|The Purpose of Politics - March 22, 2017
The Kansas Senate returned this week with an array of activity in both committee and on the floor. We debated a variety of bills, ranging from a late proposal to balance the budget, to Simon's Law, an important bill to protect parental rights. In the background, discussions continued regarding school finance, the budgets for 2018 and 2019, and tax policy. I also joined with several colleagues in both chambers in offering an important resolution recognizing the public health crisis from our society's addiction to pornography.
As we meandered through the various bills through seven hours of debate and votes on Thursday, both in Caucus and on the floor, the purpose of our presence was on my mind. In many ways, it is a consideration that ties all the debates together.
As I have discussed in previous newsletters, I believe deeply that we must pursue truth in whatever we do. For instance, while power can be a good thing, the quest for power should never be for power's sake. While winning is fantastic, winning while forsaking the truth is a Pyrrhic victory. While strategy and tactics are important considerations in advancing a righteous cause, we should avoid getting trapped in a mindset that encourages or rewards political game playing.
The reason for keeping our focus on the truth is because the forces against us are, to put it bluntly, not messing around. As conservatives, we must always keep in mind our dedication to the principles we hold dear, for our foes on the left desire to create something far different than we could ever imagine.
To quote Russell Kirk, "The conservative thinks of political policies as intended to preserve order, justice, and freedom. The ideologue, on the contrary, thinks of politics as a revolutionary instrument for transforming society and even transforming human nature. In his march toward Utopia, the ideologue is merciless."
This drive to transform society and human nature is evident when we witness the behavior and fervor of the left. Never satisfied, they are relentless in their efforts to remake society - either through the culture, the Legislature, or if those don't work, the courts. That is why even when we pass laws with wide margins, we cannot rest but instead must remain vigilant. That is why, even when we lose an election, we must not set aside our principles for political expediency. That is why we should resist calls to retreat from society and instead, redouble our efforts to fight for the truth.
This divide between our purpose and that of our opponents was evident again this week, across several issues, which I will address below.
2017 Budget / Rescission Bill
You may be aware that the Kansas Session typically lasts 90 days, stretching from early January to late May, with a couple of breaks in between. That basic time frame is set by law, though we are allowed to exceed or shrink it. Sometimes, such as in 2015, the session lasts longer; other times, it can be shorter, as it was in 2016. Contained within those 90 days are several legislative deadlines. When considering matters of the state budget, however, the most important consideration is the fiscal year, which ends each year on June 30th.
This year, the Kansas Legislative session began on January 9th - that was "Day One." We knew before that day that the state of Kansas was facing a budget shortfall for the current fiscal year (Fiscal Year 2017, which ends on June 30th), necessitating either cuts or some other maneuver to ensure the budget will balance on June 30th, as required by law. While the governor can make cuts if we do not, according to the Kansas Constitution it is the Legislature, as the most representative body of the people, to make those decisions.
The state spends money every day, meaning the closer we get to June 30th, the less there is to cut, and the more disproportionate the cut. That is why when it comes to "rescission bills," time is of the essence.
However, the Kansas Senate did not debate a rescission bill until March 16th - otherwise known as "Day 42" of the session. The Kansas House, which wasn't exactly quick either, passed their version of the bill on February 17th, on Day 29 of the session.
You may be asking - what took the Senate so long? It's a good question, as any rescission bill should have been debated and voted on in January, when we first arrived.
The answer lies somewhere in between 'true intentions' and 'political theater'. Many conservatives in both chambers, including myself, have desired to make cuts to reduce the size and scope of government. It is likely that a clean rescission bill, brought forth at the appropriate time, would have earned the votes of many conservative legislators in both chambers.
What made the floor, however, was not a cut at all, but rather a mix of transfers and one-time monies that do nothing to really cut government. While better than tax increases, these are not the things which we should make a habit of doing, particularly when the opportunity exists to do something else.
