Poll: Kansas Legislature far to the right of most Kansans

? From Medicaid expansion and legalizing marijuana, to concealed-carry laws and school funding, a new survey says the prevailing political views in the Kansas Statehouse are far to the right of most Kansans.

By large majorities, the poll found, most of those surveyed said they support expanding Medicaid as allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act, and they support legalizing marijuana — two issues that have gained no traction in the Kansas Legislature this year.

At the same time, an overwhelming majority said they oppose allowing people to carry concealed handguns without a permit or formal training, and more people said they oppose the new school “block grant” funding law than support it. Both measures have already passed the Legislature and were signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback.

“It is what it is,” said Chapman Rackaway, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University, who helped design the poll. “It shows the disconnect between the people and their elected officials.”

Brownback’s press secretary, Eileen Hawley, said she doesn’t accept the idea that the voting public disagrees with the political direction of the state.

“In November, Kansans reelected Sam Brownback to a second term as governor based on his record of growing the economy, reforming welfare, stabilizing education funding and protecting the Constitution,” Hawley said.

The annual “Kansas Speaks” poll was conducted by FHSU’s Docking Institute of Public Affairs.

The survey of 519 adults was conducted March 23 through April 1 using random calls to landlines and cell phones. Of the people surveyed, 79 percent said they voted in the November 2014 elections. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Among the findings:

• Only 30 percent of those surveyed said they favor the new school funding law, which repealed the per-pupil funding formula that had been in place since 1992 and replaced it with block grants to school districts. Forty-nine percent said they oppose that law, while 22 percent said they were not sure.

That bill, Senate Bill 7, narrowly passed the House, 64-57. The Senate approved it, 25-14, and Brownback signed it into law on March 25.

• 75 percent of those surveyed oppose allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons in public without a permit or certification of formal training. That bill, Senate Bill 45, sailed through both chambers, 85-39 in the House and 31-8 in the Senate, and was signed by Brownback on April 2.

• More than two-thirds of respondents — 68 percent — said they favor allowing medical marijuana in Kansas, while 63 percent said they favor decriminalizing recreational use so that personal possession would be punishable by only a fine instead of jail time.

Two bills were introduced in the Legislature this year to legalize medical marijuana, but neither House Bill 2011 nor Senate Bill 9 received a committee hearing.

House Bill 2049, which would reduce the penalties for marijuana possession, passed out of a committee by a unanimous vote but has not yet come up for a vote in the full House.

• And 58 percent of those surveyed said they support expanding Medicaid, as allowed under the federal health care law, to cover more low-income Kansans who cannot otherwise afford health insurance. Forty-two percent oppose expansion. Two bills to expand Medicaid have been introduced this year, but neither has advanced out of committee, and Republican leaders in the House have been reluctant to allow a vote on either measure.

Rackaway said he thinks it’s clear that the Legislature does not reflect the views of most Kansans.

“As much as I try to keep my ear to the ground on what people are talking about in politics, I haven’t heard people say we need to change the school funding formula significantly, or strip away the requirements for people to get a permit to carry a firearm,” he said. “Those seem to be solutions in search of problems.”

But he said the fault for that disconnect does not lie entirely with elected officials.

“People are not taking advantage of the opportunity to be in contact with their elected officials, so they pay attention to the people around them rather than their constituents,” Rackaway said. “When legislators hear from their constituents more often, they know this isn’t something they can spin away just by saying polls are not perfect. They hear it regularly.”