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Absolute Gridlock[ Posted Wednesday May 16 2012, 8:55 am by Thomas Witt ]
Greetings KEC members -
The Kansas Legislature is now on Day 95 of what is supposed to be a 90 day session. This session should have ended last week, but the legislature has reached complete gridlock on the three issues they must absolutely pass before they can go home.
- Taxes. You may have read that the Governor has a tax bill in front him for his signature. That bill, just approved by the House, was originally voted down by the Senate. Brownback's staff intervened on the floor of the Senate, persuading moderate senators to change their votes so there would be a "vehicle" for negotiations with the House. As the Senate was debating and preparing to vote on the eventually-negotiated tax bill, the Governor asked House leadership to hurry up and pass the original tax bill - a tax bill with cuts so extreme it will leave Kansas in the hole by over 2 billion dollars. The Governor is now using the threat of signing this bill "as is" to get what he wants out of the Senate on other issues. The House and Senate continue to negotiate a new tax bill, but so far, there has been nothing produced that will satisfy Brownback. The threat remains.
Budget - Budget negotiators between the moderate Senate and tea-party House have been meeting for weeks, and making almost no progress. With the impasse on the tax bill, the budget has been set aside until a tax agreement is reached. No one knows how much money there will be to pay for vital services such as education, medicaid, and public safety. If the current tax bill is signed "as is," there will be draconian cuts that will make our state unrecognizable in just a few short months.
Redistricting - Every ten years, following the Census, the legislature must redraw district lines to account for shifts in population. As many of you know, Kansas population isn't growing, but it is shifting - and it's shifting from rural communities to urban ones. Each of the 125 House districts should have approximately 25,000 people; each of the 40 Senate districts should have around 75,000. Because of the population shifts, the rural communities are losing districts to the urban areas, mostly in northeast Kansas.
This process would be stressful enough in the best of times and circumstances. These are not the best of times, and the circumstances are unprecedented. The right-wing House leadership, working with the Governor, are trying to unseat the moderate Republican senators with whom they disagree.
(It's those very moderate Republicans who have been KEC's allies over the past several years, and have helped us stop every anti-gay bill that's been introduced since 2006, and who have helped us advance our non-discrimination efforts. If they lose their seats through redistricting and House/Governor gerrymandering this year, the cause of LGBT equality will be in great peril).
The redistricting fight has gone from merely tense to angry to outright hostile. Yesterday's discussions among Republicans turned into a shouting match, which brought state police to the Senate chamber to keep on eye on things "just in case."
The scheduled debate yesterday on a new set of maps didn't happen; it's been postponed to this afternoon. I have no confidence the debate will even take place - it could turn into the same scenario as the last couple of attempts to pass a redistricting map.
What does all this mean for us? It means SB142 can still be brought up at any time. With the mood the right-wing is in, I won't be surprised if it's brought up at the last minute as a way to force the moderates to vote on equality. Do we have the votes to stop it, if they do? It's very close - so close that a couple of people, with the right pressure, could be compelled by the Governor's office to vote in favor. All I can do at this point is stay visible, and keep talking to our swing votes and try to hold them in what should be the really-truly-absolutely-final-week of the 2012 legislative session.
In the meantime - please contribute to Kansas Equality Coalition http://www.kansasequalitycoalition.org/donate/ We are 100% member-supported, and without your contributions, the radical right will get its way, and wipe out the work we've been doing locally. Don't let them get away with it.
Thomas Witt, Executive Director
Kansas Equality Coalition
Mobile 316-683-1706 | Office 316-260-4863