Despite the particularly divisive issues facing the Kansas legislature — taxes and abortion among them — the Franklin County Statehouse delegation is optimistic about the 2020 session’s momentum.
“The personality of this session is one I have not seen in the 10 years I’ve been up there,” said Sen. Caryn Tyson. “This year, everyone is trying to get more things done.”
Tyson, R-Parker, was accompanied by Rep. Mark Samsel, R-Wellsville, and House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, R-Ottawa, on Saturday morning in the Ottawa City Commission chambers for the second Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Coffee of 2020. The legislators were joined by a full chamber of constituents and over 700 viewers online.
Discussion ranged from the state of Kansas mental health services to reform of the state’s foster care system, and even included mention of a proposal brought forward by Central Heights Schools students via Samsel to change the state fruit from the blackberry to the watermelon.
The Legislature’s recently failed anti-abortion amendment was discussed at length, including clarification by lawmakers of the amendment’s nature and their views. All three supported the amendment. Samsel said he respects the four Republican members of the house who voted against the measure.
“One is an 80-year-old farmer from western Kansas, Rep. Bill Pannbacker,” Samsel said. “The comment he made was that, if it was going to be a change to the constitution, he wanted it on the general election ballot, where historically there has been higher turnout. Rightly or wrongly, he stuck to his guns.”
The proposed amendment would have held the vote in a separate August election. Finch went on to clarify rhetoric painting the amendment as an abortion “ban.”
“The question that would be put to voters is whether or not they believe there is a right to abortion in the Kansas Constitution, and if there is not, the Legislature has the ability or authority to regulate the practice in the state subject to federal law,” he said. “So Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood — the federal Supreme Court has found a right to abortion in the U.S. Constitution. This amendment respects that jurisprudence. This does not go against the federal, constitutional findings of the U.S. Supreme Court.”
The morning’s discussion also included Senate Bill 294, which would require local tax authorities to send notices to each resident outlining estimated increases in property tax collections tied to valuation adjustments and to conduct special public hearings before annual budget votes, according to Gannett Kansas archives. The measure is being championed by Tyson, who is chairwoman of the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee.
Along with requiring increased disclosure — which some local officials have decried as increased bureaucratic labor and potentially harmful to economic growth — the measure would also be an alternative to 2015 tax-lid legislation, lawmakers said.
“The reality is the property tax system in Kansas is incredibly complicated for people to understand,” Finch said. “I think having added transparency in the system, how ever we get there, is a good thing. I think the tax lid has been a failure. It creates a perverse incentive for cities and counties to raise taxes, because if they don’t, they lose capacity to do it in a time of crisis. So I think if we have an alternative that relies on more disclosure and transparency, in exchange for getting rid of public policy that doesn’t work, I think that’s a good thing.”