Having passed two-year budgets last year for most state-funded entities, Kansas legislators now seem to have some extra time on their hands — time to pursue questionable legislative action on a number of issues.
A lot of the news coming out of Topeka in recent weeks seems to involve legislation that either changes things that don’t need to be changed or reaches into areas legislators would be better of leaving alone.
Notable in the unneeded changes category was the bill, discussed in this space last week, that would eliminate “incompatibility” as a grounds for divorce and replace it with a list of specific offenses, including abuse of a spouse or child, a criminal conviction for adultery or a felony conviction. The law not only would force many couples into a finger-pointing situation but creates legal obstacles that could make it difficult for people to dissolve an abusive marriage without their spouse’s cooperation.
In some cases, legislators are seeking to head off actions that haven’t even occurred yet. That is the case with the bill presented as a “religious freedom” measure, but which critics see as paving the way for legal discrimination against same-sex couples. Advocates of the bill — which, among other things, would allow businesses to refuse to provide services for same-sex weddings — say it is needed as a preemptive action in case the state’s constitutional ban on same sex marriage is overturned. The bill has passed the House but may be stymied in the Senate.
Legislators also are considering questionable preemptive legislation that would make it illegal for federal wildlife officials to enforce endangered species protections for the lesser prairie chicken in the state. The chicken hasn’t even been classified as endangered, but just in case...
A Kansas House committee — based on objections that seem more political than scientific — also is taking time to work on a resolution that urges Congress to resist any plan President Obama poses for addressing man-made climate change. Did Congress ask for the state’s opinion?
Apparently not content to work in their own governmental sphere, legislators also are getting into the business of other governmental entities. They are looking at measures that would nullify the public school standards set by the Kansas State Board of Education and considering requiring local units of government to compile reports on how many tax dollars they spend on lobbying efforts. Legislators also are reaching into the judicial branch by trying to set time limits for courts’ consideration of cases.
It’s notable, that many of these measures include fiscal notes on how much the state might be required to spend to defend the state against expected legal challenges to the new laws.
To be sure, legislators are handling some important issues: a new budget for the Department of Corrections was approved by the House last week, and funding for a new education building at the Kansas University School of Medicine drew some needed committee support. Legislators would better serve the state by focusing on those kinds of issues rather than on issues more designed to stir up controversy and legal battles.