Next Monday, Jan. 11, the Kansas Legislature will open its doors. We will welcome a number of new faces to the Capitol due to off-season retirements and/or resignations. The biggest change is the resignation of Rep. Steve Brunk (R-Wichita) who chaired the House Fed. and State committee. In his place, Speaker Merrick appointed Rep. Jan Pauls (R-Hutchinson) to head the House Fed/State Committee. House Fed. and State will deal with LGBT, abortion and concealed carry issues.
Continuity reigns in both chamber’s judiciary committees. Rep. John Barker (R-Abilene) and Sen. Jeff King (R-Independence) both return as chairpersons. Both chambers will deal with a wide range of legal issues from judicial budget, court operations and technical legal matters. Look for a number of family law proposals to be debated.
However, the major issue continues to be the state budget. Legislators will reconvene facing another budget deficit. This time the red number is closer to $197 million. The governor has already transferred monies or cut some programs to ease the pain of legislators making those difficult choices but there could be a big move to reinstate income taxes on business. The Governor has already claimed he does not support that proposal and that no new taxes or further cuts will be required to meet all of the state’s fiscal responsibilities. How that lofty goal is accomplished remains to be seen and the blueprint for a balanced budget is sure to be included in next week’s state of the state address.
Besides focusing on the state budget the legislature may move quickly to shore up the judicial branch budget. As many of you are already aware the Kansas Supreme Court has struck down attempts by the legislature to statutorily mandate local control in judicial districts. The Kansas Supreme Court found these legislative attempts to be a violation of the separation of powers doctrine. As such, a portion of the judicial branch budget is now ineffective. This would not be as significant an issue but for a non-severability clause requiring the entire judicial budget be void should any part of the budget be found unconstitutional. It is this provision that may force quick action by the legislature to maintain a court budget. How that proceeds is of interest to many but no concrete proposals are available at this time.
There are a number of other major issues that could turn the 2016 legislative session on its head, see school block grants, Medicaid expansion, tax policy, but it is not beyond reason to see a truncated session due to elections in the fall. As such, it is very possible that no big issues are voted on besides the budget.
For information on legislators, bills and committee assignments please take a look at www.ksbar.org starting on Jan. 11. You can also find information at www.kslegislature.org. To get live updates during the session you can follow us on twitter .