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4.10.2023 – Kansas Reflector

Happy Monday to you all, and happy end to the regular session of the Kansas Legislature.

Oh, members will be back, and sooner than you might expect. The so-called veto session begins April 26, and the usual crew of legislators, lobbyists and journalists will once again flood into Topeka. Nevertheless, let’s all relish the two weeks off and related change of scenery. I, for example, will be traveling to Atchison for a reporting project. Other Kansas Reflector staff members will be tying up loose ends and digging into other stories.

Before any of that, let’s look at the week that was. We all talked about the session thus far in this week’s Kansas Reflector podcast, and in this installment of Statehouse scraps I’ll do the same.

Late night, early morning

The Legislature worked until about 4:20 a.m. Friday to burn through a list of bills that included a bundle of tax cuts and more discrimination against transgender children.

Regardless of how you feel about the policies they passed (I’m not a fan), late-night lawmaking should be condemned no matter your party or ideology. Nothing good happens after darkness falls at the Kansas Statehouse, and that goes double when debate continues into the early morning hours.

Overland Park Rep. Lindsay Vaughn, a Democrat, spoke for many when she let loose against the anti-trans bill.

“I’m angry and frustrated that we are debating a bill of this significant of a nature that we have never heard in this chamber, that has never been debated in a House committee, at the eleventh hour metaphorically — what is actually 1:27 a.m. the day after we should’ve already adjourned,” she said.

I wrote about the practice last year, pointing out that it had already claimed the life of one legislator: Rep. Bob Bethel, R-Alden. The House subsequently established a “midnight rule,” but it can still be suspended. The Senate has no such rules and can go on for as long as leaders like.

“I think it’s a game that’s being played to vote how they want you to vote,” Sen. John Doll, R-Garden City, told me in 2022. “I think it’s dangerous.”

This year, you could see and hear the strain. Lawmakers struggled to form coherent sentences as the night dragged on. Senate President Ty Masterson and House Speaker Dan Hawkins bear responsibility for the ridiculous all-night marathon, but don’t expect any apologies.

 Senate President Ty Masterson confers with colleagues on the last full day of the session, April 6, 2023. It dragged into the next day. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Where’s the good news? Right here

Kansas survivors saw their efforts pay off Monday as the House followed the Senate’s lead and unanimously passed a bill extending the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse claims.

Kansas Reflector editor Sherman Smith and I have written about these brave folks throughout the session. For weeks and months, it appeared that legislators weren’t paying attention. But their persistence paid off, and that should give hope to everyone following the Legislature. Lawmakers might screw up. They might screw up most of the time, in fact. But they can get their act together for the good of Kansas now and then.

I also want to note that so many survivors have watched and supported these efforts in quieter ways. They might not have showed up to speak at the Statehouse. But I know that they played a role nonetheless, submitting testimony and working behind the scenes. I’m sure they don’t want me to mention their names here, but I have been fortunate to correspond with several over the past few months.

They should feel a sense of accomplishment, too.

 Child sex abuse survivors (from left) Tess Ramirez, Joe Cheray, Lesa Patterson-Kinsey and Kim Bergman sit at their advocacy table March 21, 2023, at the Statehouse in Topeka. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

So much left undone

The House and Senate managed to agree on a budget and tax cut package, the latter of which faces an uncertain fate at the hands of Gov. Laura Kelly.

They couldn’t, however, come together to pass a school funding package. A school voucher bill, much sought by public education opponents in the Legislature, crashed and burned in the Senate. Further spending priorities, such as state employee raises, were set aside for the moment.

That means we’re all in for a busy veto session. This odd appendix to the legislative calendar traditionally allows for final budget tweaks and override attempts of the governor’s vetoes. This year, lawmakers will have to figure out how to fund schools and whether they want to take another stab at vouchers. Given the time and attention given the topic this year, I find it difficult to image we’ve heard the last of “education savings accounts” and other such euphemisms for hobbling public schools.

I’d also call attention to this part of Kansas Reflector reporter Rachel Mipro’s wrap-up: “Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican, said the (voucher) bill would protect children, and that many students graduating from public schools in the state couldn’t read or do math. Landwehr said public education was a failing system.”

How many Kansans actually agree with that?

 Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, gestures while working on the House floor April 6, 2023. She said public education was a failing system. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

One more thing

I wrote a piece on Sunday pointing out that the transgender sports ban passed last week opened the door to genital inspections of children.

Critics online immediately contradicted each other. One group said, parroting the rhetoric of House Speaker Dan Hawkins, that such inspections were impossible, the law didn’t require them, and that this was all scaremongering nonsense. The other group claimed that such inspections were a routine part of sports physicals and that student athletes were used to doctors peering at their private parts.

Anti-trans activists can’t settle on a message. Either genital inspections are entirely unacceptable and no one would ever think of doing such a thing to our precious children, or such exams are no big deal and those little snowflakes shouldn’t complain.

Which is it, guys?

For the record, I have never written that the new law requires such exams. It does, however, gives parents and schools legal justification to call for them. As for sports physicals, the Kansas State High School Activities Association’s own form labels genital exams as optional. One’s gender on Kansas birth certificates can also be revised.

All of this underscores a basic fact about this bigoted law and its misguided supporters: It and they weren’t ready for prime time.

Speaker of the House Dan Hawkins reads a rules book during the last scheduled day of the legislative session, April 6, 2023. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)
 Speaker of the House Dan Hawkins reads a rules book during the last scheduled day of the legislative session, April 6, 2023. (Rachel Mipro/Kansas Reflector)

Statehouse scraps will return, along with the Kansas Legislature, later this month.

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.