Wellsville Rep. Mark Samsel said an education bill approved Tuesday by the narrowest of margins reflected work of a conservatively stacked House committee eager to latch onto catchy talking points for use during re-election campaigns.
His pointed commentary, and remarks of a bipartisan contingent also opposed to Senate Bill 16, were rebuffed by GOP lawmakers who challenged the notion that arms were twisted by House GOP leadership to send the bill to the Senate.
The bill slipped through the House 63-61 after Rep. Ron Ellis, a Meriden Republican, flipped from "no" to "yes."
"I emphatically vote 'no,' " said Samsel, a Republican. "Kansans demand common sense, transparency and teamwork — not just talking points on postcards. Kansans deserve single-subject bills with vigorous debate in the light of day, not sandbagging good policies with controversial ones that wouldn't otherwise pass."
He said it was ironic the House K-12 Budget Committee "stacked with the most conservative of our honorable and well-meaning colleagues" was responsible for the bill. Policy issues broached in the bill are typically in the wheelhouse of the House Education Committee, he said.
"Meanwhile, the actual education committee frequently has no bills or its good work gets ignored in all the chaos," Samsel said.
"We are not held to listening to only one side and I am not led to a vote," said Rep. Eric Smith, a Burlington Republican who voted for the bill. He was joined by Rep. Sean Tarwater, R-Stilwell, who said he met with his constituents to "explain my way past all the newspaper articles and special-interest emails. They understand what goes on here."
Augusta Rep. Kristey Williams, the Republican chairwoman of the House K-12 Budget Committee, said attaching policy mandates related to allocation of money in public school districts would deliver a new level of accountability, which should be viewed as "the cornerstone of all good policy."
"When the Legislature commits millions more annually to education," she said, "it is our responsibility to ensure those dollars are being allocated in ways that improve student achievement at all levels."
Williams' committee produced the bill in anticipation the 2019 Legislature would authorize a separate bill raising state aid to education by $90 million annually to bring the system into compliance with the Kansas Constitution. The new funding would address inflationary costs absorbed by public school districts and supplement the $525 million, five-year funding improvement previously accepted by the Kansas Supreme Court.
Rep. Cindy Holscher, D-Overland Park, said the vote was a lawmaker's most powerful tool. She said House members could liberate themselves by voting for the people of Kansas.
"It's not meant to be traded or manipulated," said Holscher, who voted against the bill. "Voting 'yes' takes you down a path of unending coercion, because there will be another bill and another bill where you will receive the same tired tactics."
House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, said the measure, if signed into law by Gov. Laura Kelly, could be rejected by the Supreme Court and add new complexity to resolving litigation about state aid to public schools. He voted against the bill, claiming it would "take our progress on school finance backward rather than toward resolution."