Burdett Loomis, a columnist and emeritus professor of political science at KU, lamented recently the demise of the legislature’s summer study committees. In recent decades a dozen or more interim committees would be appointed to study an array of complex issues, draft their results and recommendations and send them to the House and Senate by summer’s end.
Interim committees once incubated sweeping reforms in education, the court system, farm policy, tax reform, social welfare programs and more. In the early 1970s, a committee led by Rep. Bob Stark, of Salina, provided groundwork for a radical change known as “branch banking.”
Loomis notes that in recent years legislative leaders have throttled the process of interim study. These panels were bipartisan, provided valuable research, often with consensus among their House and Senate members; they saved time for their busy colleagues during regular winter sessions.
Now, only three or four committees may be assigned, often for meaningless or redundant work.
Why has this happened? The House and Senate leaders now leaves the task of Kansas issues to Alexandria, Va., and the headquarters of the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, as the organization is known, is a right-wing, Koch-financed, and fringe backed think- tank.
ALEC writes “model” legislation for state governments and, according to its website, “works to advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise, limited government, and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public…”
Translation: ALEC writes marching orders for state legislatures. Nearly every piece of significant legislation introduced in the Kansas House or Senate in recent years has come from the ALEC. This is why lack of authorship (or sponsorship) on legislation has become such an issue for transparency in Topeka. The public is often kept in the dark.
The Brownback-Colyer plan to rewrite local school finance? From ALEC. The throttling of higher education, the attacks on our Supreme Court, our “religious freedom” laws and criminal sentencing “reforms?” All the work of ALEC. The movements to ban or persecute refugees, to privatize schools and prisons, to deny climate change, all originated in Arlington for Republican carrier pigeons in the House or Senate, chief among them House Speaker Ray Merrick and Senate President Susan Wagle.
Abortion laws recently slapped away by the Kansas Supreme Court are more of the outsiders’ handiwork.
House Bill 2553, passed in 2014, would put Kansas in charge of federal health care programs in this state, including Medicare. This was not the work of a Kansas committee, but legislation deeply ALEC; it would allow Kansas to join a multi-state compact to transfer health care decision- making and responsibility from the federal Medicare system to member states. The catch is that the Compact would take effect only if approved by both chambers of the U.S. Congress – not likely, yet.
Every recent gun law passed in Kansas originated in Arlington. Brownback’s infamous Glide Path to Zero, abolishing income taxes for businesses and high-income Kansans, is the work of Arthur Laffer, the former governor’s pal and a member of the ALEC board of directors. There’s more, but that’s the idea.
The legislature, fortified with new members elected in
2016, has begun a return to responsible legislating. They must now advocate for responsible leadership and a return to Kansas study for Kansas issues. New leadership and more progressive legislators will return Kansas government to Kansans.
State government, as we once knew it, has been missing for some time. We can have it back, but only if our desire to have it is stronger than ALEC’s is to keep it.