Legislative Update Jan. 28, 2020
It feels like the 2020 legislative session has launched into full swing, and I’m already starting out behind! The first couple of weeks are generally slow, with more committee meetings and bill introductions as time moves on. But this year, everything seems to be moving a little faster.
But here we are – about to start the third week of the 2020 session. We haven’t heard any bills on the House floor yet, but I expect that could change later this week. For now, I thought I’d run through a few things that have emerged in the past week – and what you might see in the coming weeks.
Yes, I was in town and felt the 4.5 earthquake hit Hutchinson on Jan. 19. It was unnerving, and this is the first time that books and knick-knacks really came flying off my shelves. It felt a lot worse, and seemed to last much longer, than the previous earthquakes. If you haven’t seen this story in the Hutchinson News, it’s worth a read.
I’m still working on this issue. Though, you might have guessed that I’ve been met with some resistance. I don’t have much new information or insight to report on this, other than to tell you that I am not going to stop learning all I can about this, and I will continue to elevate this issue in Topeka. I’ve met with the Governor’s staff, geologists, and other legislators. This week, I have meetings set up with representatives from the Kansas Corporation Commission and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Here’s one way you can help me out – If you have damage from this, or any future earthquakes – please take a photo, write a brief description of the damage, along with when you first noticed it, and sent it to me at email@example.com. I’ve already seen some pictures of concerning damage, and I think we need to start building a file on how these quakes are affecting businesses and homeowners.
I serve as the ranking minority member of the Rural Revitalization Committee. That’s proven to be a wealth of information about the struggles in rural Kansas. We’ve heard from Lt. Governor Lynn Rogers, who shared what he learned from his Office of Rural Prosperity tour across the state. There is a lot of energy in rural Kansas, as well as a lot of people who are dedicated to keeping their communities vibrant and engaged towards the future.
We also heard from Department of Commerce secretary David Toland, who shared the results of a thorough study of the effectiveness of the Rural Opportunity Zone program, which was created as a way to attract residents to struggling rural areas. In short, the program has worked well in some counties – particularly along the border. But overall, it hasn’t achieved its stated goal, and there’s evidence that many people would’ve moved to those counties with or without the ROZ program.
The commerce, labor and economic development committee heard two bills last week – one on changing the laws on storage facilities to allow them more flexibility in advertising and selling property that’s been left in a unit, and another on creating a preference for state contract awards for companies that employ graduates of Job Corps programs. Testimony on this was compelling, as several students from the Flint Hills Job Corps shared their experiences of coming from poverty, to graduating with tangible skills that will help them find a better life for their families.
The biggest new term you’ve likely not heard is “Meat Analog.” What’s that? Well, it is meat that’s not really meat, yet is marketed in a way that it seems that it’s an awful lot like meat. Just without the meat. Think Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat – the new plant-based products that are so meat-ish, some people worry they might be mistaken for the real thing.
Frankly, I think there was a missed opportunity to bring back the old Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef” campaign. We could’ve retooled that bit of marketing brilliance and redirected it toward these plant-based protein products. Instead we have HB 2437, which seeks to force “meat analog” products to clearly label themselves as “Imitation” or as not containing meat.
The testimony on this bill was interesting, and I learned quite a bit about labels and the concern the livestock industry has about consumers potentially being confused – and undoubtedly terribly disappointed – if they mistakenly eat vegetables when they thought they were getting meat. To me, the central issue in this legislation is whether consumers are being misled or otherwise so harmed by current labeling practices that it warrants compelling a company to change its practices to protect consumers.
This week’s issue – Changing the Kansas Constitution
It’s possible that we’ll have a debate and a vote this week on a resolution to change the Kansas Constitution. In fact, it seems this could be the first issue we’ll address this year. The resolution was heard last week over two days, and we’re now waiting to see it emerge on the House or Senate floor.
I took time last week to read the roughly 200-page Kansas Supreme Court decision upon which this issue is being built. It was a thoughtful, well-crafted document that did a good job explaining the history of our Kansas Constitution, as well as the legal reasoning for the majority opinion. (I likewise found the concurring and dissenting opinions interesting and insightful).
Based on my reading of the Kansas Supreme Court decision, and the haphazardly confusing wording of the proposed ballot question, I will not support this proposed change to the amendment. It will result in costly litigation for the state, and, I believe it is a power grab by the legislature that could lead to the erosion of other constitutionally-protected rights. Additionally, I don’t read that the ruling removes the legislature’s ability to regulate abortion, as is being argued by proponents of the constitutional change. While it says that a woman has a fundamental right to self-determination, it is equally clear that this is not an absolute right. Barriers are placed on fundamental rights all the time. Think background checks when purchasing firearms, libel and slander laws on free speech, or the requirement to get permits to peacefully assemble.
There’s a lot of information out there around this sensitive topic, but not all of it is reliable. I’d ask you to remember that it’s an election year, and consider much of this with a critical mind. While I know that many Kansans have deeply sincere beliefs on this issue, there is no doubt that election-year politics are part of this discussion.
As always, feel free to reach out to me with your thoughts – or to update me on what’s happening back home.