Given the amount of news generated by various bills making their way through the Kansas Legislature, it’s a little surprising that Gov. Sam Brownback has signed only three measures into law this year.
However, this may be a year when less is more when it comes to legislative action.
The first bill, signed last Wednesday, dumps the state’s system of merit selection for judges on the Kansas Court of Appeals. Rather than having a commission of attorneys and other Kansans from across the state nominate qualified candidates for the court, that selection now will be entirely up to the governor, who can appoint anyone, regardless of his or her qualifications or political agenda, as long as that choice can gain ratification by the Kansas Senate.
On Monday, Brownback signed two more bills. One takes the positive step of abolishing the statute of limitations for prosecuting rape cases and extends the time limit for prosecuting other sexually violent crimes. The other takes the more controversial step of barring public employee unions from using voluntary deductions from its members’ paychecks to help finance political activities.
Legislative leaders have set an ambitious agenda for this week as they strive to meet a self-imposed deadline of Friday to complete the major work of the session. On their list is the state budget, tax legislation, new restrictions on abortion and gun-rights legislation. A host of other measures also remain active including bills that would rewrite rules for teachers’ contract negotiations and collective bargaining rights and a bill requiring school districts to keep students in third grade until they prove they are proficient readers. Other bills still under consideration include measures that would remove many of AT&T’s service obligations, require a stem cell research center at Kansas University Medical Center and put the secretary of transportation in charge of the Kansas Turnpike Authority.
At this point, perhaps the best the state can hope for is that legislators simply don’t have time to reach agreement on many of these issues during the current session. The budget, of course, must be completed, and the state will have to live with whatever damage it does to state universities and other entities. However, beyond that it seems the fewer hasty, last-minute legislative actions that occur this year, the better.
A shorter session saves the taxpayers money. Legislators should focus on completing key measures like the budget, and then head home.