State Sen. Julia Lynn told an audience of approximately 50 people that part of the legislative process is ugly.
Lynn and state Rep. Bill Sutton updated constituents on the 2014 Kansas Legislative session on April 12. Lynn represents the northern part of Gardner in the Kansas Senate and Sutton represents both Gardner and Edgerton in the Kansas House.
The duo took questions from an often contentious audience, who asked several questions about a recently-passed education bill. The bill added $129 million in education funding and also made changes to the way teachers can be fired, also known as due process; and added a provision that allows businesses to receive a tax credit for providing low income students scholarships for private schools.
Through moderator Chris Morrow, Gardner mayor, one audience member asked why the funding bill was amended to change teacher due process policy.
“Legislators can do that,” Lynn said. “They can have amendments drawn up at the last minute. That’s how the process works. Like it or not.”
One questioner asked which Johnson County administrators, if any, supported the part of the education bill that eliminated teacher due process.
“Your administrators do have confidential conversations with us,” Lynn said. “And I am not going to share who it was that I talked with. This is a touchy subject.”
Lynn said the changes to teacher due process will make teacher contracts similar to those of other classified employees in Kansas.
“Teachers should not be retained simply based on the number of years they’ve taught,” Lynn said.
Sutton did not cast a vote on the education funding bill.
“My non-vote was a vote,” he explained.
The initial education funding bill included four policy changes, and Sutton said he supported three of the four. The first would eliminate Common Core; a second school choice provision would have offered a tax credit for parents who homeschool or send their children to private school; and a third policy piece would have provided a tax credit to corporations who offer private school scholarships to low-income kids. He said he was indifferent on a fourth policy piece of the initial bill that would change teacher tenure or due process.
By the time the final bill reached the floor, the parental tax credit and elimination of Common Core language was gone.
“We were left with due process and the corporate scholarship, which is a good program,” Sutton said.
Sutton said his non-vote was meant to send a message that the state is going in the wrong direction on education by continuing to drop potential policies that would allow school choice.
Another question, directed specifically to Sutton, asked why he supported the religious freedom legislation. The bill, which passed the House but died in the Senate, would have allowed business owners, based on their own religious beliefs, to deny services to potential customers.
Morrow read the question: “You continue to support your stance on the religious freedom bill, denying it is discriminatory,” the question addressed to Sutton read. “Yet the bill specifically calls out same sex marriage. How is calling out one group of people to be treated differently not discriminatory?”
Sutton said the bill didn’t pass the Senate, because it wasn’t ready for prime time.
Lynn said the Senate did not take up the bill, in part, because the wording of the bill did not make clear underlying intent of it. She said she was glad it didn’t pass in that form.
“But the underlying intent was valid,” Lynn said.
“What it singles out, is a business owner can not be sued for not taking part in a ceremony,” he said.
Sutton listed examples in other states in which business owners have been forced by the courts to photograph gay weddings or bake wedding cakes for gay wedding ceremonies.
“As a business owner, you don’t give up your constitutional liberties,” he said.
Audience members also expressed concerns about a bill that would eliminate the mortgage tax. Those who refinance their homes or buy new real estate with a mortgage are required to pay the tax, which is given to Kansas counties to divvy.
Lynn said when someone takes out a new mortgage, they have to pay a filing fee.
“(The mortgage tax) is a tax on top of a fee,” Lynn said. “I represent the people who write the checks.”
Audience member Peg Deaton, Gardner, said the mortgage tax survived the Great Depression.
“It has been around since 1925,” Deaton said. “Eliminating the tax would cost Johnson County $17 million.”
Lynn said elimination of the tax may mean an increase in county property taxes, but if a county needs to raise those taxes, they should vote on it and be honest about it.
Two other area legislators – Sen. Pat Apple, who represents the south side of Gardner and Edgerton in the Senate; and Rep. Willie Dove, who represents a northern portion of Gardner in the House – did not attend the meeting. Apple recently resigned from his Senate seat and was appointed to the Kansas Corporation Commission, and Dove was ill.
Legislators give update on session happenings