The Kansas Legislature’s ceremonial sine die adjournment created more than the usual news and excitement on Friday, but, to the relief of many Kansans, no actual legislating.
The day started off with the announcement that Gov. Sam Brownback had signed the state budget for the year starting on July 1, after making a handful of line-item vetoes on the document. The vetoes made minor spending cuts, including about $484,000 for mentor teacher bonuses and $40,000 for water resource education. The $700,000 that legislators approved for the new Creative Industries Commission survived the governor’s veto pen.
Although sine die adjournment usually is just ceremonial, it does give legislators one last chance to override gubernatorial vetoes or conduct other business. The fact that Brownback waited until hours before legislators were due to convene to sign the budget and issue his vetoes made it next to impossible for the Kansas House or Senate to rally their members in opposition to the governor’s decisions.
Nonetheless, 37 of 40 members of the Kansas Senate showed up for Friday’s adjournment ceremony. The unusually large turnout may have been prompted by rumors that there might be an attempt to pass the last congressional redistricting map approved by the House — a map that hooks around and pulls part of Lawrence into the western, mostly rural 1st District. However, the Senate adjourned shortly after it convened without action on redistricting. Senate President Steve Morris and Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said after the session that the map wasn’t submitted because it didn’t have the necessary 21 votes to pass.
Voting on the map would have been a last-ditch effort to maintain legislative control over congressional redistricting, which already has gone to a panel of three federal judges that heard testimony last week. Given the acrimony that has marked this issue in the Legislature, the state probably is better off trusting the judges to settle redistricting.
Several legislators also used sine die adjournment as the occasion to announce their political plan. Sen. Mark Taddiken, R-Clifton, announced he would not seek re-election and Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, announced that she would. The most surprising announcement, however, came from House Speaker Mike O’Neal, who said he would retire not only from his leadership post but from his House seat, a seat he has held since 1985. O’Neal has been a leader in various conservative causes in recent years, and it will be interesting to see how fellow Republicans fill that leadership slot.
So, the 2012 legislative session officially has ended. Kansans still are awaiting resolution of the redistricting debate and watching to see what impact the drastic tax-cut measure signed by the governor will have on the state’s future. The session is over, but its legacy remains to be seen.