Here is where the political theater comes in
. You may have read about the proposed 2% "across the board" cut as proposed by President Susan Wagle. I normally would be for cuts, as would other conservatives. However, remember what I noted above regarding time being of the essence - we are essentially down to 90 days in this fiscal year, meaning that an across the board cut would have a disproportionate impact on the agencies and school districts facing the cut. Furthermore, an across the board cut, while seemingly fair on the surface, is actually unfair as it rewards programs which should perhaps face deeper reductions and penalizes those which are operating efficiently. Real cuts involve a real review of programs to find savings appropriately.
By bringing the bill forward this late, the Senate President knew her "amendment" to cut spending would never pass the Senate. Indeed, the amendment failed 33-7. Yet, now there can be a claim there was an effort to make cuts, but the majority of the Senate wouldn't agree. While I did vote for a smaller cut of 1% and .5% offered by Senator Pyle (both which failed but were more realistic), I would not participate in yet another game by the Senate President, so I voted No on her amendment.
This is where true intentions come in.
Those pushing the underlying bill never really wanted cuts, which is why they waited until it was so late - they knew it wouldn't be palatable at that point, and they were right. What they really wanted was to get through this fiscal year with no spending cuts and tax increases so they could claim a balanced budget with more funding for education without any accountability measures in place. Some in leadership voted for the final bill, some against it, but it was all a ruse - and sure enough, their effort succeeded, as HB 2052 passed 27-13. I wouldn't participate in this game either, so I joined most other conservatives in voting No on the underlying bill as well. It wasn't a cut, it was a spending increase, and it was a charade.
The Kansas Constitution contains a Bill of Rights, which leads off with:
"1. Equal rights. All men are possessed of equal and inalienable natural rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
This is the essence behind all efforts to protect innocent human life in our laws. It is also the foundation for Simon's Law, or SB 85, which is named in honor of a little boy, Simon, whose life ended tragically when life-saving measures were withheld from him due to a Do Not Attempt Resuscitation (DNAR) order secretly placed in his file. Simon had been diagnosed with Trisomy 18, which led to the hospital placing the DNAR unilaterally without parental consent. The bill seeks to prohibit a hospital from placing a DNAR order on a child under the age of 18 without the notice or signature of a parent or guardian.
by Kathy Ostrowski, Legislative Director for Kansans for Life, talks about the contents of the legislation and its ultimate successful passage:
"Prior to the ultimate passage of the bill, an amendment was offered by Sen. Barbara Bollier to derail the bill. As the article notes, during debate on her amendment, I brought up the issue of medical discrimination, citing a book by former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum and his wife, Karen.
In "Bella's Gift: How One Little Girl Transformed Our Family and Inspired a Nation," the Santorums chronicle medical discrimination against their daughter, Bella, who, like Simon, has Trisomy 18.
Sen. Santorum recounts how Bella had to be hospitalized repeatedly and for six years, medical personnel continually advised the Santorums to let her die."
I felt the need to warn my colleagues about the medical discrimination that is prevalent in our culture, and noted in a study in which 25 to 76 percent of responding neonatologists said they were comfortable issuing DNRs unilaterally. This indicates there are some health care providers who have a desire to use their own subjective view about a child's quality of life, even when parents disagree, which is an indication of bias against individuals with disabilities. The only physicians and hospitals that would be impacted by Simon's Law are those who want to exclude parents from health care decisions and who want to make authoritarian judgments about who should live and who should die.
I am pleased to report that the Bollier amendment was defeated and Simon's Law ultimately prevailed by a vote of 29-9. I voted Yes.
Lives at Risk - Kansas Supreme Court Hears Dismemberment Case
While the passage of SB 85 is certainly worth celebrating, most worrisome was the hearing going on across the street.
The Kansas Legislature has carefully enacted numerous protections for women and unborn children over the years. At issue before the court was the ban on dismemberment abortion that passed in 2015, called the Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act, which prohibits abortions where the child is torn apart piece by piece while still alive, inside his or her mother.
