BREAKING: Just before the close of business yesterday, Governor Brownback signed the school finance plan into law. It now goes to the Kansas Supreme Court for consideration.
The legislature is officially adjourned until June 26 when we return for “sine die.” It’s nice to have my first legislative session behind me; I’m feeling a sense of accomplishment and relief. Now that I’m back home, I’m busy meeting with constituents and community leaders to debrief them on the major pieces of legislation that passed this session.
After five months of deliberation and debate we have made a historic turn toward correcting the structural imbalance in our state finances. Moderate and Conservative Republicans, and Democrats (88 votes in the house and 27 votes in the Senate) came together on Tuesday this week, finally deciding it had to be done. Speaker Ron Ryckman stated quite succinctly after the vote that it was simply “time to provide certainty for Kansas.”
After several hours of debate on Wednesday and a Final Action vote on Thursday, Sub HB 2410, the school finance bill, passed in the House, 84-39, I voted YES. The bill:
As we began week 14 in the current legislative session we were still waiting to move forward good public policy relating tax reform, school finance formula, guns on campuses and public hospitals, and the 2018 budget. It’s now Friday and there is not much to report to you.
I understand this is normal, but these first two weeks of veto session seem out of place. During the bulk of the session, it was difficult to pare down my newsletters because there was so much going on that was newsworthy. It seemed that most bills had a nugget of broad interest. But now, most committees are done meeting and except for a few items (see summary below), we haven’t been working bills on the House floor. A few times a week a conference committee will forward a report to be debated and voted on, but those have been few and far between. It has been a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. We “gavel in” and “gavel out,” then come back a few hours later to do the same. The big stuff is being negotiated behind the scenes and most of us are not part of that conversation. Here is an update of the “big stuff” still to be decided:
Like all of my colleagues, I’m back in Topeka after our three-week break and ready for Veto Session. The three weeks flew by quickly, probably because they were jam-packed. After celebrating a few days of Passover, Stewart and I took out time to celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary with a week in Mexico. The beach, sun, and sand were a refresher for the challenging work ahead of us in Topeka.
They say in the legislature there are only three important numbers: 63, 21, and 1. That is unless you are working to override the Governor’s veto. Then, it’s 84 and 27. On Monday, the House failed to find the three votes necessary to override the Governor’s veto on the expansion of Medicaid. The measure failed, 81 to 44. I voted YES to override the Governor’s veto, as did forty (40) other Republican members of the House. I voted to override the Governor’s veto not only because most people in my district support the expansion of Medicaid, but also because over 160 organizations in Kansas, all my local Chambers of Commerce and my local hospitals supported the expansion of Medicaid. It was a sad day for Kansans.
Bi-partisan. That word, in action, has been on the endangered list in the Kansas State Legislature for some time. I wanted you to know that it is making a comeback this year. I am a freshman legislator in Topeka, representing District 98, which includes parts of south Wichita and north Haysville. There are more than 40 other new representatives just like me; freshmen with little to no State political history but a wealth of other types of life experiences. We make up approximately one-third of the Kansas House of Representatives. This large number of representatives has decided that together we can accomplish positive policy and a fiscally balanced budget.
The plan to realize this belief began in December when we attended a leadership workshop in Wichita. During this training together, we realized that party politics did not have to be a major obstacle. What was important was finding solutions. When we gathered again the weekend before we were sworn into office, a plan was initiated. Led by two freshmen members, one from each party, we formed a Freshman Legislative Caucus. The last time the State had a group do this was 2002. We have met nearly every Monday since the session started. We have had speakers come and present to us on topics from where the budget is now, to school finance, to rules for the House floor and more timely issues.
Late in February, we had a lunch meeting with no presenter. This open forum style allowed for great discussion about each other, including our professional backgrounds, and the state of our state.
So, what do you get when you put Democrats and Republicans in a small room to talk about tax ideas, education funding, and the like? In Kansas’ recent history, the answer has definitely not been progress. However, the conversations we have had over these lunches & presentations were very encouraging. The encouraging thing is that with each idea, we examine pros and cons without criticizing. They are deliberated with thought and respect in a way that allows everyone to speak freely, enabling real compromise and possible solutions to come forth. I feel compelled to inform you about this group of freshmen legislators because so much of the news out of Topeka is negative. I hope that knowing you have many democrats and republicans working together to find solutions helps to bring a renewed positive outlook about where the state of Kansas is headed.
With respect and gratitude,
Representative Steven Crum