Simply amazing – here we are on the evening of May 9,the 92 day of the 2006 legislative session, and at long last have a K-12 school finance plan!  Considering that we had a special legislative session last summer set aside specifically to address school finance issues, one would think that Kansas Legislative leadership would have sensed the need to put this issue to bed a lot sooner.  But as I’ve learned in the world of politics, unresolved legislation at the end of the session provides an opportunity for cutting last minute deals that would not normally survive full legislative scrutiny.  An excellent example of this recently occurred with the consolidation of the sexual predator and private prisons bills into a single conference committee report.
State Senator Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, has been a vocal advocate for using private prisons as a cost-effective way of housing the state’s burgeoning prison population.  His legislation, however, has consistently run into opposition in the Kansas House as numerous Representatives (including myself) view a private prison’s profit motive as conflicting with the state’s responsibility to provide effective incarceration and rehabilitation services.  This year Senator Schmidt decided to try an “end run” around the Kansas House by putting the private prisons bill (which had not been heard by the House) into a House conference committee report containing the popular “Jessica’s Law” sexual predator legislation (which had already overwhelmingly passed in the House).  The conventional wisdom was that the House would leave the bills together as no one would want to be perceived as holding up passage of the popular sexual predator bill.  House members, however, voted to re-refer the report back to committee and strip out the private prisons language, and the private prisons bill never made it through the House on its own.
Representative democracy is vital to our way of life in America.  And a big part of maintaining that integrity is by periodically scrutinizing how the legislative process works.  Making legislators accountable requires that an introduced bill needs to be separately heard and voted on in each chamber.  Otherwise, we end up providing our elected officials with excuses that in the long run ignore the will of the people.

Paid for by Tom Holland for Kansas Senate
Kris Marsh, Treasurer