Greetings from an unusually busy first week of the legislative session. We have definitely hit the ground running this year.
This week we heard from the governor with her State of the State address, received her proposed budget for state fiscal year 2021, saw the introduction of a constitutional amendment on the issue of abortion and had many committees pick up with bill hearings.
The governor gave a nice speech on Wednesday night, but many of the policies she spoke about have seen very little action in practice. We agree on the celebration of the new USMCA trade deal and the ability for our agricultural industry to maximize its ability to sell goods to Canada and Mexico. We agree on the need to look at criminal justice reform to ensure public safety, reduce recidivism and help people live productive and positive lives. And finally, we agree on the need for increased investments for mental health services and increased access to care for those who need it
We also have areas where we disagree. The governor said she wanted to reduce the sales tax on food. Remember Kansas has one of the highest rates of sales tax on food in the nation. But last year we sent her two bills that would have cut food sales tax by 15% and she vetoed both of them. We agree on increasing mental health funding, but last year she vetoed increased funding for mental health and the legislature had to override that veto.
We saw the unveiling of the governor’s budget this week. Unfortunately, this is another of those areas where we disagree. The governor is again calling for a massive amortization of the state’s pension program, KPERS. Last year it was a 15-year refinance that would have cost $7.4 billion, this year it’s a 10-year, $4.4 billion plan. Even though the numbers are smaller the problems are the same. This plan kicks the can down the road and makes future generations pay for today’s spending. It adds billions in new debt that our children will be saddled with and it prolongs the period when our retirees’ pensions are not adequately funded. Just like last year, this is the cornerstone of her budget. Without it, the budget doesn’t balance. I think a balanced budget should not rely on putting today’s spending on the credit card.
This week also saw the unveiling of a proposed constitutional amendment to address the recent Kansas Supreme Court decision in Hodes & Nauser v. Schmidt. In that case the high court found that the Kansas Constitution contains a right of bodily autonomy which includes the virtually unlimited right to an abortion. While good people can disagree about this issue, the court decision radically upends decades of common-sense regulation in this area and creates some grave problems.
For example, under the decision Kansas’ parental notification statute which requires girls under 16 have parental consent before an abortion may well no longer be valid. The proposed amendment — which would have to be considered and approved by voters — says there is no such right in the state constitution and returns us to the prior practice of allowing the elected legislature to enact regulations in this area subject to court review using federal constitutional guidelines. I will write more on this later, but I expect it to move quickly and be widely supported as many other legislators believe as I do, that you, the people, should decide whether you want the legislature or the courts making these decisions.
I encourage you to reach out to me with any state level problems that we can help you with. Your questions or comments are appreciated. It is an honor to serve you and work for you each day and I thank you for that. My number in Topeka is 785-291-3500 and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.