If you followed the final days of our legislative session before our first adjournment, you witnessed politics at its “finest” and I say that with the utmost sarcasm. In a non-budget year, Kansas statute dictates that the legislature completes its work in 90 calendar days. Saturday, April 7th was our 90th day and our work was far from done. In a normal political environment, the process would have included a joint resolution between the House and Senate to extend our session to allow time to reconcile competing bills and work through a normal veto session. But, this is not a normal political environment. Consequently, our work on April 7th was fraught with last minute wrangling, political maneuvering and what I like to call “post-card politics,” as we raced the clock. Without a joint resolution by midnight on April 7th, all bills that had been worked and not signed by the Governor would go up in a flash of smoke and we would have to start all over again. All of this played out while over 650 teachers lined the halls of the 3rd floor of the capitol, listening to the Senate debate their future.
As we begin the last scheduled week before our April adjournment, the shenanigans are in full bloom even if the tulips are not. We know we have only two big issues to resolve (school funding and the budget) and frustration levels are already high. On Monday, we debated HB 2445, a bill that attempts to address the school funding issue and satisfy the courts.
Last Friday afternoon, the joint K-12 Education Budget and Senate Select Committees received a briefing from its attorneys, Jeff King for the Senate and Curt Tideman for the House, on the results of the commissioned report from Texas A&M University concerning the cost of a suitable education in Kansas. This independent study reviewed the history of litigation against the state, as well as reviewed previous studies of K-12 education funding. Many had speculated that the report would endorse the philosophy that there was no link between student performance and funds allocated to education. Instead, the report argued that the state might need tospend up to $2 billion over the next five years for education if we truly want to increase performance outcomes for all students across the state. You can read the report in its entirety here.
We arrived back in Topeka yesterday (Wednesday) after a five day “break” that included a Town Hall meeting, a house party to give a legislative briefing, and several meetings with constituents. I also squeezed in a quick visit to see my parents and sisters in Springfield, Missouri. Twenty-four hours is not nearly enough time to really enjoy a nice happy hour and a rousing game of scrabble. But, we managed to do both and have a nice dinner together and I am grateful for that. By Tuesday, I was back in Overland Park attending the Overland Park Chamber’s “State of the City” luncheon with Mayor Carl Gerlach and several hundred other community members who are energized by all that’s going on in one of the “best” cities in the country!
Last week the pace at the Capitol picked up a lot! This is a wonderful time of year to visit the Capitol because we are busy in committees and on the floor. So, you can see us in action, but we aren’t to the point where we are locked on the floor all day. There is plenty of time to meet with you on bills and discuss any activities going on at home. On Tuesday, I was excited to have Debbie and Mark Kitchin, and Sandra and Jack Reddin spend the day with me to do just that! Mark and Jack (Prairie Star Middle School) served as my pages for the day while Debbie and Sandra shadowed me in my committee meetings and on the floor. I think everyone learned a lot and I certainly enjoyed having them all with me for the day.
As we enter our fourth week of the 2018 legislative session there is certainly an air of familiarity now, having completed my first term. On the surface there may not appear to be much going on yet, but behind the scenes there is an energy and urgency to move on many issues. School finance, mental health and addiction resources, transparency, ethics, government data security and a balanced budget – just to name a few!
For Republicans, there are two basic tenets for how we must lead: we must work within a balanced budget, and we must remember that local control is the most effective form of governance.
Rabbi Moti Rieber is among the fortunate ones who find their work meaningful beyond just making a living.
Rabbi Rieber has been executive director of Kansas Interfaith Action (KIA) and its predecessor organization, Kansas Interfaith Power & Light, since March 2011.
KIA is described on its website as a “statewide, multifaith, issue-advocacy organization that addresses and advances public policies consistent with the values of our various faith traditions” and that puts “faith into action by educating and engaging people of faith and the public regarding critical social, economic and environmental justice issues.”