Capitol Watch: Here’s a serving of harmony and eggs from the Kansas and Missouri capitols

A bill introduced in the General Assembly aims to make sure no Missouri cities get any ideas about banning the use of environmentally damaging plastic bags.
A bill introduced in the General Assembly aims to make sure no Missouri cities get any ideas about banning the use of environmentally damaging plastic bags. akuhn@mercedsunstar.com

If the Kansas Legislature seemed especially frenetic this week, it was. Friday marked the deadline for most non-budget bills to either pass or perish in the chamber where they originated.

Lawmakers call the process “turnaround,” which does not, alas, indicate the change of mind or heart we so eagerly await from this Legislature. But still, amid the usual calamities to emerge from Topeka, we spotted a few rays of hope.

Uncommon ground

While passing a bill requiring greater transparency for the commission that nominates candidates for the Kansas Supreme Court, Republicans unexpectedly agreed that Gov. Sam Brownback should also be held to a higher standard.

The focus of the bill is to make the Supreme Court nominating commission subject to the state’s open meetings and open records law. That’s a good idea.

In the process of the debate, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka proposed an amendment requiring the governor, who unilaterally selects Court of Appeals judges, to disclose the names of applicants 10 days before making an appointment. Since gaining the power to select appeals judges, Brownback has refused to reveal that information in the process of naming two judges.

Senate Vice President Jeff King, a Republican from Independence, surprised just about everyone by agreeing with Hensley.

“We really are having an earth-shattering day here in the Kansas Senate,” King said, acknowledging that he and Hensley are usually at odds.

It is rare, but welcome, to see Republicans team up with Democrats to challenge Brownback. But transparency is a bipartisan cause.

The franchise

In another positive move, the quest by some Kansas Republicans to consolidate power by manipulating the elections process was stalled when the Senate declined to require candidates for city and county offices and school boards to run on party tickets.

Under a bill forwarded to the House, local elections would be moved from the spring to November, which some leaders believe would improve turnout. But local races would remain nonpartisan.

That’s a setback for Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who wants to make all races partisan and return straight-ticket voting to give an even bigger advantage to Republican candidates.

Kobach did win a round this week. Unfortunately, the Senate advanced a plan to give his office the ability to prosecute voter fraud cases.

Kobach continues to insist that voter fraud is rampant, even though local and federal prosecutors disagree. Giving Kobach prosecutorial power could lead to harassment of citizens. The House must stop him from gaining that opportunity.

Scrambling Missouri

Missouri is moving legislation at a glacial pace in comparison with Kansas. But considering some of the bills introduced, that’s probably a good thing.

▪ Freshman House member Don Shaul has introduced a proposal forbidding cities from restricting the use of plastic bags at store checkout counters. The only city known to be doing this is Columbia, for environmental reasons. Shaul, a Republican from Imperial, near St. Louis, fears that, once unleashed, bag bans would “spread like wildfire.”

That’s a fire the Missouri Grocers Association wants to tamp down as quickly as possible. And Shaul would know. He’s the association’s state director.

Shaul sees no conflict of interest with his legislation, and under Missouri’s lax ethics rules it probably isn’t. But the lobbyists must be concerned. If lawmakers are going to start representing special interests directly, what’s to become of them?

▪ Ed Emery, a GOP senator from Lamar, has introduced a mean-spirited bill barring use of any public money to facilitate a same-sex marriage in Missouri, specifying that any employee of a state or local government who does so “may be terminated” without benefits.

The bill would put the state in conflict with state and federal courts, possibly including an expected U.S. Supreme Court ruling. It should go no further.

▪ And then there’s a legislative gem introduced by Republican House member Bill Reiboldt of Neosho. It urges the California legislature and that state’s voters to recall a law restricting the sale of eggs in the state if they come from hens caged in inhumane conditions. Reiboldt contends the law harms Missouri egg farmers.

His resolution prompted an observer to wonder on Twitter: “How receptive do you think the Missouri legislature would be to unsolicited advice from the California State Assembly?”

Not very.