Clay Wirestone: Statehouse scraps – Turnaround twaddle, stacked hearings multiply, another abortion ban proposed (Column)

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The Kansas Legislature took Monday and Tuesday off this week, which lulled me into a temporary sense of complacency. Topeka, it seemed, was returning to normal. Then Wednesday and Thursday happened, and lawmakers returned with a vengeance.

Aha, I thought. Here was the inexplicable incoherence I missed. Stay tuned this week for zombie bills, more transparency fails and K-TAG compatibility.

Turnaround state of mind

Last week was what Statehouse insiders call “turnaround.” In his weekly newsletter, House Speaker Dan Hawkins described it a “deadline in which bills must move from their chamber of origin (House or Senate) and move across the rotunda to the opposite chamber for approval there.”

Here’s the truth, though: Turnaround doesn’t mean anything.

Leaders such as Hawkins and Senate President Ty Masterson can introduce any piece of legislation on any topic any time they like. They have many methods for doing so. They can “bless” certain bills before turnaround, granting them continued life. They can insert new language into previously passed bills through the much-derided “gut and go” method. Or one of the committees not bound by turnaround rules can simply pass the bill.

Turnaround, you see, works as another tool to silence dissent and make inconvenient bills disappear. If a legislator tells you that a bill couldn’t be heard or passed because of turnaround, they’re not telling you the whole truth. If Hawkins and Masterson want a bill heard and passed, they can make it happen.

House Speaker Dan Hawkins
Kansas Speaker of the House Dan Hawkins laughs heartily on the House floor, Feb. 14, 2023. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Transparency fail No. 1

You might recall that I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the three-card monte game played by legislative leaders, in which they stack hearings atop one another to exhaust opponents of controversial legislations. Rabbi Moti Rieber, executive director of Kansas Interfaith Action, pointed out that two bills targeting the transgender committee have been scheduled for hearings at the same time on Monday.

Advocates have risen to the occasion before. But this level of skullduggery shows how desperately lawmakers want to avoid charges of hatred and discrimination. Which, of course, both bills encourage.

Overheard at the statehouse

I visited the Statehouse on Wednesday afternoon to watch the scene around an astonishingly cruel bill in the House Welfare Reform Committee. I plan to write more on that subject Monday, but I heard a striking conversation while sitting outside the room. One besuited man confessed to another that he was listening to a committee hearing online while sitting in yet another hearing.

Think of our precious men in suits, legislative leaders! You’re stressing them out, and we have weeks to go.

Just keeping track

Crisis pregnancy centers deceive women. They purposefully disguise themselves to look like actual health care facilities, but in reality spread anti-abortion propaganda. As Planned Parenthood notes: “Most crisis pregnancy centers aren’t legitimate medical clinics, so they don’t have to follow HIPAA and keep your information private, like most real health care providers do. These crisis pregnancy centers could even give your information to other anti-abortion organizations or use it to harass you. ”

So of course the radical Republicans of the Kansas Legislature support them. The Senate passed Senate Bill 96 last week, which creates a tax credit for contributions to such centers. It’s been sent over to the House Health and Human Services Committee. That same committee will hear another bill of note Tuesday, when House Bill 2429 comes up. That one established “the alternatives to abortion program to provide resources and promote childbirth to women facing unplanned pregnancies.”

Anti-abortion protestors hold signs
Kevan Myers, left, of Kansas City, Kansas, and Clifton Boje, of Bonner Springs, protest outside the House chamber Wednesday ahead of the State of the Judiciary. The two said they identify as abolitionists. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Zombie bill staggers to life

Earlier this month I wrote about the unexpected demise of Senate Bill 47, which was part of the Kansas Chamber’s continuing efforts to stop plastic bag bans in Kansas communities. I suggested at the time that the ban might return, and so it has. House Bill 2446 “Prohibit(s) cities and counties from regulating plastic and other containers designed for the consumption, transportation or protection of merchandise, food or beverages.” It was requested for introduction by the Chamber’s lobbyist, Eric Stafford.

Eric Stafford sits at a microphone for a podcast recording
Kansas Chamber lobbyist Eric Stafford outlines priorities that include a flat tax proposal and ban on plastic bag bans during a recording of the Kansas Reflector podcast earlier this year. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Another abortion ban

Ready for another attempt to prohibit abortion in Kansas despite overwhelming support from voters to keep it legal? I’m sure you are! Senate Bill 286 would outlaw the procedure (which is common and perfectly safe), but with a couple of wrinkles. First, it provides an exception to save the life of the mother — although not for cases of rape or incest. Second, it provides a “private cause of action for civil enforcement of such prohibition.” That means the state would deputize everyday Kansans to serve as abortion hunters and reap financial rewards in court, the same cynical ploy used by the state of Texas.

It was requested for introduction by Cheyenne Vandeventer on behalf of Students for Life Action.

Kansas Sens. Rick Kloos and Mike Thompson laugh after an anti-abortion bill is introduced.
Kansas Sens. Rick Kloos and Mike Thompson laugh after another anti-abortion bill was introduced in the Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs back in January. (Screen capture from Kansas Legislature YouTube channel)

Transparency fail No. 2

In case you missed it, Kansas Reflector reporter Rachel Mipro wrote about a  Thursday hearing in the House K-12 Education Budget Committee on a bill that didn’t exist. Chairwoman Kristey Williams, an Augusta Republican, explained that Senate Bill 83 would be gutted on Monday. Those offering testimony, therefore, had no idea what eventual legislation they were addressing.

Don’t worry, said committee vice chairwoman Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican.

“We’re just having a hearing on this bill because that’s the process so that then we have a shell,” she said. “There will not be anything put in that bill that really hasn’t been discussed in this committee. So it’ll be bills previously heard. And it’s legal. It’s been declared legal. And we’re fine to do that, so being accused of not being transparent is disingenuous.”

Sorry, representative. What you’re talking about is the very definition of government obscuring its business from the people.

Senate President Ty Masterson talked to Rep. Brenda Landwehr during a legislative hearing in 2021. (Thad Allton for Kansas Reflector)

Take a read

My friend Joel Mathis writes a regular column for McClatchy newspapers in Kansas. You should read his piece this week on why, exactly, the Kansas Legislature does so many awful things. “Kansas isn’t Florida. Who’s going to tell hard-right Republicans in Topeka that?” does a great job outlining why our state’s GOP leaders consistently stray from the actual interests of residents.

Meanwhile, on the Florida beat, K-TAGs now work in the land of Disney and Ron DeSantis. That’s according to the Kansas Turnpike Authority, which apparently wants to smooth the way for legislators who want to check out the state for themselves.

Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here. Find how to submit your own commentary to The Lawrence Times here.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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