How Kansas, Missouri lawmakers wasted your money
The Kansas City Star
The Missouri and Kansas legislative sessions are over, but we find ourselves looking back, in the way one swivels for a last view of a train wreck.
The sessions were disasters in both states. Missouri’s was stranger and less productive than usual. The Kansas session was downright painful.
Debacles were plentiful. Our top choices:
Brownback’s checkmate: State senators reluctantly approved House Bill 2117, heeding pleas from Gov. Sam Brownback to keep the conversation on income tax reform moving. The senators described the bill as a vehicle for further negotiations, not a finished product.
The governor then shocked the Senate by convincing the House to pass House Bill 2117 intact, so he could have it on his desk.
The result: A new law that Senate moderates never intended. It slashes income taxes but decimates the state budget.
Missouri Rush bust: Radio host Rush Limbaugh lost some sponsors this year when he called a law student a “slut,” but he’s got a friend in Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley.
Tilley refused to back off his nomination of Limbaugh for the Hall of Famous Missourians, though he felt compelled to lock the public out of the House chambers for the induction ceremony. A bronze bust of El Rushbo now sits on a pedestal in the hall, under the protective watch of a security camera.
Kansas redistricting failure: Of the 50 states in our glorious union, only one could not get its act together to redraw maps for congressional seats. That would be Kansas, which also stumbled in its effort to redraw legislative districts.
The zeal of Brownback and conservative Republicans to rid the Senate of moderate Republicans was the major cause of the fiasco. Kansans now can only hope that a panel of federal judges enjoys doodling. It’s up to them to draw the maps.
Don’t say gay: Shhhhh. The nation may be engaged in a vigorous discussion about same-sex marriage and sexual identity, but not Missouri. One lawmaker, in fact, sponsored a measure banning any discussion of sexual orientation in public schools.
Rep. Steve Cookson’s bill probably would have been waved off as just another wacky Missouri proposal had not Tilley and Tim Jones, the House majority leader, signed on as co-sponsors. The insensitive and destructive bill was buried in a committee, but not before it made national news as a much-mocked measure that could encourage bullying in schools.
Kansas paranoia: Rep. Dennis Hedke, a Wichita Republican, is very worried about Agenda 21, a 20-year-old United Nations resolution that either promotes sustainable development or is a sinister plot to indoctrinate unsuspecting communities with a socialistic, environmentalist agenda. For Hedke, it’s the latter.
The popularity of bike paths? Agenda 21. Land-use regulation? That too. Incredibly, the House adopted Hedke’s resolution condemning Agenda 21, though the Senate didn’t take it up. If you looked carefully, you may have seen black helicopters buzzing the statehouse.
Kansas City schools whiff: One would think the Missouri legislature could achieve something as simple as a law speeding up the timetable for the state to take charge of a school district that has lost its accreditation. But no. As usual, a simple but important task became entangled in all kinds of conflicting agendas. The legislature’s failure left state education officials with no way to take immediate action should more go wrong.
We could also talk about the Kansas Shariah law ban, the Missouri law forbidding discrimination against gun owners and Missouri’s absurd legislation prohibiting specialty license places with Kansas Jayhawk logos.
But this is where we’re supposed to suggest possible remedies. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to know where to begin.
Missouri needs to eliminate or extend term limits. A smaller House and a shorter session would also help.
Kansas needs a legislature more willing and able to stand up to Brownback, who brought a radically conservative agenda and destructive Washington, D.C., tactics to Topeka.
Most of all, we need a rest. The capitols are quiet now. Let’s be grateful for that.