Monday brought the start of the 2019 edition of the Kansas Legislature.

The Capitol is again buzzing with activity as 165 legislators from every part of the state took their respective seats in the Kansas House (125 strong) and 40-member Kansas Senate. A moderate Democrat set up shop in the governor’s office to work with a more conservative, Republican-controlled Legislature.

With 14 years in the state Senate, Gov. Laura Kelly understands the legislative process. Her ability to negotiate and work toward bipartisan compromise will immediately be put to the test.

If there’s a goal all should share, it’s in funding government services Kansans need in a responsible way.

Excessive borrowing and debt accumulated to fill budget holes — and done at the behest of ultraconservative lawmakers desperate to protect their flawed tax policy from 2012 — has cast lingering uncertainty over Kansas’ economic future. Recent bipartisan repeal of an ill-conceived, state income-tax exemption for business owners restored lost revenue and improved the fiscal forecast, but lawmakers still must proceed with caution.

While conflict is a given, the hope is for more civility and transparency. Previous decisions by far-right leadership to stymie debate on issues ranging from tax policy to school funding and Medicaid expansion didn’t help.

Lawmakers always should hear out colleagues of different political persuasions, and also listen to constituents’ ideas and concerns about the workings of their government.

For example, Kansans want to know the true economic effects of Medicaid expansion, and its return on investment in greater access to health care. Lawmakers should use the session to openly debate such important issues, then pursue Kansas-specific solutions — and not simply rubber stamp cookie-cutter bills from special-interest groups.

It will require a bipartisan approach to move forward. Kansas cannot afford the kind of extremism and obstructionism that’s stalled progress in the nation’s capital.

Former U.S. senator and Republican stalwart Bob Dole launched his political career in the Kansas Legislature and effectively established bipartisan alliances to enact legislation in Congress. “Compromise is not a bad word,” he said.

Holding public office can be thankless work. Kansas lawmakers deserve credit for their willingness to serve and tackle complex problems in our often frustrating but necessary system of government.

We wish them the best as another session unfolds under the Capitol dome.

 

GateHouse Kansas