As of late last Thursday, the legislature has reached the traditional mid-point of session known as Turnaround. All bills that have passed the House or Senate will now go to the other chamber for hearings and scrutiny. Any bill not heard on the chamber floor is dead unless it was introduced in an exempt committee or blessed by the Senate President or Speaker of the House. The budget is one of those exempt pieces of legislation, but much of the work on it is being postponed until after the April revenue numbers are released.
Last week we debated 65 bills and voted on 51 bills in one day. Spreading that legislation out would lead to a more transparent process and allow for more constituent feedback, so I hope now that the conflict over the Joint Rules has been resolved, we will see a more measured approach. Since I do not want to double the size of the local paper, I will try to highlight some of the bills that received a lot of debate.
Senate Bill 70 requires new background check and reporting requirements for teachers who have broken the law. Sounds like a good idea and I did not have an issue with the underlying effort to protect our children from those who should not be in the classroom. However, one part of the bill would require school districts to finger print teachers every five years. I’m not a forensics expert, but I’m pretty sure most people’s fingerprints do not change over a period of five years. Since the legislature does not require this of many other professionals, such as law enforcement and those who work with children and seniors, why would we put this extra cost on teachers and local schools? I supported an amendment to remove this part of the bill, but because that amendment failed, I could not support the original, flawed bill.
Another bill, Senate Bill 171, dealt with moving the election dates for cities and school boards from the spring to the fall. This bill, as originally drafted, would have also made those elections partisan. The bill has currently been amended to be non-partisan and on the odd years but could be changed back to the original form. Partisan elections have become so mired with distracting and misleading attacks and propaganda. We should not be discouraging local community leaders from public service by making city and school activities partisan as well.
Senate Bill 60 would allow home school children to participate in extra curricular activities. Senator Knox, who has experience on this issue as a home school parent, introduced the bill. In the course of debate, the difference between co-curricular and extra-curricular activities was brought to light. Students participate in co-curricular activities when they enroll in a school for a foreign language or high-level math course. Extra-curricular generally include non-credit sports and artistic activities. Personally, I would be concerned about recruiting activities, limiting the opportunities of full-time public school children, and putting another unfunded mandate on schools.
Senate Bill 188 would force school districts to publish budgets online as required by statute, or else pay a penalty of $1,000 per day. The bill did not give any direction for the money other than the state general fund. I supported an amendment that would have listed schools that are not compliant with the statute on the State Department of Education website, but that amendment did not pass. This is an unnecessary unfunded mandate. School budgets are already available to the public.
Senate Bill 56, introduced by Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook of Johnson County, would make it easier to prosecute teachers for showing any “allegedly harmful” material to minors. This bill was brought to us last year because of a single inappropriate incident that occurred in a Johnson County school that was fully addressed by parents and the local school district. Like the finger-printing bill, I think this is another example of state government trying to be big brother in all of our local school districts and classrooms. If the state government is going to micromanage school districts like this, why do we have local school boards? I trust our teachers, and I do not think we should expose all of them to frivolous prosecution for the poor choices of a few.
There is more I could share, but I have reached my allotted number of words for this week’s column. If you would like more information about the bills we are debating or hearing in committees you can go to our Kansas Legislative website http://www.kslegislature.org.