Capitol Update: Sen. Dinah Sykes says Dems remain ‘laser-focused’ on helping Kansans recover

"The Senate Democratic caucus remains laser-focused on doing all we can to help Kansans recover from the damage of the pandemic and put our state on a stronger footing," said Sen. Dinah Sykes in her Capitol Update column. Above, Sen. Sykes at the Post's 2020 candidate forum.

Each week, we provide Shawnee Mission area legislators the opportunity to share their thoughts about what’s happening in the state capitol. Sen. Dinah Sykes, Rep. Jo Ella Hoye and Rep. Jerry Stogsdill are scheduled to send updates this week.

Below is the submission from Democratic State Sen. Dinah Sykes, who represents District 21.

Next Wednesday is a big deadline in the Kansas Legislature. That is when the vast majority of legislation needs to clear either the House or the Senate, assuming it’s already passed out of its chamber of origin. Otherwise, it will be “dead” for the legislative session. I want to share some of what the Senate has done so far and what we’ve failed to do for our fellow Kansans.

The Senate passed a budget bill this week cutting K-12 education funding by over $560 million. Schools with higher densities of at risk students will suffer the most. While you might think those cuts would leave the state with a higher ending balance, massive tax cuts for companies mean the state will end the year $78 million in the hole. Prioritizing tax cuts, failing to fulfill our constitutional duty to fund schools, and leaving the state in the red isn’t sustainable or fiscally responsible.

Republican leadership also pushed a terrible bill that is – at best – a civil rights violation that will lead to millions of dollars in lawsuits. Proponents for the so-called Fairness in Women’s Sports Act argue that transgender girls are taking away athletic opportunities from their cisgender peers, despite KSHSAA’s reports that only 5 of the more than 100,000 student athletes in Kansas identify as transgender. KU and K-State submitted testimony in opposition to this bill, and the NCAA – which famously stopped holding revenue-generating events in states with bigoted legislation like this – has said it opposes legislation targeting trans athletes. If this bill becomes law, our state will suffer a similar economic impact.

Senate Bill 208 is bad for business, and it sends trans kids and their families a clear message that their elected officials don’t value them or their contributions to our state. Trans kids are already some of our most vulnerable students: 27% of trans teens feel unsafe going to school and 35% attempt suicide. This bill bullies trans girls and strips them of opportunities for friendship, teamwork, and inclusion. I hope the House succeeds where the Senate failed in defeating this bill.

Senate Republicans are pushing these social wedge issues that hurt Kansans and will cost our state millions, while quietly championing tax policy that puts us even further in the hole. They’re also blocking attempts to shore up struggling rural hospitals and help Kansans with unreimbursed healthcare during a pandemic. Their stonehearted opposition to Medicaid expansion means that over $460 million in expanded federal incentives under the American Recovery Plan will join the mind-boggling $2 billion Kanas has already left on the table.

The Senate Democratic caucus remains laser-focused on doing all we can to help Kansans recover from the damage of the pandemic and put our state on a stronger footing. Our members have introduced dozens of bills, ranging from hazard pay for essential workers, recommendations from the Racial Justice Commission, and, yes, Medicaid expansion. The vast majority of our bills have been blocked by leadership in committee, with little chance of ever making it to the Senate floor. We’ll keep fighting for them, though, because Kansans deserve compassionate, attentive legislators working for policies that make our state a better place.