Monday, August 13, 2012

Who wins, loses if Senate shifts to right?

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

So what will happen should conservative Republicans take over the Kansas Senate when the 2013 legislative session starts in January?

Public schools, middle class families and women are in for a rough ride, according to Democrats as they assessed the political landscape after a slew of moderate Senate leaders were defeated in last week’s Republican Party primary, courtesy of a combined effort from Gov. Sam Brownback, the billionaire Koch brothers, Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Kansans for Life.

“The Kansas Republican Party took another hard right turn away from the ‘middle of the road’ politics that have served our state so well for many decades,” said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence. In 2010, the House fell into the hands of conservative Republicans.

“Today, the face of the Republican party is more anti-public school, more anti-worker, more anti-woman and more anti-middle class than ever before,” Davis said.

Brownback said he was going to focus on improving the economy.

“Most Kansans want to grow the economy and increase the number of private sector jobs in our state. We will continue working every day to help Kansans fulfill their aspirations,” he said in a statement after Tuesday’s primary results.

His spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag added, “Like in the primary, we look forward to a debate on the issues important to Kansans such as smaller government, repealing Obamacare and properly funding essential services like schools, social services and public safety.”

Even though “Obamacare” — the Affordable Care Act — is a federal law, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity hammered moderate Republican state legislators in Kansas.

The groups said the moderates were against giving Kansans a state constitutional amendment vote to opt out of “Obamacare.” Critics of the proposed constitutional amendment said it was a waste of time and money and dishonest because federal law is the supreme law of the land.

Conservative issues

Republicans already hold a 32-8 edge over Democrats in the Senate. But a combination of moderate Republicans and Democrats has maintained a slight majority on some issues in the Senate over conservatives.

That has likely changed.

In the GOP primary, voters defeated eight moderate Republican senators. After the November general election, conservative Republicans may hold 27 seats, maybe more. Under the scenario where both chambers are in step with Brownback, what follows is a sample of some issues that may have a better chance of becoming law.
  • The “Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act,” was approved 91-33 in the House during the last legislative session, but moderate Republican Senate leaders let the bill lie dormant as the session ended.
  • The measure would prohibit state and local governments from substantially burdening a person’s religious beliefs unless the government can prove that the burden is advancing a compelling government interest and is the least restrictive way of advancing that interest. Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer testified in favor of the bill, and the Kansas Catholic Conference and Concerned Women for America of Kansas supported it. It was opposed by Lawrence officials, the Kansas Equality Coalition and the state chapter of the National Organization for Women. Supporters of the bill said it was needed to prevent government from forcing a person to violate his or her religious beliefs. But opponents of the bill said it would invite discrimination against gays and lesbians and invalidate a Lawrence anti-discrimination ordinance that includes sexual orientation.
  • An anti-abortion bill approved by the House proposed numerous changes to Kansas abortion law, including a provision that would prevent state employees, including doctors-in-training at the Kansas University Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., from performing abortions on state property or state time. KU Medical Center officials voiced concerns that the accreditation of its obstetrics and gynecology program would be in danger under the bill. Legislators added a provision saying its medical residents could do abortions off-site, on their own time, for a year, but the Medical Center wanted a permanent exception. Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, had said the Senate needed more time to consider the proposal. He declared the bill “materially altered,” which sent it back to a Senate committee with only a few days left in the legislative session. Morris was defeated in the primary, one of the Republicans targeted by Brownback, who is anti-abortion.
  • Brownback has urged approval of a bill that would give him greater control over appointing judges to the Kansas Court of Appeals. Currently, the governor must select an appeals court judge from among three nominees chosen by a nominating commission. A bill that passed the House in 2011 would allow Brownback to make an appointment subject to Senate confirmation. But the bill died in the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by state Sen. Tim Owens, who said the proposed process would inject more politics into the judicial system. Owens was defeated in the GOP primary.
  • As a U.S. senator, Brownback supported school vouchers and there are many legislators who also endorse this view. Last session, a bill surfaced that would have given taxpayers a 90 percent tax credit for contributions made to an organization that would provide scholarships for students to attend private or parochial schools. House leaders also have pushed for a number of education policy changes that the Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, and Vice Chair John Vratil, R-Leawood, resisted. But Schodorf was defeated in the primary and Vratil is retiring.
  • Democrats say Brownback may make another push to try to get rid of the Earned Income Tax Credit. Brownback sought elimination of the state version of the EITC, which helps low-income families, as part of his tax-cutting package. Brownback’s staff said there were abuses in the EITC system, but advocates for the poor said it is a crucial credit to help low-income families. The Legislature eventually left the EITC intact, but Democrats say conservatives will try again.
  • Conservatives and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce also have pushed for a proposal to restrict labor unions’ ability to raise dues from members’ paychecks and prohibit public employee unions from endorsing candidates. That bill also languished in a Senate committee whose chair is now retiring.
  • Last session, Brownback’s plan on changing the way schools are funded didn’t get much love in the Senate Education Committee. But his proposal may get another look with a more conservative Senate.