental health initiative set up in last year’s budget bill. The report is an effort by the Legislature to gather information and also to set up another channel of communication with legislators, agencies, and mental health service providers.
While the State Hospitals have recently been the focus of much of the Governor and Legislature’s attention, other long standing mental health issues continue to require attention. Look for more mental health action by House Appropriations this session.
Senate Ways and Means held hearings on a bill establishing a new transportation centered group to study the needs for various highway, rail, and air transport issues that Kansas will face in the future. Various groups testified in favor the bill; cities, engineers, trucking interests, rail interests from across the state. There were no opponents.
Some Senators want to start the process of developing a new transportation plan, while also discussing funding issues at the state and federal levels. State highway funds have played an integral part of the budget debates in recent years. This effort is more pro highway plan and less using highway funds for other purposes.
Highway funding will likely be a component of this year’s budget debate, either way.
House Appropriations Chair Waymaster has said that that committee will likely start moving on budget subcommittees next week, but didn’t release a schedule, yet. Senate Ways and Means Chair McGinn hasn’t discussed budget subcommittees in great detail, yet.
On a 6-3 vote Wednesday the plan for CoreCivic to build a new facility was finally approved by the State Finance Council. There was some concern over the financing of the proposal that resulted in a series of delays before ultimately being resolved and approved. The new facility will be built on the grounds of the soon to be demolished Lansing State Penitentiary.
Governor Brownback on Wednesday announced this week that the plan to update KanCare, dubbed KanCare 2.0 and first rolled out late last year, is now dead. The administration will instead work on improving the existing model of KanCare and the current providers of services will continue to do so.
Also on Wednesday Olathe businessman Greg Orman officially announced his intention to run for Governor as an Independent Candidate. This announcement was hardly surprising given he had already raised nearly $500,000.00 for his campaign as reported in the end of the year campaign reports. However, it is now official; he is in and running. Orman last ran for the Senate in 2014 seeking to unseat Republican Senator Pat Roberts who ultimately defeated him. In that election the Democratic nominee, Chad Taylor, bowed out of the contest to clear the way for Orman and helping to make it largely a two person race. The Democratic Party of Kansas has already announced that this time no one would be stepping aside and Party Chairman John Gibson had some harsh words about Orman entering the race. It is widely assumed that a third party candidate will ultimately help the Republican candidate in this year’s Gubernatorial election.
With a number of side issues resolved and the delays on the appointment of Governor Brownback to his new ambassador position next week could see the 2018 session begin to ramp up. The issue of school finance remains the cloud hanging over the entire session and at some point soon it is assumed it will begin to be addressed.