Rep. Jan Pauls of Hutchinson, who switched parties last year from Democratic to Republican, will chair the influential House Federal and State Affairs Committee in the upcoming legislative session, House Speaker Ray Merrick has announced.
Pauls will replace Rep. Steve Brunk, a Wichita Republican.
Brunk resigned from the House about a week ago after accepting a job as Kansas executive director of CitizenLink, the policy arm of the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family. His resignation takes effect Jan. 4, a week before the beginning of the annual session of the Legislature.
Brunk had planned to keep his legislative seat, but he changed course and resigned after widespread criticism that his new job would present a conflict of interest with serving in the Legislature.
Much of the criticism surrounded a statement he made to The Wichita Eagle that CitizenLink wants to influence legislation, and “how better to do that than to have the person who handles all of that legislation actually be in the Legislature and actually be chairman of the committee?”
Federal and State Affairs is a particularly influential post because it is one of only a few “blessed” committees, meaning it can work on legislation from the start of the session to the end. Most committees have to comply with comparatively early deadlines for filing and passing bills.
Brunk has been staunchly anti-abortion and was a leading proponent of a “religious freedom” bill that would have allowed public-sector and private-sector workers to refuse service to gay couples if homosexuality is incompatible with their personal religious beliefs.
Pauls also supports those policies.
A lawyer by profession, she was a socially conservative Democrat in the House from 1991 until 2014, when she switched parties and won re-election as a Republican.
She said she decided to change parties because she disagreed with more liberal Democratic stances on abortion and what she called “the homosexual agenda.”
Brunk and Pauls are co-sponsors of House Continuing Resolution 5018, also known as the Human Life Amendment.
If approved by two-thirds of the Legislature and a majority of voters, it would amend the Kansas Constitution to essentially ban abortion by extending full legal protection to embryos and fetuses, starting at the moment of fertilization.
The legislative history shows the amendment is currently awaiting action in the Federal and State Affairs Committee.
In addition to appointing Pauls as chairwoman, Merrick announced the appointment of James Todd, an Overland Park Republican, to replace Travis Couture-Lovelady of Palco as vice chairman of Federal and State Affairs.
Couture-Lovelady, a Republican, resigned from the Legislature in November to accept a lobbying position with the National Rifle Association.