A tumultuous Kansas legislative session essentially came to a close Saturday as lawmakers passed a new budget and headed home, still contemplating the effect the recent defeat of Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts will have on the state for years to come.
Lawmakers are slated to return to Topeka for the “sine die,” day of the session on June 26 to formally end the session. At the moment, the lengthy 2017 session lasted 113 days counting Saturday’s work.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said the session had been the toughest she’d ever experienced.
Rep. Jene Vickrey, a Louisburg Republican, described this year’s work as “a very difficult session,” in the wake of the tax cuts being rolled back.
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“I believe that this will help rally support back through the grassroots that it’s time to take back this Kansas House to a conservative Legislature who reflects who the state really is,” Vickrey said.
Sen. John Doll, a moderate Garden City Republican, said he’d grade the session somewhere between a C to a C+.
He was still troubled by the fact lawmakers weren’t able to force Medicaid expansion into law, but took solace in the Legislature’s decision to override the governor’s veto on the tax increase plan that gutted his economic policies.
“There’s a lot of things we could have done better,” Doll said.
Armed with the knowledge that roughly $600 million more a year is expected to flow into the state’s coffers through the tax increases and roll back of the Brownback tax cuts, legislators’ final work Saturday was passing a two-year budget plan that calls for pay raises for a large group of state workers.
“That is long overdue, and well deserved, for our state employees,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat.
The budget bill also adds $4.7 million in an effort to open additional patient beds at Osawatomie State Hospital.
Several conservatives rallied against the budget and the additional spending they saw as unnecessary while other lawmakers supported the spending plan.
In the House, Democrats objected to a decision by budget negotiators to remove a payment of roughly $17,000 to a Topeka woman who is seeking compensation after she had cash seized during a police stop decades ago. She was never charged with a crime.
The budget bill passed the Senate on an 27 to 11 vote before it cleared the House on an 88 to 27 vote and was sent to Brownback’s desk.
And with that final bit of business done about 7 p.m., Kansas lawmakers headed home.
Here are some of the other major moments of the 2017 session.
A new school finance formula passed by lawmakers this year means more money is set to flow to public schools in Kansas in an effort to satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling that found adequacy issues in the state’s public education system.
Lawmakers responded to the court’s March ruling by agreeing to add a net $488 million to state school funding over two years.
But the fate of that formula is still in doubt. Brownback has not publicly said whether he will veto the bill or let it become law.
Kansas Democrats have said the funding in the bill is inadequate. They believe the court may reject the bill, which they fear would lead to a special legislative session this summer.
Despite Brownback’s opposition, lawmakers agreed to overcome the Kansas Republican’s veto and force into law tax increases expected to bring the state more than $1.2 billion over a two-year span.
The tax hike, which starts this tax year and increases again next year, brings back a third individual income tax bracket, ends a tax exemption for certain business owners championed by Brownback and raises each state individual income tax rate.
By tax year 2018, those three rates will rise to 3.1 percent, 5.25 percent and 5.7 percent.
A late bipartisan bill passed by lawmakers will allow public hospitals in Kansas to restrict concealed handguns from being allowed in their buildings, unless Brownback decides to veto the legislation.
Had lawmakers not passed the bill, public hospitals that include the state’s psychiatric hospitals and the University of Kansas Health System would have been required to put in place security measures like a metal detector and an armed guard to keep banning handguns after July 1.
If they didn’t have the security by then under current law, they would have been required to allow people to carry concealed firearms.
And starting next month, public Kansas colleges and universities will be required to allow concealed firearms in school buildings unless they have the boosted security in place.
Calls for changes to the state’s laws for amusement rides came this session after 10-year-old Caleb Schwab was killed last August while riding the Verrückt, a 17-story water slide at the Schlitterbahn Water Park. Caleb’s father is Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican who serves as the Speaker Pro Tem of the House.
Before adjourning Saturday, Schwab said in a floor speech that this had been the hardest session, and hardest year, of his life.
A bill that imposes inspection requirements and more state oversight of the amusement rides passed the Kansas Legislature with near unanimous support earlier this year and was later signed into law by Brownback.
However, lawmakers decided in recent days to delay the legislation from fully taking effect as planned next month amid concerns that carnival rides would not be prepared to meet the law’s stricter standard. The delay bill passed the House and Senate in early June and now awaits Brownback’s signature.
The Wichita Eagle’s Jonathan Shorman contributed to this report.