To say conservatives felt emboldened at the start of the 2011 legislative session in January would be an understatement.
The results of the 2010 election put state government in their hands.
In landslide victories, Sam Brownback won the governor’s race and national anti-illegal immigration crusader Kris Kobach was elected secretary of state.
And an arch-conservative group of House candidates rode a political tidal wave to give Republicans the largest majority in the House in half a century.
They delivered budget cuts to public schools, anti-abortion regulations and put the state on a path toward reducing pensions for state employees. And they said that was just a warm-up for 2012. Look for attempts, led by Brownback, to overhaul the state tax system next year.
The session ended in the early morning hours of May 13, but Wednesday, June 1, marks the official, ceremonial end.
On the way, some officials made state, national and even international headlines with what they did or said or both.
Now that the 2011 session is officially in the books, here are the top 10 moments that created buzz under the Capitol dome.
10. Brownback wants only Republicans to approve the budget
On the final night of the session, Brownback gave a pep-talk to House Republicans, urging them to approve the appropriations bill. And he made no bones about the fact that he would be happy if it passed with only Republican support. That ruffled some Democrats’ feathers, but there wasn’t much they could do about it, being outnumbered 92-33 in the House and 32-8 in the Senate. The budget passed with only GOP votes.
9. House Republians' push for $100 million budget cut fails
Rep. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, invoked the Almighty when he urged his colleagues to vote for an amendment that would have carved an additional $100 million from the state budget. “I personally believe we were called here by my creator. I wasn’t called to be mediocre. I was called to be great.” The amendment was defeated.
8. Rep. Connie O'Brien criticized for 'olive complexion' remark
Rep. Connie O’Brien, R-Tonganoxie, testified to a House committee that she ran across a woman seeking financial aid at a Kansas community college and knew the woman was an illegal immigrant because of her skin color. “She wasn’t black, she wasn’t Asian, and she had the olive complexion,” she said. The Kansas Democratic Party had called O’Brien’s remark racist and O’Brien later apologized, saying she understood how her comment could have been misconstrued.
7. Kansas House approves 'pay go' provision
At the outset of the session, conservatives in the House won a key victory by passing a rule that became known as “pay-go” and said if an amendment was made on the House floor to increase spending in a budget proposal, a similar-sized cut had to be proposed elsewhere in the bill. The rule gave the Appropriations Committee a lot more power and limited debate before the full House.
6. House Appropriations Committee approves state employee pay cut, exempts legislative staff
As the Appropriations Committee worked, many of its budget proposals made headlines, but probably none more than when the committee voted for a sliding-scale state employee pay cut, but then passed an amendment to exempt legislative support staff from the cut. After several days of public outrage, the idea was jettisoned.
5. Kansas Bioscience Authority investigation
The Kansas Bioscience Authority came under intense scrutiny from Brownback and Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita. Wagle questioned KBA salaries and ethics. The authority, which spends tax dollars to develop bioscience businesses in Kansas, had its defenders among Republicans and Democrats. But by the end of the session, the KBA’s chief executive officer resigned, and the Johnson County District Attorney’s Office had confirmed there was a probe — although unspecified — related to the agency.
4. Rep. Pete DeGraaf criticized for comments during abortion debate
Rep. Pete DeGraaf, R-Mulvane, was criticized by several women’s groups over comments he made during debate on his bill dealing with abortion and insurance. When an opponent of the bill, Rep. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, noted that abortions would not be covered for cases of rape and incest, DeGraaf responded, “We do need to plan ahead, don’t we, in life?” Bollier then asked, “And so, women need to plan ahead for issues that they have no control over with pregnancy?”
DeGraaf then said, “I have a spare tire in my car. I also have life insurance. I have a lot of things that I plan ahead for.” Brownback signed that bill and several others restricting abortion into law.
3. Union members kicked out of Kansas House gallery
About 50 Kansas union officials showed up at the Capitol on Feb. 24 to protest a bill that would have banned unions from making paycheck deductions for political activities.
When the bill came up for a vote in the House, several union members in the House gallery shouted, “Vote no.”
The union members were escorted outand House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, and other Republican leaders said that some of the union members made profane remarks to female staff members in the hallways. Union officials denied that allegation.
The bill eventually died in the Senate.
2. Secretary of State Kris Kobach's voter ID bill becomes law
The Legislature approved and Brownback signed a major change in the state law governing voting.
The proposal was pushed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
It will require voters to show photo ID at the polls, and starting in 2013, new voters will be required to prove their U.S. citizenship before they can register to vote. Kobach has said he will push again to make the citizenship requirement take effect in 2012.
Rep. Virgil Peck makes comment about using hunters in helicopters to battle illegal immigration
1. Rep. Virgil Peck likens immigrants to feral hogs
Jaws dropped during a House Appropriations Committee meeting when Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, made a comment after a report to the committee on a program where the state uses shooters in helicopters to kill feral hogs.
“Looks like to me, if shooting these immigrating feral hogs works, maybe we have found a (solution) to our illegal immigration problem,” he said.
He later said he was joking, and initially refused to apologize, saying that he was “just speaking like a southeast Kansas person.”
A day later, however, under pressure from state Republican leaders, Peck issued a two-sentence apology. It didn’t satisfy several civil rights groups, who continue to call for his resignation, and Democrats who wanted a censure.