A District Court judge overturned the ban, and then the Kansas Court of Appeals had a split decision, a 7-6-1 vote, on whether to uphold or reject the ban. Due to the lower court ruling, the decision had the practical effect of rejecting the ban, and the State of Kansas appealed it to the Kansas Supreme Court.
Kansans for Life thoroughly
explains the court's hearing in this post
, in which Justice Caleb Stegall asked about finding any new right to abortion in the Kansas Constitution, and a liberal abortion attorney urged the court to essentially discover such a right where it does not exist.
At risk is not only the ban on dismemberment abortion, but every other pro-life protection we have enacted in Kansas law. The reason is that the Court is considering whether there is a separate and distinct right to abortion in the Kansas Constitution - apart from any consideration in Roe vs. Wade, which discovered a right to abortion in the United States Constitution.
This means, if the Court invents a new right to abortion in the Kansas Constitution, then every protection enacted to protect the unborn in Kansas is at serious risk for being unraveled by judicial decree. Even if Roe vs. Wade were overturned - the Kansas Supreme Court could theoretically expand the right to abortion under the Kansas Constitution, thereby eliminating many pro-life laws in Kansas that have previously been upheld by federal courts as constitutional under the United States Constitution.
Remember, the Kansas Constitution was initially adopted in 1859 and has been changed numerous times over the years, but never with a change that would give a "right" to kill an unborn child. Kansans of all parties who value life should be alarmed and follow this case closely. For a rundown of why the case is so important,
review this additional post from Kansans for Life
The Court rulings on education funding, Simon's Law and the case before the Kansas Supreme Court demonstrate why our purpose in politics is so essential to every Kansas citizen's liberty.
In the education funding decisions, the Court has been ruling that it knows what policies Kansans should adopt, even though the people, through their elected legislators, want other policies promoted on their behalf. Whether you agree with the Court or not, these decisions are depriving the people of having their voices heard, which has the effect of usurping their liberty. The courts are then emboldened to make these types of decisions in other areas as well.
With Simon's Law, we are protecting life and liberty as essential rights held by Simon and those in similar circumstances, not allowing a doctor to unilaterally reverse those rights.
With the Dismemberment Ban case before the Kansas Supreme Court, the very definitions of life and liberty are under severe threat, even when the Kansas Constitution declaresa natural right to both of these self-evident truths.
We just remain vigilant!
Recognizing the Public Health Crisis Created by Pornography
The topic of pornography is one that some are uncomfortable addressing. Whether it is the inherent issue of sexuality or simply a desire to deal with less sensitive matters, it's not an issue you see brought up for discussion very often. But, it should be, as a key responsibility of those in elected office is to acknowledge threats to public health and safety, particularly when the negative impact of such threats are so readily apparent.
This week, the
Kansas Legislature took steps
to recognize the significant public health crisis that pornography is bringing upon our culture.
House and Senate Federal and State Affairs committees held hearings on SR 1723 and HR 6016, identical resolutions recognizing that pornography is a public health hazard that leads to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harm. I am the chief sponsor of the Senate version.
Lawmakers, law enforcement officers, medical professionals, and those from groups looking to protect the family and our culture all came together this week in support of these resolutions. Included also were those seeking to fight human trafficking, such as the attorney general's office and Dr. Todd Bowman, author of the nation's only accredited Sexual Addiction Treatment Provider Certificate program.
The resolutions recognize the need for additional education, prevention, research and policy change at the community and societal levels, and urge the Kansas House and Senate, as well as other governing bodies to take appropriate steps to ensure progress is made. The resolutions also cited the fact that
27% of millennials, aged 25 to 30, reported that they first viewed pornography before puberty, based on a 2016 Barna Group study. Similar studies and surveys revealing the high percentages of men and women who view pornography on a regular basis are staggering. It ruins families, relationships, and as the resolution indicates, has both severe psychological and sexual health impact on individuals as well.
