Capitol Update: Sen. Sykes says pandemic, oil prices will have serious impacts on economy that must be factored into budget

Sen. Dinah Sykes says she was "struck by how much worse things could have been" this legislative session.

Each legislative session, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Rep. Cindy Neighbor and Sen. Dinah Sykes are scheduled to send updates this week. Sen. Sykes’s column is below:

How the 2020 Kansas legislature will finish the session isn’t clear (at least as I am writing). The legislature has done very little work in the past few weeks. Like the rest of the country, we need to decide the prudent course of action in light of the pandemic gripping our country.

The efforts of the Senate President and House leadership to block Medicaid expansion continues to force good legislation to languish as those leaders attempt to extort the legislature into a constitutional amendment on the August ballot. Legislation I introduced to clarify the process for relinquishing firearms as required by law has not received a hearing. Legislation I introduced to require insurers to cover diagnostic mammograms has not received a hearing. A bill I co-sponsored for mental health parity received a hearing in the House, but no action in the Senate. The legislature must find a way to let the process work. The well-being and lives of Kansans are at stake.

Representative Hineman introduced a potential compromise on the constitutional amendment this week. His proposal would have placed a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that did not empower the legislature to regulate abortion in cases of rape, incest, or when necessary to save the life of the mother. This attempt at a compromise will likely do nothing to break the impasse; however, it does show that supporters of the original amendment would rather it fail than compromise in the smallest way.

The shape of the rest of the legislative session isn’t clear. Each year the legislature must pass a budget. As businesses and schools across the country close or institute work from home requirements, the legislature will need to decide if we should continue to meet. Some may wish to pass a budget quickly next week to end the session early and send everyone home. I think that course of action is wrong for at least two important reasons.

First, the COVID-19 crisis and the falling price of oil will have serious economic impacts on our state. The fiscal implications of those impacts are not clear. Passing a budget without accounting for those impacts is irresponsible. As our state continues to recover from the Brownback experiment, the margins for error are very small. Hastily passing a budget without understanding the revenue picture is risky and might undo the good progress our state has enjoyed under the leadership of Governor Kelly.

Second, over 130,000 Kansans would have better access to healthcare if enough of the legislature who already supports Medicaid expansion would stand up to the leaders who are beholden to special interests. As we face a global pandemic, we should not abandon working Kansans who would benefit from Medicaid expansion. If the legislature passes a budget without voting on Medicaid expansion, we are walking away from the Kansans who cannot afford to stay home from work and have inadequate access to healthcare.

This crisis does expose another weakness in how the state conducts its business. While many employees are continuing to work from their own homes, the legislature has no contingency plan to continue to work during this kind of crisis. As legislators, we need to find solutions that allow us to continue to do the good work of the people in a transparent way even when meeting together in the same physical space is unwise.