Gun reform, budget puzzle top discussion at NEJC legislative forum

Rep. Melissa Rooker speaking at Saturday’s legislative forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters.

Turnaround Day — the point at which most new bill must be approved by one chamber of the legislature to be eligible for consideration by the other — came last week, and Shawnee Mission area legislators have plenty on their plates.

At a legislative forum organized by the League of Women Voters of Johnson County at the Corinth Library Saturday, Sen. Pat Pettey and Reps. Stephanie Clayton, Jarrod Ousley, Melissa Rooker and Jerry Stogsdill answered questions submitted by the crowd of nearly 200.

Here are highlights of the discussion:

Rep. Pat Pettey.

Gun control

Perhaps not surprisingly given the movement supporting reform efforts in the wake of the Parkland shooting, gun control issues were among the most-discussed at Saturday’s forum.

All five of the participants raised their hands when asked if they “supported a ban on assault rifles.” But as Sen. Pat Pettey noted, no bill related to restrictions on who can purchase weapons has been introduced, and that “that’s not going to happen” this session.

However, the Parkland shooting did cause the legislature to step back from a bill that was supported by the NRA. Stogsdill noted that leaders canceled a planned debate on HB 2064, a bill that would have required any school that wanted to offer gun safety education to use curriculum developed by the NRA, after the shooting. Stogsdill said he was strongly against the use of NRA-authored curriculum in elementary schools. “I can guarantee you that is not a gun safety program. That is a marketing tool by the NRA,” Stogsdill said.

Rep. Jerry Stogsdill.

While the legislators indicated that the conservative-led House and Senate were unlikely to get behind substantive gun reform efforts, Rooker noted that Kansas had been the only state in the country to pass a bill opposed by the NRA last year, when it exempted hospitals and mental health institutions from the law requiring all public buildings to allow concealed weapons.

“As small a victory as it was, Kansas was the only state in the country to beat the NRA last year,” Rooker said. “I feel like the tone of this debate is changing across the nation, and I look forward to the day that we can put some common sense rules back in place that still honor people and their Second Amendment rights.”

As for President Donald Trump’s call to address the threat of school shootings by arming teacher, the legislators indicated it was a non-starter.

“We don’t need more guns in our schools,” Pettey said.

Rooker said insurers will not offer coverage for schools that allow staff to carry guns.

“This notion that we’re going to arm our teachers and intervene that way is preposterous,” she said.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton.

Kansas Republican Party’s resolution against transgender identity

A member of the audience asked the Republican members of the panel about their thoughts on a resolution approved by the Kansas GOP central committee at the party’s convention earlier this month that opposes “all efforts to validate transgender identity.”

Clayton, who spoke out against the resolution on Twitter after it passed, said the thinking behind it was flawed, and that such efforts give Kansas a bad name in the business community.

“I support LGBTQIA+ rights because they are people, just they way I am and just the way my children are,” Clayton said. “But also, this is worth mentioning, this type of mentality is really bad for business.”

Rep. Jarrod Ousley.

She noted that the fallout from the passage of the “bathroom bill” in North Carolina cost that state billions of dollars in business.

But, Clayton pointed out, the anti-transgender identity language did not go into the official party platform, and that it was not binding in any way.

“It’s wrong,” Clayton said. “But it’s also irrelevant and it doesn’t mean anything.”

Last year’s tax increase and the current budget situation

A member of the audience asked the legislators to explain their support for the tax increases passed last session. (Every member of the panel voted in favor of the bill that rolled back much of the 2012 tax cuts signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback).

Rooker noted that the bill passed last year set income tax rates that were lower than had been in place prior to the 2012 cuts. She said that the increase was necessary to deal with crises in state funding for state services like the corrections department, mental health agencies, and the department for children and families.

“We stopped the bleeding…We have not resolved our problems,” Rooker said of last year’s tax bill. “I bet there’s agreement that all of us up here would appreciate to be able to cut your food sales tax. But we can’t afford to do that because that take $250, $300 million a year out of the revenue cycle.”

Stogsdill thanked his colleagues for having the courage to take was he said was a necessary, but unpopular, move to undo Brownback’s “tax experiment” which “almost bankrupted our state.”

“It took a lot of guts for those people in the legislature to turn this economy around for Kansas,” Stogsdill said. “I applaud these people up here for having the guts to do that.”

The controversy over allocation of state funds for school transportation

Rooker said the move to suspend Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis over the way that funds had been allocated to school districts for transportation was totally unjust.

“The characterization that first came out about this was all kinds of wrong,” she said, noting that Dennis and his department had been acting in accordance with the law to the best of their abilities, and that the issues in question were related to items where the “law falls silent.”

Rooker pointed out that Kansas does not provide enough funding to larger school districts, including Shawnee Mission, to cover the cost of bussing and other transportation. Shawnee Mission recieves $3 million from Kansas for student transportation, but transportation costs the district $4.4 million per year.

“Even with this controversy with the implementation of the weighting, we are still underfunding transportation costs,” she said. “The accusations made against a state employee of 53 years who has dedicated his life to the children of this state were disgusting.”

You can see full video of the forum below:

Legislative forum featuring Rooker, Clayton, Stogsdill, Ousley, and Pettey at Corinth Library. Topics will include K-12 funding, likely Medicaid expansion, maybe gun reform.

Posted by Shawnee Mission Post on Saturday, February 24, 2018