The Kansas Attorney General's office testified that pornography is a gateway for human sex trafficking, as women and children are often forced into pornography without consent. Officers from the Johnson County Sheriff's Office provided testimony regarding their professional experience investigating and bringing sexual predators to justice - per the Sentinel, "
the Johnson County Sheriff's Office created a special unit to investigate the solicitation of minors via the internet in 2005. Between 2006 and 2012, the unit conducted 100 investigations. In 95 percent of those cases, they found adult pornographic images and videos."
Dr. Todd Bowman, author of the nation's only accredited Sexual Addiction Treatment Provider Certificate program, provided his expert testimony to the committees. Bowman's testimony cited research from Dr. Gail Dines, PhD, in which she said, "to prevent unprecedented emotional, psychological, and physical damage to generations born in the digital age, we must first recognize pornography as a public health crisis, and then respond with skillfully prepared and executed intervention."
Dr. Abe Rafie, who is also a State Representative, also testified the impact of pornography on the human mind can be seen in radiological exams. Next week, I'll share his full testimony - it was incredibly informative.
The resolutions can be read
That topic subheading might confuse you, and it is meant partially in jest. However, if you were in Topeka these days, you might wonder, as there seems to be an unquenchable thirst for tax increases by some.
During the 2016 campaign, one would think it was just a desire to repeal the small business tax incentive, derided falsely by some as a loophole. However, early in the session there emerged an effort to increase rates on individuals, even retroactively, by hiking rates on most Kansans, including the establishment of a third tax rate bracket. Next, proposals emerged to increase the gas tax to the highest rate in the region. Last but not least, particularly in light of property tax hikes here in Johnson County, is an effort to repeal the property tax lid that gave you the right to vote on property tax increases.
In 2017, Kansans should ask themselves one question:
"Is there a tax that won't be raised?"
This should come as no surprise, as even before the session began, various left wing groups who helped elect these left-wing legislators
formed a coalition to increase almost every tax in
Their goal? A massive increase in spending - on education, on roads, on welfare without any accountability, and on everything else you could imagine. In their vision for Kansas, the era of big government is back, even while reports are pouring in that revenues are going up, jobs are being created, and the nation's economy is rebounding under President Trump.
As Ronald Reagan said regarding government philosophy, "If it moves, tax it." That view has apparently taken hold in the Kansas Legislature. Conservatives are working hard to fight these efforts, as our goal is to champion the principles of limited government, individual liberty, and free enterprise.
Below is a rundown of various other bills we voted on this week:
ANNUAL PRIVILEGE FEE INCREASES
): SB 94 increases the annual privilege fees assessed on every health maintenance organization to 5.77 percent for the reporting period, beginning July 1, 2017, and ending December 31, 2020. After January 1, 2021, the privilege fee would be assessed at 3.31 percent. Money collected from the assessment must be deposited to the credit of the Medical Assistance Fee Fund (in the Kansas Department of Health and Environment). In addition, money collected from the privilege fee is to be deposited to the credit of the State General Fund, except from July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2018, when the money is to be deposited to the credit of the Medical Assistance Fee Fund. This bill passed the Senate 27-13. I voted No - this causes everyone's health insurance premiums to go higher and I am against this severe increase in fees.
WICHITA AREA TECHNICAL COLLEGE
): SB 174 affiliates the Wichita Area Technical College (WATC) with Wichita State University (WSU). The institutional infrastructure of the WATC would be designated as the WSU Campus of Applied Sciences and Technology, and would be governed by and operated as a technical college campus within WSU. The campus would continue to be a technical college and would remain eligible for funding that is available to technical colleges. This bill passed the Senate 40-0. I voted Yes.
