In an election year with a state Supreme Court ruling hanging over their heads, Kansas lawmakers wrestled over school spending, taxes and guns.
They fought among themselves and often split ways from legislators they’d chosen as leaders.
In the end, they decided not to throw a tax cut to voters. It would have partly reversed tough political choices they made a year before to salvage state government’s troubled financial ledger.
After scores of speeches, a handful of work days that spilled into the next day, and an untold number of painful comprises and surrenders, the Kansas Legislature called it quits on Friday.
Here’s a few notable things that did and didn’t make it through the Kansas House and Senate:
◼ A budget. Lawmakers had no choice other than to pass something. They restored some of the cuts made to higher education made during Sam Brownback’s years as governor, but not enough to restore funding to past levels.
State workers will get a raise, including people who got passed over for pay hikes last year. But pay for university workers, state troopers and legislators will stay flat.
Lawmakers also pumped more money into the state pension fund, KPERS, that it short-changed in recent years when state revenues dipped following Brownback’s signature tax cuts.
◼ More school money. Here, they had little choice. The Kansas Supreme Court has demanded the state send more to local districts. That amount will now climb over the next five years until schools get an added $530 million annually. Word on whether that’s enough to satisfy the high court is expected this summer.
◼ Promised payouts. Kansas was one of the few remaining states that offered a wrongfully convicted person zero compensation for any time spent behind bars. Now a bill headed to Gov. Jeff Colyer promises $65,000 for each year served. It also offers state health care for roughly one year and some help with college costs.
◼ Adoption rules. Legislators cleared the way for faith-based agencies to get paid by the state for adoption and foster placements even if they exclude families based an organization’s religious beliefs. That means an agency could exclude same-sex or single parents.
◼ Telemedicine. Lawmakers passed a bill that would require insurance companies to pay for online health services the same way they would for care in clinics. But the bill includes a clause banning abortion-related services. If courts threw out a state abortion law, the requirement for insurers to cover telemedicine would evaporate.
What DIDN’T PASS
◼ A tax change. By the slimmest of margins, and in the final hours of their 2018 session, legislators ultimately defeated a bill to make sure a federal tax overhaul last year didn’t translate to a tax increase for some Kansans.
It would have allowed people to itemize on their state tax returns in situations that didn’t account for it on their federal forms. At one point, the legislation also would have cut taxes for a much broader group of tax filers by increasing personal deductions.
◼ Concealed carry. Lawmakers had seemed poised to lower the age at which someone can carry a concealed weapon to 18. The bill stalled in the session’s final days. So you can’t carry a hidden gun until you’re 21.
◼ Medicaid expansion. Last year, legislators voted to expand Medicaid to 150,000 additional low-income people. Much of the cost would have been covered by the federal government. But supporters couldn’t rally enough lawmakers to overcome a Brownback veto.
This year, the push didn’t get nearly as far and Kansas remains among the Republican states unwilling to buy into more of Obamacare.
◼ Criminal registries. The Kansas Sentencing Commission wanted to trim back the number of people who must continually register their whereabouts.
Kansas has one of the most expansive registry requirements in the country and the agency said it adds to prison overload by making it harder for people to succeed after they’ve served their sentences.
The Legislature decided to study the issue and think about it again next year.
Scott Canon is digital editor of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics.
by Scott Canon
Kansas News Service