By this time the new legislators have adjusted their chairs on the House and Senate floors and are presumably ready for business.
Which means, well, we’ll see when business starts. Could be a couple weeks, by which time lawmakers have met each other, learned about their families and pets, or whether the dramatically fast — Thursday — release of Gov. Laura Kelly’s budget for the upcoming year or two lights the fuse.
The weeks since Kelly has been governor-elect have yielded what most would consider relatively pro forma assertions that Kelly is going to “repair” the policies of the past eight years led by Gov. Sam Brownback and then Gov. Jeff Colyer. And mostly conservative Republican leadership responses have been that nearly everything Kelly wants to do costs money and threatens the budget — and possibilities of tax cuts.
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Luckily for the governor and Legislature, there appears to be no dramatic catastrophe that requires first-week action by state government, no bridge collapse, no wildfire, no flooding. But the less-headlined issues ranging from care for children to school funding and health care for the poor are looming and will require administration/legislative action this session. Defining the problems will be the key to solutions, and those definitions and their costs are going to be the major issues for the session.
By week’s end, the dissection of Kelly’s budget will have started in both chambers, with her new Cabinet expected to have its input and changes to recommend. And, some issues, such as care for jeopardized children, don’t appear to have simple solutions because of the complexity of the agencies designed to protect them.
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Much of what happens in this first dance will be under-the-covers, not generally reported and practically more complicated than most Kansans who have jobs to perform and families and children to provide for will notice. But those complex internal issues will impact just how the state provides for us.
For example, the House will this week adopt rules for the upcoming two years.
Rules? That’s a big deal? Sure, there’s no smoking or drinking in the House chamber, and you must be polite and not interfere with democracy. Behave.
But there are provisions — like whether sponsors of bills have to be named, or whether bills can be introduced by a committee, or whether committees will keep track of votes on amendments and such—that aren’t in writing and may or may not be.
Then there’s the big rule dealing with bills that make appropriations, and how they can be amended during floor debate. Now, if a House member wants to spend more money on something than the House Appropriations Committee approved, that member must propose cuts somewhere in the bill to keep its price tag at committee-approved levels...if the state’s general fund ending balance for the year is less than 7.5 percent.
We’ll see how that works out, and while it is not likely to spark dinner-table discussions in most homes in Kansas — we hope — it is a major decision that will influence deciding how to spend your tax money, and on what.
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So, we probably have a couple or three weeks of debate ahead, generally not committed to legislation, about just where the state is going to head for the first year or two of the Kelly/Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers administration, and just how cooperative or combative the Legislature is going to be.
A couple House floor votes on Kelly-sought bills and we will have an idea about how state government is going to work for us.
Because, recall, state government works for us.
Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report.