The Kansas Legislature: Conservatives promise roadblocks every step of the way



December 31, 2018 - 9:30 AM

With the gavel yet to fall announcing the beginning of the 2019 Kansas legislative session, the mood feels challenging, if not outright ominous.

Faced with a Democratic governor, Republican leaders are setting an obstructionist course on everything from school finance to prison reform, the expansion of Medicaid to anti-discrimination measures.

Reminiscent of the GOP’s no-compromise pledge in 2010 — “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President (Barack) Obama to be a one-term president,” vowed Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — today’s Kansas Republicans appear equally determined to undermine Gov.-elect Laura Kelly’s agenda.


REMOVING moderate Republicans from leadership posts was the first step.
First to go was Don Hineman, R-Dighton, former House majority leader. Known for his willingness to compromise as well as be a strong voice for the rural parts of the state, Hineman was passed over by his peers for the more conservative, and more urban, Dan Hawkins of Wichita.

With the responsibility to decide what bills come to the House floor, Hawkins’ role as House Speaker could provide a significant hurdle to the expansion of Medicaid. For years, Hawkins has opposed widening the safety net so that another 150,000 Kansans would be eligible for health insurance.

In 2017, moderate Republicans and Democrats came within three votes of overriding Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto to expand Medicaid.

Expanding Medicaid was a key platform of Kelly’s campaign. To have it pushed further down the road would be a great disappointment to the 70 percent of Kansans who favor its expansion.


REPUBLICAN leaders are also determined to keep school finance as a point of contention.

Is this politics at its ugliest? You bet.

Despite successful legislation last April to get our K-12 schools on solid footing with an additional $522 million to be spread over the next four years, conservative legislators are now saying they should return to “ground zero” in negotiations.

This clique is using the fact that the finance package did not take into account inflation, an estimated $364 million over the next four years, as pointed out by the Kansas Supreme Court, as their excuse to scrap it entirely.

Their other motive in keeping the debate over school finance front and center is to keep the pot boiling against the high court’s direction that Kansas should provide its students an adequate education.

Some legislators, you see, resent the court’s ability to enforce the word “adequate.”

Instead, they want the sole power to decide how much a public education should cost.

To get that power, conservatives are pushing for a constitutional amendment that strips the court’s oversight.


IN ANOTHER fight for control, conservative Republicans intend to keep their thumb on the rights of the LGBTQ community.

It started in 2015, when former Gov. Sam Brownback overturned an ordinance enacted by his Democratic predecessor Kathleen Sebelius that protected LGBTQ state employees from discrimination.

Then earlier this year, legislators approved a measure allowing faith-based adoption agencies to deny gays and same-sex couples, as well as legislation that permits  state-licensed child welfare agencies to cite religious beliefs for not placing children in LGBTQ homes.

All this is on top of a 2005 state constitutional amendment that bans marriage for same-sex couples, which was rendered moot, thankfully, when  the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 approved same-sex marriage.