KANSAS PROPANE SAFETY AND LICENSING ACT
): SB 83 changes the definition in the Kansas Propane Safety and Licensing Act of "retail distribution of liquefied petroleum gas" to specify the term would not include the resale of pre-filled tanks less than five gallons insize and containing less than 20 pounds of liquefied petroleum gas. This bill passed the Senate 40-0. I voted Yes.
PUBLIC CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS AND PERFORMANCE AND PAYMENT BONDS
) SB 55 as amended, would revise the Kansas Fairness in Public Construction Contract Act by requiring a contractor involved in a public-private partnership (P3) agreement to provide performance and payment bonds. This bill passed the Senate 39-1. I voted Yes.
RENAMING LAKE SCOTT STATE PARK
) HB 2192 would rename Lake Scott state park to Historic Lake Scott State Park. The bill passed the Senate 40-0. I Voted Yes.
) SB 95 would amend law for public assistance programs concerning telephonic signatures. The bill would require a telephonic signature by an applicant or an applicant's authorized representative be accepted to fulfill any signature require for application for public assistance programs administered by the Secretary for Children and Families. The bill would make a telephonic signature an option for applicants, not a requirement. A telephonic signature would constitute a valid and legal signature. The bill passed the Senate 33-7. I voted No. The fiscal note for this bill was $128,000 and it was stated by one organization that this could possibly expedite getting around 500 people on food stamps. That is $256 per person to get someone on food stamps quicker. This is not an efficient use of taxpayer dollars.
ENFORCEMENT OF CERTAIN PROVISIONS OF THE CIGARETTE AND TOBACCO PRODUCTS ACT
) SB 96 would make a number of amendments to the Cigarette and Tobacco Products Act designed to keep Kansas in compliance with the federal Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). There was not tax increase in this measure. The bill passed the Senate 40-0. I Voted Yes.
ELECTRONIC CIGARETTES, DEFINITIONS, ENFORCEMENT.
). Under current law, a tax at the rate of $0.20 per milliliter of consumable material in electronic cigarettes was imposed as of January 1, 2017. The bill would delay the effective date of the tax to July 1, 2017, and would reduce the rate to $0.05 per milliliter. The bill passed the Senate 40-0. I Voted Yes. It is the combustion factor that causes cancer, not nicotine, and e-cigarettes are often used by smokers to break their unhealthy smoking habits.
AUTHORIZING THE KANSAS INTELLIGENCE FUSION CENTER
) SB 184 enacts the Kansas Intelligence Fusion Act and establishes the Kansas Intelligence Fusion Center (KIFC). The KIFC is a collaboration among federal, state, local, and tribal agencies, as well as certain private-sector entities. The center helps with intelligence analysis and also will promote and improve intelligence sharing among public agencies at both the state and federal level. SB 184 also codifies the current practices of the KIFC. The bill passed the Senate 40-0.
I voted Yes.
DECLARING BLACKBERRIES A NOXIOUS WEED
) SB 117amends the Noxious Weed Law which permits the board of county commissioners to declare a plant to be a noxious weed within the boundaries of their county. The bill would add the everbearing blackberry and the Himalayan blackberry to the list of noxious weeds. The bill passed the Senate 40-0.
OPEN MEETINGS; JUSTIFICATIONS FOR CLOSED EXECUTIVE MEETINGS
) SB 70 would amend the Kansas Open Meetings Act (KOMA) with respect to closed executive meetings. The bill would require any motion to recess for a closed executive session to include a statement describing the subjects discussed during the session and also the justification for closing the meeting. The bill would require the complete motion to be recorded in the minutes of the meeting. The bill passed the Senate 39-1. I voted Yes.
Conclusion: Our Purpose is to Preserve Liberty & Pursue Truth
Our work in Topeka involves many diverse issues, from taxation to protecting life at all its stages. The common thread that ties together all those important issues is the preservation of liberty and the pursuit of truth. Every vote we cast should be with that fundamental purpose in mind.
In honor of your liberty,