I have news for you! This week at the Kansas Statehouse practically shook with nervous energy, as hearings gleefully piled on top of each other, lawmakers kept saying outrageous things, and Kansas Reflector staffers grabbed black coffee to keep up with it all.
This week’s roundup features 11 jaw-dropping articles, and trust me when I tell you there may be more.
Read those minutes
The highlight of the week came on the House Welfare Reform Committee on Valentine’s Day. Representative Duane Droge, R-Eureka, noted the unusual addition of a staff member to the minutes.
“There is a section that should be deleted from the 9 minutes,” he told the committee. “If you look at the second page, a motion has been made by Rep. Droge and endorsed by Rep. Humphries to purchase 120 acres of land in the Mare Tranquillitatis area of the moon on which to build a toothpick factory. And Mr. Deeter pointed out to me that he didn’t think people were reading the minutes, so he very cleverly put it in there.
The lunar land purchase was removed from the record, but the rep’s point remains. You can watch it all, including a late entry from Rep Susan Humphries, below.
Restrictive law movements
Unfortunately, the Welfare Reform Committee does more than deliver jokes based on the moon. It also approves legislation that would harm Kansas children and families. That’s what he did on Thursday, filing House Bill 2140 and House Bill 2141 along with the full house.
Both bills have been amended along the way. According to the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children, HB 2140, which would add barriers to Kansans in their 50s receiving food assistance, now calls this population “registered workers without dependents” rather than “able-bodied adults without dependents.” HB 2141, which requires child support cooperation to receive aid, added an amendment on how the Department of Children and Families might interpret the cooperation.
“It is clear that many members of the Welfare Reform Committee do not understand the needs of Kansan citizens struggling to afford groceries. The two bills passed today are punitive, costly and will create additional barriers to accessing the food assistance program,” said Erin Melton, food security policy adviser to the KAC.
(Full disclosure: I worked at KAC from 2017 to 2021.)
Congratulations to Mike Brown, the new chairman of the Kansas Republican Party. Brown has also spread conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election, in which President Joe Biden defeated incumbent Donald Trump by a mere 7 million votes.
I couldn’t help but think of Brown as I read recent reports that Fox News personalities rejected those same claims of voter fraud in 2020. Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul and president of the network, called them “stuff really crazy,” according to the New York Times.
So now a man who believes “really crazy stuff” has been selected to lead the Kansas Republicans. What could go wrong?
I heard from lawmakers after my Wednesday column criticizing the backlog of hearings and votes this week. Not because of my general point, but because I cited the Wednesday concurrent hearings on the legalization of fentanyl test strips as an example.
Rep. Jason Probst, D-Hutchinson, offered additional context. He said that while the 1:30 p.m. hearings on the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee were unscheduled, lawmakers have been working to time them. This allowed testimonials, some of whom traveled long distances, to visit Topeka once rather than twice.
There was no insidious intent, wrote Probst. Furthermore, the bills have been approved by both committees.
I’m happy to include the extra info here. If a worthy policy can emerge from this week’s clogged legislation, so much the better.
‘Bill of Rights’
Senate bill 180 passed a Wednesday hearing in the Senate Committee on Public Health and Welfare, with just 30 minutes of discussion. This meant that questions about the bill, which defines “female” exclusively, went unanswered. According to journalist Rachel Mipro, critics said the bill “excludes intersex women and alienates women without ovaries.”
Senator Cindy Holscher, D-Overland Park, said after the hearing she wanted to know how many intersex people there were in Kansas.
We decided to answer this question for you. Attorney Liz Hamor told the Reflector that 1.7% of the US population is intersex, “as common as having red hair.” This translates to around 50,000 Kansan.
Future swing state?
Given last summer’s resounding rejection of abortion restrictions and the reelection of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, you could be forgiven for imagining that the Sunflower State has gotten bluer in recent years. Liberal politics blog Daily Kos ran a piece that concurred.
The Feb. 3 article titled “” lists Kansas as a potential swing state in 10-12 years. Key quote: “The Democratic Party in the state has been excellent at doing the best they have with what they have. For the past 30 years, when Republicans veered hard to the right in their culture wars, Democrats have run moderate candidates for governor and won.
Thanks to attentive reader Brad, who sent a link to the piece.
Fight against the food tax
The friendly folks of Kansas Appleseed noticed a curious introduction of legislation this week: Senate Bill 248 appeared in the Senate Committee on Consideration and Taxation. It would repeal the elimination of the sales tax on food and limit sales tax exemptions to so-called healthy foods. The hearing is set for 9:30 on Monday.
“Repealing legislation to end the state’s food sales tax is nothing short of a broken promise to Kansans,” Appleseed executive director Jami Reever said in a news release. The Retail Grocers Association and Harvesters – The Community Food Network joined the statement.
Transparency failure n. 1
Mipro wrote about this shameless shortcut on Friday, but I wanted to add my two cents. A standalone “Parental Bill of Rights” bill was nested on top of unrelated legislation via amendment in the K-12 Education Budget Committee. Scott Rothschild, communications editor at the Kansas Association of School Boards, reacted as follows.
In the name of transparency, Estes’ amendment opens without warning or allowing testimony. I can’t fix it. #ksleg #ksed pic.twitter.com/6VgVPwb1JU
— Scott Rothschild (@srothschild1) February 15, 2023
Mari-Lynn Poskin Rep. D-Leawood sounded the alarm during the hearing.
“I’m just concerned that it just came out of nowhere and that we haven’t allowed districts to evaluate what kinds of problems or problems it might cause them,” he said.
Transparency failure n. 2
Spotted in the Kansas City Star Friday: Senate President Ty Masterson advocates smoke-filled rooms and deals away from the public eye. Journalists Jonathan Shorman, Kevin Hardy and Katie Bernard have written of lobbyists who pay lawmakers their way to attending Chiefs games.
“Those are all relationship builders. It’s actually probably more valuable than sitting in some of these rooms,” Masterson said of attending matches with lawmakers, “because you’re actually able to have a candid conversation.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if candid conversations could happen in front of voters?
No stock exchange ban ban
The Senate Commerce Committee voted against one of the Kansas House priorities on Thursday, according to Brad Cooper of the Sunflower State Journal. Senate Bill 47 would have prevented local governments from banning plastic grocery bags and more. As the bill’s description said: “Prohibit cities and counties from regulating consumer goods and auxiliary containers for the consumption, transportation, or protection of consumer goods.”
This suggests that long-standing efforts to ban such exchanges in Wichita may finally be paying off. On the other hand, the ban could be resurrected and folded into another bill before the end of the session. Strange things happen!
Our next stop
The Kansas Reflector staff is coming down to Bethel College in North Newton next month to talk about “What’s Happening at the Statehouse and How It’s Affecting You.” The event, hosted in partnership with Harvey County Now, is set for 7:00pm on March 30. Visit the event page on Facebook to find out more.
Clay Wirestone is opinion editor at Kansas Reflector. Through its opinion section, the Spotlight works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policy or excluded from public debate. He finds information, including how to post your comment, here.