TOPEKA — Republican leadership promised to compel a House vote today on a state government budget bill that would serve as rebuttal to a Senate appropriations bill and begin movement on one of the major issues left unresolved at the Capitol.
Modification of the $6 billion-plus state budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 stood as one of the key issues hanging when the Legislature reconvened Thursday for the wrap-up portion of the annual session. Democrats and Republicans agreed impending House debate on the budget promised to reveal deep conflict over spending priorities and generate hours of argument.
Inevitably, the House and Senate must hammer out a deal acceptable to Gov. Jeff Colyer.
The challenge of the budget could be illustrated by the amendment added Wednesday to the House's bill by Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita. Under the amendment, a large portion of the state's annual appropriation decisions would be rescinded if the Supreme Court declared the $525 million, five-year school funding bill to be unconstitutional.
"Outrageous proposal," said Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-Kansas City.
Colyer, who is campaigning for governor, recommended the budget include about $24 million to improve ability of the Kansas Department for Children and Families to respond on behalf of abused or neglected children. In part, DCF proposed funding to raise wages of licensed social workers and begin hiring as many as 200 unlicensed applicants to fill vacant social worker investigatory jobs.
Wink Hartman, GOP gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach's runningmate, said inability of DCF to professionally manage state programs involving children raised questions about appropriateness of Colyer's budget appeal.
"As a business owner, I would never put up with the mismanagement we've seen at DCF," Hartman said. "If an employee consistently fails to do their job, hides from accountability and then asks for a raise so they can continue to do more of the same, most private-sector businesses would probably fire them on the spot."
Final days of the annual session, assuming the Kansas Supreme Court triggers no summer special session to deal with public school funding, will feature a bill to address an $80 million glitch in the new school funding bill signed by Colyer.
A proposed constitutional amendment drafted to strip the Supreme Court of its authority to review certain financial decisions by the Legislature on school finance remains in play.
The House and Senate have yet to resolve conflict on a bill expanding insurance coverage of doctor visits made possible by telemedicine, in which a specialist in Topeka clinic confers by video link to patients statewide. The bill contains a provision that strikes from state law the entire telemedicine reform if a ban on telemedicine abortions was overturned in the courts.
Lawmakers will be asked to sort out a call by faith-based organizations that contract with the state to apply deeply felt religious beliefs, including views of homosexuality as a sin, when deciding where to place children in foster care.
The National Rifle Association demanded the Legislature approve a bill granting reciprocity for out-of-state licenses for people who want to carry concealed firearms and to allow Kansans under age 21 to carry hidden firearms. The NRA director in Kansas, Travis Couture-Lovelady, said lawmakers also should make it easier for educators to carry guns in the classroom and implement a gun-safety curriculum in public schools.
Another unresolved issue: The Senate passed a bill slashing taxes by about $500 million, but the House declined to endorse that measure. It was inspired by lawmakers anxious Kansas taxpayers wouldn't receive full benefit of federal tax reform signed by President Donald Trump.
"We've need to come together on it. It's critical," said Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Parker Republican and candidate in the 2nd congressional district.
The Kansas Democratic Party opposed a big tax cut one year after repeal of the 2012 income tax reductions signed by then-Gov. Sam Brownback that led to years of state budget problems.
"Brownback economics are alive and well with Colyer, Kobach and the rest of the Republican lawmakers in Topeka," said Ethan Corson, executive director of the Democratic Party. "Kansans desperately want to move on from the Brownback years, but Republicans are trying to drag the state backward."