The Kansas Legislature raced to the end of its regular session this week with more ground-shifting legislation but without a budget. The Missouri General Assembly, meanwhile, eased back from spring break and tiptoed into ethics reform.
Shut up and vote
Gov. Sam Brownback and the outsized conservative majority in the Legislature are changing the character of Kansas.
Brownback this week signed into law the Legislature’s bill waiving the need for a permit or training in order to carry a concealed weapon. Polls had showed a majority of Kansans wanting to keep those requirements.
Legislators helped Brownback out with a bill enshrining into law his harsh work rules and time limits for welfare recipients, while throwing in a few new restrictions of their own.
These and other bills passed earlier will make a deep imprint that will be difficult to erase. And some of the biggest changes are being rushed through the Legislature by procedural tactics that deny members a chance to voice dissent or propose changes.
A major change in the school funding formula was rammed through earlier without the opportunity for debate on the Senate floor. House leaders are refusing to allow a floor debate on next year’s budget, reportedly out of concern that members will approve an amendment requiring an expansion of Medicaid eligibility limits. And House leaders demanded a vote on the welfare changes without allowing discussion.
Those maneuvers and others left many members angry as they adjourned for a three-week break. And it only gets harder. When members return for the “wrap-up” session they’ll have to figure out how to close a gap of at least $600 million in the state’s budget.
No, you can’t have fries
The Missouri House didn’t exactly end the lobbyist-fired gravy train when it passed its first ethics reform bill of the session. But it did cut down on the allowable portion of gravy.
Under the House bill, gifts from individual lobbyists would be capped at $25 apiece. Also, lawmakers who leave office would have to wait at least one year before becoming lobbyists.
Would a downgrade from steak dinners to pizza clean up Missouri’s notoriously seedy government? Jake Hummel of St. Louis, the Democratic minority leader, doesn’t think so. “It’s progress,” he said. “On a scale of one to 10, I’d say it’s a one.”
Like other Democrats, Hummel called out the Republican majority’s refusal to consider a cap on campaign contributions. The House bill also does nothing to require the identities of persons funding sham non-profits set up to influence elections.
House members will attempt to reconcile their version of ethics reform with a Senate version. That one doesn’t make big reforms either.
Hit the road
Memo to Uber: Less is more.
The ride-hailing company did itself no favors when it encouraged supporters to email a form letter to Kansas lawmakers. The torrent of outraged missives crashed the Statehouse computer server.
All to no avail. The Legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill containing a provision that Uber said would drive it out of Kansas — a requirement that drivers with liens on their cars must pay for collision and comprehensive insurance coverage. Besides the email spamming, some lawmakers were angry that Uber tried to get them to inject measures into the bill that they viewed as anti-competitive.
At week’s end, Uber was still threatening to leave. Some lawmakers were saying “so long.” Is there an app available to hail a grownup for this situation?
Please rise, and speak English
The Missouri House, which clearly has too much time on its hands, passed a bill this week requiring schools that receive public funds to recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily.
In English only.
“Next thing you know we’re reciting our Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic,” the sponsor of the misguided legislation, GOP Rep. Shane Roden of Cedar Hill, told the Associated Press.
Probably not, which is unfortunate. We bet Missouri students would find it a rich experience to hear the Pledge in a variety of languages.
But the chances of an Arabic recitation are about as good as Roden’s frivolous bill being signed into law. Which is to say, not very good at all.