Topeka — The conservative takeover of state government has resulted in numerous bills aimed at insulating the Kansas Legislature from both judicial and public review and federal requirements, while attempting to give legislators more control over local governments and schools.
"After the most recent state election, there seems to be a heightened interest in limiting the authority of local governments," said Don Moler, executive director of the League of Kansas Municipalities. "Bills that would not have been heard previously are being heard and seriously considered."
There are bills that provide wide exemptions for legislators from the Kansas Open Meetings Act, call for the arrest of federal authorities who try to enforce federal gun laws and a constitutional amendment aimed at thwarting a court ruling against the Legislature in school finance. The proposal banning the use of public dollars to lobby legislators says that local government officials could communicate on an issue with a member of the Legislature if they were asked.
There is even a bill that would require Kansas University and Kansas State University to play Wichita State University in men's basketball every year.
State Sen. Michael O'Donnell, R-Wichita, the author of the basketball proposal, also got a committee hearing on a bill that would have prohibited local health departments from seeking national accreditation. O'Donnell said he was concerned about the federal government's reach into health departments through the accreditation process.
But he backed off the proposal after Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Dr. Robert Moser and a roomful of local health department leaders from across the state testified against it, saying health departments trying to improve the quality of their services was a good thing.
State Rep. Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita, has introduced legislation that prohibits the state or any municipality from using public funds for sustainable development—defined by the bill as "a mode of human development in which resource use aims to meet human needs while preserving the environment so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come, but not to include the idea, principle, or practice of conservation or conservationism."
Hedke, a geophysicist in the oil and gas industry, is now chairman of the House Energy and Environment Committee. He also is seeking a delay in renewable energy requirements approved in 2009 and last year successfully had the House adopt a resolution condemning a United Nations policy from 1992 that called for global cooperation to improve the environment and reduce economic disparities between countries.
The Legislature also is considering a bill that would require school districts teach all sides of the climate change issue.
The proposed school finance constitutional amendment, which passed last week with a two-thirds majority in the Senate, would prohibit the courts from telling the Legislature to increase school funding.
A three-judge panel has ruled that the Legislature failed its constitutional duty to fund schools at an adequate level and ordered a minimum increase of $440 million in annual spending to make up for several years of budget cuts.
The state has appealed and conservative Republicans are attempting to change the Kansas Constitution to remove courts' authority over school finance decisions, making the Legislature the sole authority.
Attorneys representing plaintiff school districts said, "Clearly, the state has been unwilling to meet its burden under the Constitution for almost as long as the burden has existed."
But state Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, defended the constitutional amendment, which would be placed on the August 2014 ballot if approved by two-thirds of the House, saying that the measure would allow voters to decide whether they want the courts or legislators to have the final say in school funding.
Some of these proposals have been introduced before, but with Gov. Sam Brownback and his fellow conservative Republicans in firm control of the House and Senate, the measures now are getting more traction.
The League of Kansas Municipalities' Moler said he hoped the reach into local governmental affairs would not go too far.
"At this point, we remain hopeful that the strong Kansas tradition of local control will prevail, and that such limitations will not become law," he said.