TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – Gov. Laura Kelly invoked the spirit of iconic Kansans Dwight Eisenhower and Bob Dole as she asked state legislators to work together to make Kansas the best state for families.
Kelly delivered his 2023 State of the State address Tuesday night to a joint session of the Kansas House and Senate. The speech was delayed for two weeks by what turned out to be a false positive COVID test for the Governor.
Kelly’s speech doubled down on the themes of his inaugural speech and proposed budget, including a complete end to the state sales tax on food, diapers, and feminine hygiene products; implement a four-day back-to-school tax holiday; raising the income tax threshold for older people to pay income tax on social security benefits; Medicaid expansion.
“The argument for expansion is simple and should be one we all agree on. Regardless of political party, we all want our rural communities to be centers of commerce and economic activity,” Kelly said. “By far, the fastest way to a healthier workforce would be to enable 150,000 Kansans to have access to affordable health care”.
Kelly spent several minutes funding education, stating that it is his intention to fully fund K-12 public schools every year he is in office. Her budget also includes a proposal that she says puts Kansas on the path to fully funding special education as well, adding that it will push the state’s congressional delegation to provide federal funding.
He also called on lawmakers to remove politics from school policy discussions.
“Know this: I will oppose any effort designed to turn parents against the teacher, to turn communities against their school, to push young people out of the teaching profession,” Kelly said. “I will resist politicians who want to score political points at the expense of our students and our families. Our students should not be used as political pawns.”
Among the special guests in the House chamber for the speech was Chris Howell. Howell was the caregiver of Army veteran David Auble, who was urged to get marijuana to ease his pain during his final days battling cancer. According to the governor, Auble refused, saying he didn’t want to break the law. Kelly used the story to urge lawmakers to reach a deal on legalizing medical marijuana.
“That’s not to say that legalizing medical marijuana won’t be complex. Of course it will,” she said. “We will need to put effective safeguards in place to ensure that it is used appropriately and that it is not abused.”
Other priorities outlined by the Governor included funding for the state’s water plan; increase mental health services, especially for first responders; and decriminalizing fentanyl test strips, among other actions to address the opioid crisis.
“Drug addiction is a disease, not a moral failure. Which means we need to change the way we treat it,” Kelly said. “My budget gives schools the funding they need to have naloxone on hand, so that if a student overdoses first responders will have enough time to get to the scene to save a life at the scene.”
Kelly said that, just like the examples provided by Eisenhower and Dole, current lawmakers can work together to find solutions to difficult problems.
“Over the past four years, we have changed our status. Now, by working together, we can reach a Kansas family they will want to call home for generations,” she said. “Over the next four years, we must see each other as partners, not enemies, to build on everything we’ve accomplished in the past four years.” .
Fellow Democrats applauded Kelly’s message.
“I am filled with hope and optimism as we enter Governor Kelly’s second term,” D-Senate Minority Leader Senator Dinah Sykes said in a statement. “With no election in the game, Kansas Republicans have nothing to hide behind when they stand in the way of these common-sense policies that will improve the lives of their constituents.”
In recent weeks, Republicans have said they will strive to meet with the Governor in between where possible. Though they have indicated possible support for his sales tax proposals, House Speaker Dan Hawkins said Medicaid expansion is unlikely.
In taped remarks before the speech, Senate Chairman Ty Masterson said the successes the Governor refers to are due to Republican support.
“The nature of our divided government means that any bill that makes it to the governor’s desk does so only with Republican effort, and any meaningful wins — whether it’s cutting a tax, balancing a budget, or driving new economic development in Kansas, it all started with the Republicans. Regardless of who tries to take credit, I’m optimistic that we will find more common ground,” she said.
Masterson also asked whether Kelly would be willing to compromise on issues the GOP plans to raise again, such as the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” which bans biological males from women’s and girls’ sports, and the Parents’ Bill of Rights. , which deals with public schools.
“On many issues, the governor’s party drives her down the far left lane, if not the ditch outside that. With as many times as we’ve heard her tell us she’s in the middle, in this session, we’re going to give her ample opportunity to prove that she really meant it,” Masterson said.
Read the full text of the Governor’s State of the State address