Rapid recap of abortion, bigotry and school issues in Kansas and Missouri
Passing bills that affect millions of people isn’t easy. Still, why do Kansas and Missouri lawmakers have to make it so hard?
Both of the states’ Republican-controlled legislatures have spent far too much time pushing misguided bills on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage as they pander to their ultra-conservative bases, wasting time and public dollars in the process.
Meanwhile, truly important challenges loom. As one example, Missouri needs to spend more money fixing its crumbling roads. Fortunately, the Senate has approved a plan to ask voters to endorse a nearly 6-cent gasoline tax increase this fall, and it’s now in the House.
Here’s a roundup on other key issues pending in Topeka and Jefferson City.
Kansas schools in limbo
Sunflower State lawmakers recently rushed through their fix to school funding, which Gov. Sam Brownback signed this week.
Problem solved? Hold your breath.
The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday scheduled arguments for May 10 on the new measure. The court already has said schools won’t open this fall without a valid plan in place, one that fairly distributes funds among poor and wealthy districts.
While Brownback called the bill he signed the product of “delicate legislative compromise,” in reality it was rammed through by Republicans who previously have not taken seriously their duty to fully finance Kansas K-12 schools.
Adding insult to injury, GOP lawmakers have unveiled a new school funding plan to take effect in 2017. It could send tax dollars to parents to pay for private schooling.
That controversial, possibly unconstitutional, idea deserves hearty debate when the Legislature returns in late April.
Abuse of Planned Parenthood
Missouri Sen. Kurt Schaefer has been leading the charge to hold officials of a Planned Parenthood organization in contempt if they do not provide private documents during a witch hunt he’s leading.
In the latest news, senators have demanded that the officials show up April 18 to say why they haven’t answered previous subpoenas that appear to be aimed at getting names of women who have had abortions.
Planned Parenthood’s ardent critics thought they had gotten a big break last summer when videos emerged alleging that some of its officials were selling fetal tissue for profit. However, investigations in at least 12 states, including Missouri, found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Unfortunately, expect this charade to continue as lawmakers try to strip Planned Parenthood of Medicaid funds and impose new restrictions on its clinics.
Kansas budget blues
The Legislature won’t be able to balance the current or future budgets if revenues continue to come in as weakly as they have this fiscal year, which ends June 30. Even more cuts to basic state services could be ahead.
But Brownback and lawmakers who want to avoid that mess are examining other options.
Most are bad. One would divert even more sales tax revenue from the highway fund, which already has lost more than $1 billion in recent years because of such tactics.
Brownback’s administration on Friday took the first step toward delaying a large state payment into the already fiscally challenged Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. That would unnerve state and county workers who have money in the system. Plus, the money has to be repaid with interest.
Instead of these continued reckless machinations, the Legislature when it comes back needs to quickly repeal the costly 2012 income tax cuts that gave 330,000 businesses a $250 million tax break annually.
Brownback won’t support such a move. But it’s time for lawmakers to end these unfair tax cuts and put Kansas back on firmer financial footing.
Reject bigotry in Missouri
Cheers to the many companies and business groups that have spoken out against a “religious freedom” measure that is nothing more than an attempt to make it legal to discriminate against many same-sex couples in the Show-Me State.
Jeers to the lawmakers who continue to think it’s worth the ugly national attention Missouri is receiving during this divisive fight to put a law change before voters this year.
Ultimately, House members need to be the adults in the room and refuse to endorse the Senate-passed version of this bigoted resolution.
Missouri ethics reform? Riiiight
Put this in the believe-it-when-you-see-it category: The Missouri General Assembly is headed toward approving a watered-down ethics reform bill.
House and Senate negotiators recently decided they could support making lawmakers wait six months before coming back to the Capitol to get paid to lobby their former colleagues.
In Jefferson City, this is considered a victory because — right now — there’s no limit. In fact, in recent years a few lawmakers have abruptly left office and immediately started work as lobbyists. That kind of system raises a good question in the public’s mind about whether lawmakers vote certain ways just to help line up good-paying private sector gigs.
However, legislators still have not handled the disheartening fact that Missouri allows unlimited campaign contributions. Passing tough new laws would show that Missouri lawmakers are serious about ethics reform. Alas, they are not.