June 10, 2020

Capitol Connection is your report from KAC's Vice President Adrienne Olejnik on happenings at the Statehouse and issues affecting Kansas children and families. For more updates, follow KAC on  Facebook  and  Twitter .

For Adrienne's perspective, see her  Twitter  account!
After a special session, difficult questions

My kids have been grappling with the ugly words and actions of people these past few months as they see the news.
We've had difficult discussions about why there aren't necessarily "good people" or "bad people," but that life is full of choices that define us each day. We've talked about being kind human beings who can respond to others' actions in ways that make the world better. They are old enough, at 11 and 8, to feel the emotional impact of racial injustice and respond in their own words. As a parent, I want to support their learning and understanding of these tough issues -- and have them come out on the other side as kinder people who are willing to say difficult things and stand up for everyone's right to be valued.
This may not seem like a legislative update, but after such a tumultuous session, I wanted to share some personal reflections. Why do the people of Kansas send 165 people from across the state to convene on their behalf each year in the Capitol? Of course, it's about our longstanding belief in representation, but we also want them to make good choices and represent us so that we feel heard and valued.

After Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed the emergency powers bill passed during sine die, a slightly revised response bill was discussed and passed during the special session on June 3 and 4. A few legislators had hoped to address other bills, such as those vetoed on property tax and foster care reporting for education, but legislative leadership did not discuss additional bills in either chamber. An attempt was made on the House side to include Medicaid expansion as an amendment to the bill, but that attempt was rejected by the majority.

I suppose a little bit of grace should be given to the Legislature for dealing with unexpected effects of a pandemic that upended their "normal." Leadership is challenging even in the best of times, but these past few months provided an opportunity to expect more from these decision-makers.
Instead, words come to my mind like "unfinished," "disappointed," "frustrated," and "selfish." It's true the session was cut short, but meaningful work could have been squeezed in to help kids and families who are struggling. Had there been the desire to tackle real problems, the will would have found a way.
But instead Kansas continues to be one of the few states that refuses to expand Medicaid. Through complicated legislative maneuvers, several legislators tried to have discussions about expansion this session, but it was never the right time, the right bill, the right policy.
Kansas continues to be one of the few states making it really difficult for financially struggling families to connect with programs that help meet basic needs. We've had these barriers on the books since 2015 -- and they're continue to keep people away from supports to put food on the table, send children to child care while parents work, and provide temporary cash aid when families need it the most.
What benefit do legislators see when the people in their communities have limited access to resources meant for relief? Their neighbors will continue to be sicker and more desperate for help, and poverty will continue to harm children.
We're all grappling with difficult times, and it's easy to stew in anger. The disappointment I have in the process and this year's legislative session is substantial. We -- as individuals, as advocates, as community members -- must expect and demand more from our representatives. We must press our case more fervently and deliberately until they care about the needs of families living in poverty as much as we do.
Would they do their work differently if they thought about kids watching the process?
What if they had to answer questions about how they do their work and why they don't talk about kids in all their meetings?
Would they set a better example for us all?
When I stayed up late into the night watching the legislature this year, my kids had similar questions as they do when watching the news. I'd like them to be proud of our legislators, and proud of the process that could make Kansas a better place to live. For my kids -- and all kids of Kansas -- I hope for a 2021 session in which legislators are kinder, more productive, and willing to reckon with difficult things.

Take care --