Capitol Update: Rep. Jarrod Ousley says Statehouse partisan split impacting committee work

Rep. Jarrod Ousley said the partisan split in the Kansas House resulted in a contentious school funding bill passing in the K-12 budget committee, which Ousley said will be "devastating" for Kansas public schools. File photo.

Each week, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Rep. Owen Donohoe, Rep. Jarrod Ousley and Sen. Ethan Corson are scheduled to send updates this week.

Below is the submission from Democratic State Rep. Jarrod Ousley who represents District 24.

This session is moving quickly. Bills left unfinished with the legislature’s early close and bills introduced this session have our revisors working double time, with our committees scheduling multiples per hearing at a time. Each committee is proportionally representative of the body of the House as a whole, so on a committee of twelve, four seats are held by members of the Democratic minority, which allows the Republican majority to pass legislation from committees it supports.

The results of the partisan split can be readily seen in certain committees, for example K-12 budget, and on others, the subject of a bill can still carry enough weight to garner bi-partisan support, as we’ve seen in the Committee for Children and Seniors.

In K-12 Budget this last week, the budget passed through the committee with a partisan split, with the four Democrats, Rep. Valdenia Winn, Rep. Jo Ella Hoye, Rep. Stephanie Byers, and myself, voting no to multiple amendments and the final bill. The Republican majority supported re-directing one-time Federal Covid relief dollars intended to catch children who have lost ground during the pandemic up, to areas that are typically the responsibility of the state.

The majority of committee members also placed multiple policy provisions in the budget, including expanding tax credit scholarships (redirecting public tax dollars to private schools), educational savings accounts based on an American Legislative Exchange Council bill which also redirects public tax dollars to private schools, limited school term days and hours that a student could participate remotely, among other things.

For a full recap of how devastating this bill will be for Kansas public schools, you can read the Kansas Association of School Boards assessment of this budget here.

The collaborative efforts in the Children and Seniors Committee, however, were markedly different. On Monday, a bill I have worked on under three different governors, creating the Office of the Child Advocate, received bi-partisan support in sponsorship, and passed out of committee on Monday. House bill 2345 creates an Office for a Child Advocate to advocate for children in Kansas’ custody, and to collect data and identify areas of improvement to provide recommendations to a legislative oversight committee.

The office is designed to have contributing oversight from each branch of the state’s governing bodies, with the Governor and Chief Supreme Court Justice making a duel appointment, with Senate confirmation, and both the House and the Senate participating in the committee to which the advocate supports. Based in part on the Legislative Post Audit Committee, the Advocate could potentially be removed by the Attorney General if they were to fail to follow Kansas law and meet their obligations.

The Advocate would serve a six-year term, with the potential for renewal, and as such, would serve under more than one administration. Kansas would be joining the ranks of other states with a child advocate, investigator, or ombudsman, including Missouri, and the Child Advocate from Missouri testified in committee on how she executes the duty of her office, and how having an advocate in Kansas would be very useful in helping to track and support children whose families move back and forth across state lines to avoid welfare checks.

Other child welfare advocates, including Kansas Action for Children and Appleseed support the bill, and the next step will be for House leadership to allow the bill to come to a vote on the floor. We are on the floor all week next week, and it is my hope we have the opportunity to do so.

As always, it is my privilege to serve my constituents in House District 24. I can be reached at jarrod.ousley@house.ks.gov at (785) 296-7366 and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JarrodOusleyforthe24th/