TOPEKA The 2012 legislative session, which officially ended Friday, will most likely be remembered for passage of an historic tax cut and a redistricting mess that continues to be played out.
Gov. Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican, says the tax cuts he signed into law, which reduce state personal income tax rates and eliminate taxes on non-wage income for 191,000 business owners, will make Kansas a business mecca. Opponents of the new law say it will send the state to hell in a hand basket by robbing funds from needed services and shifting the tax burden to low-income Kansans.
Meanwhile, redistricting has been placed in the hands of three federal judges after the Legislature failed to re-draw political boundaries for the Kansas House and Senate, State Board of Education and congressional districts. The legislative impasse was created by political warfare within the Kansas Republican Party where conservatives and moderates accused each other of drawing maps to benefit their candidates in the upcoming GOP primary. One congressional map approved by the House, would have put east Lawrence in the vast 1st congressional district, which includes western Kansas and most of central Kansas.
But aside from fights over tax cuts and redistricting, there were plenty of other moments in the session under the Capitol dome that created buzz and heated up the twitterverse and blogosphere.
10) Politics and religion
Father James Gordon of St. John Vianney in Maple Hill caused a ruckus in delivering the prayer at the start of the House session on March 15. In his prayer, Gordon staked out positions opposing same-sex marriage, abortion and insurance requirements for birth control. People invited to pray are asked to steer clear of political topics.
9) Sarcasm bomb
On the same day, Brownback’s Facebook page was swamped with posts critical of his stance against abortion in what has been called a “sarcasm bomb,” in which posters provided intimate details of sexual issues and asked Brownback for advice.
8) Single moms
Brownback’s Budget Director Steve Anderson drew some harsh words from legislators and organizations who support the Earned Income Tax Credit. Brownback’s original tax-cutting plan called for elimination of numerous tax credits aimed at helping the poor and elderly, including the EITC. Brownback’s team alleged there was widespread fraud in the EITC. Anderson said, “We have no way of making sure, for example, that a single mother is spending that on needs for her children.”
7) Women can work elsewhere
In a call-in show on CSPAN, Brownback said a rule from President Barack Obama will require some religious institutions to violate their basic tenets by having to provide coverage for contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs. Concerning the women who work at those institutions, Brownback said, “That’s not denying women’s rights. If a woman then wants birth control, go work somewhere else.”
6) Rubber stamp
It’s not often an office supply makes the news, but that’s what happened in what has become known as the “rubber stamp incident.” During a committee hearing on an anti-abortion bill, Kari Ann Rinker, state coordinator for the Kansas chapter of the National Organization for Women, pulled an ink pad and rubber stamp from a paper bag, and told the committee that since they had the votes to approve the bill to just go ahead and “rubber stamp” it. Committee members chastised Rinker, saying she was being disrespectful. The committee did eventually approve the bill.
5) On the record
In January, Rep. TerriLois Gregory, R-Baldwin City, asked to sit down and talk with state Sen. Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka, about Brownback’s health reform proposals and their impact on Kansans with disabilities. During the conversation in Schmidt’s office, Schmidt noticed a red light flashing in Gregory’s bag. Schmidt found out Gregory was recording their conversation. Schmidt said she was shocked by the incident. Later, Gregory issued a statement: “I care deeply about the disability community and wanted to be sure I got my facts straight. My goal was to be sure I fully understood, and offending Senator Schmidt was not my intention.”
4) NBAF, Boeing setbacks
In February, state leaders were stunned when President Barack Oba ma did not include in his budget proposal funding for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, which has been proposed to be built in Manhattan, Kan. That development followed news in the previous month that Boeing Co. planned to shut down its defense plant in Wichita and ship more than 2,160 jobs to three other states.
3) Court furloughs
After a budget impasse, before the Legislature took its customary break, the Kansas Supreme Court ordered five days of court closings and furloughs throughout the state judicial system. The court system shut down April 13 but then cancelled the remaining closings after legislators returned and promised to provide the necessary revenue. After the Legislature returned from the break, one legislator asked a court representative why the courts didn’t earlier trust that legislators would make good on the funding needs.
2) GOP Cedar Crest dinners
Republican-only dinners at Cedar Crest at the invitation of Brownback to talk policy priorities came under scrutiny for possible violations of the Kansas Open Meetings law. The Shawnee County district attorney’s office launched an investigation that is ongoing.
1) End run
The tax cut approved by the House and Senate and signed into law by Brownback followed a path that no civics textbook ever covered in “How a bill becomes law.” The Senate had rejected a tax proposal, but after lobbying by Brownback and his staff, a number of moderate Republicans, such as Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, reversed field and voted for the bill, saying it was a favor to the governor to get a bill in a House-Senate conference committee for further negotiations. But when Senate moderates continued to oppose tax cuts desired by Brownback, Brownback urged the more conservative House to concur with the bill that had already been approved by the Senate. Some senators claimed they were double-crossed. Brownback said nothing untoward happened. Senate moderates and even some conservatives said that bill cut taxes too much, too fast and would saddle the state with difficult budget problems in future years. Even Brownback’s crew said the larger tax cuts were a problem, but tried to use that bill as leverage for the Senate moderates to agree to a slower tax-cutting package. But when the Senate moderates and Brownback couldn’t reach a deal, Brownback followed through on his promise and signed the larger tax cuts, saying his administration will make it work.