GOP leaders in the House rushed to finalize action on an assortment of bills Wednesday before taking a weeklong break, leaving Democrats upset with sex crime legislation that was placed on the back burner.
The bills in jeopardy would close loopholes that allow people to be extorted for sex acts and for husbands to abuse their wives without fear of legal retribution in Kansas.
House Republicans hoped to speed through work to add time to the end of the session, then expressed disappointment in Senate colleagues who couldn’t keep pace. Several big-ticket items remain, including proposed tax code changes and a $90 million inflation boost for public school funding that was ordered by the Kansas Supreme Court.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, granted extensions for more than two dozen bills that have passed through a committee but haven’t been considered by the full chamber. They include legislation regarding hemp production, the secretary of state’s authority to prosecute election fraud, restrictions on political signs and abortion pill reversal.
He kept those bills in play, but others are set to expire before lawmakers return next week, placing their future in jeopardy.
Rep. Stephanie Clayton, a Democrat from Overland Park who introduced a bill to address sexual extortion, said there was no excuse for not allowing a vote on the topic.
She said sexual extortion has become a big problem as technology has grown. Someone may threaten to put intimate photos of a woman on the internet to get her to perform a sexual act, for example, and lord over a victim of human trafficking. Clayton’s bill makes such shakedowns illegal.
“It is a matter of priorities,” Clayton said. “If you have the power to determine the calendar, if you think that something is important, then it gets run, and if you don’t think it’s important, it doesn’t get run, and that is the way that it is. So they’ve determined it’s not important.”
Another Overland Park Democrat, Rep. Brett Parker, expressed concern for legislation that would make it illegal for a husband or wife to make unwanted contact for sexual arousal, gratification or abuse.
“As it stands, if you have a spouse who commits sexual battery against you, you have no recourse under the law because it’s not illegal,” Parker said. “The same act that would be illegal between any two other people is exempted because of marriage.”
There was time to consider more bills, Parker said, but GOP leadership decided to cut the day short and not consider any legislation on Thursday.
In a meeting of House Republicans, leadership said they wanted to adjourn on Wednesday so they could add a day to the session in May, which would give lawmakers more time to wrap up last-minute business.
“We still have several significant issues before us,” said Rep. Blaine Finch, an Ottawa Republican who serves as speaker pro tem. “Obviously, school finance is concerning. The tax windfall issue is still before us. There are discussions about health care policy in the state that I know many of you want to have.”
Their hopes were dashed because the Senate was unwilling to gavel out a day early, and both chambers have to agree to changes in the session schedule. Both sides plan to adjourn on Thursday without taking any action.
Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin, said “our friends across the hall” were costing the state $44,000 by sticking around an extra day and not getting anything done.
“Look how many bills that we have given strong deliberation to in the last two days,” Jennings said.
“It’s unfortunate the Senate perhaps isn’t organized in a way to work the session this fast and gets tangled up in having rather protracted debates around placement of commas and those sorts of things.”