Capitol Watch: Ferguson, school finance and energy policy take center stage

Events in Ferguson dominated the news this week, but some Missouri legislators accused leaders of dragging their feet on bills.
Events in Ferguson dominated the news this week, but some Missouri legislators accused leaders of dragging their feet on bills. The Associated Press

More than a few matters were up in the air in the legislatures this week. Including, for a brief interlude, one Kansas lawmaker.

Slow down

Missing: three Republicans.

Such was the situation facing Kansas House leaders Friday morning, as they assessed the chances of passing a bill that would radically change the way school districts receive money. An initial vote was 62 in favor and 57 against, but it takes 63 votes to pass legislation in the House.

That set off a scramble for the three absent Republicans, who were expected to vote yes. In Coffeyville, Kan., legislator Virgil Peck was making an appearance with Gov. Sam Brownback. He was about 150 miles away, but Brownback had a plane.

Peck hopped aboard. But by the time he reached Topeka, the other two GOP lawmakers had been located and the vote was a fait accompli. Peck flew back to Coffeyville, for a round trip estimated to cost about $400.

In little more than a week, the House upended a school financing formula that had stood for more than two decades, though the Senate and possibly the courts must still concur.

The hastiness prompted Chapman Rackaway, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University, to note astutely on Twitter that the proceedings had a “we have to pass it to see what’s in it” vibe, harkening back to what U.S. congresswoman Nancy Pelosi said about Obamacare a few years ago.


Step it up

In Jefferson City, the Legislative Black Caucus held a news conference to express frustration with the pace of legislation dealing with policing issues raised by the unrest in Ferguson.

By sitting on bills dealing with body cameras for police officers, enhanced police training and civilian law enforcement review, Missouri sends the message that “we’re racist and we don’t care,” said Rep. Brandon Ellington of Kansas City, chairman of the caucus.

Republican House Speaker John Diehl issued a pointed retort, noting that Ellington hadn’t been present at public hearings to support the bills he alleges are moving too slowly.

One Ferguson-related reform that everyone is jumping aboard is legislation limiting the ability of cities to use traffic enforcement as a revenue device. U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat, filed a bill in Washington that would make it a federal civil rights violation to do so. Missouri is well down the road with bills banning excessive ticketing and could provide a template for other states.

Don’t ask, don’t tell

Entities connected with Koch Industries of Wichita have handed generous donations to Utah State University over the last few years. The university even has a Charles G. Koch professor of political economy.

So when a research fellow from the university traveled from Utah to testify before a Kansas Senate committee that the state’s renewable energy standard hasn’t resulted in job growth, some people were naturally skeptical. Koch Industries is pressing to have the state repeal the law requiring utilities to generate 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. If Koch had funded the research offered to the Senate, that is something lawmakers should want to know.

But not Sen. Rob Olson of Olathe, the Republican chairman of the Senate Utilities Committee. He cut off questions from Sen. Tom Hawk, a Democrat from Manhattan, about the research’s funding source, calling Hawk’s questions “inappropriate.”

The researcher, Ryan Yonk, told a reporter after the meeting that the Charles Koch Foundation had given money to the Institute of Political Economy, which conducted the study, but the research was done without bias.

Maybe so, but lawmakers ought to know how and where research originates. Olson’s silencing of an important line of inquiry, not Hawk’s questions, was inappropriate.

If at first …

Mike Moon, a Republican House member from Ash Grove, Mo., was one of a small contingent of lawmakers who last session tried unsuccessfully to impeach Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

This year, Moon is setting his sights even higher. He has introduced a resolution that “requests the Missouri Congressional delegation to institute proper proceedings in Congress to impeach President Barack Obama.”

Moon outlines a list of grievances against the president. For those keeping track, Moon earlier this session introduced a resolution calling upon Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act with “manly firmness.”

Thankfully, he left that particular rhetorical flourish out of his latest resolution.