The Kansas City School Board
Only one of 197 Missouri lawmakers voted against giving the state authority to dissolve the school board of the Kansas City district. But because House leaders decided to leverage the bill to force the Senate to pass a more controversial measure, it died. The district lost accreditation Jan. 1, but local leaders hope to regain provisional accreditation this year. With the legislature's failure to pass the intervention bill, the elected school board and new superintendent Steve Green will get the chance at a turnaround.
Who loves attention and outrage more than Rush Limbaugh? House Speaker Steve Tilley's decision to induct the bombastic radio host into the Hall of Famous Missourians created plenty of both. For better or worse, the 2012 legislative session will likely be remembered for Tilley's decision to lock the doors of the House of Representatives in order to hold a private induction ceremony for Limbaugh.
The legislative session began with Gov. Jay Nixon calling for $106 million in funding cuts to the state's public colleges and universities. It ended with a budget that kept funding stable for the first time in several years, and even included some additional money for a handful of the state's smallest universities.
It's still legal to fire someone in Missouri for being or seeming gay. Legislation requiring public schools to adopt policies against bullying with respect to sexual orientation never got a public hearing. Meanwhile, lawmakers pondered but didn't pass a so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill that would have prohibited public schools from talking about sexual orientation except in terms of reproduction.
The 2012 legislative session began with House Speaker Steve Tilley pledging sweeping changes to public education, including expanded charter schools, elimination of teacher tenure and tax credit scholarships for private school students. Yet in the end, only charter expansion ended up on the governor's desk, and the back-and-forth over other issues helped derail bills revising the school funding formula and modifying student transfer laws.
No one was sadder to see Missouri lawmakers go home for the year than late night satirists Stephen Colbert, Jay Leno and Jon Stewart. The 2012 legislative session provided rich material. From the attempt to protect gun owners from discrimination while opposing the same protections for someone who is gay to the installation of a bronze of Limbaugh in the Capitol, Missouri legislators made easy fodder for comics.
Gov. Sam Brownback
He got the big tax reform he wanted -- even if it was more than what he wanted. But at what price? Brownback is counting on an economic revival to counter critics who believe the tax cuts will leave the state bleeding millions. Other reasons for the governor to celebrate this year: budget surpluses, pension reform and Medicaid.
House Speaker Mike O'Neal
O'Neal drove home a giant tax cut that was handed to him by the Senate. He successfully kept the House from immersing itself in an ugly immigration debate that would divide Republicans going into this year's elections.
The dental industry quietly won a battle over the creation of a midlevel dental providers who could legally do such things as fill cavities and pull teeth. The law aims to help better serve the poor and parts of the state without many dentists. Dentists persuaded legislators to pass a much less comprehensive law after arguing that midlevel providers would pose safety risks for patients.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach
He couldn't get strict measures for cracking down on illegal immigration. He also couldn't get the Legislature to agree to move up the date for requiring voter IDs in time for the presidential election. His calls for the Legislature to approve redistricting plans fell on deaf ears. And he failed to get a federal judge to limit the number of parties intervening in the redistricting lawsuit.
Sens. Steve Morris, John Vratil, Jay Emler and others made several tactical errors that cost them the high ground in debates over redistricting and tax reform. They defeated governor's tax plan -- and then gave it life. Making things worse, senators rewrote the governor's plan to make it so much more expensive that few, if anyone, thought it would pass in the House. It did.
Sen. Les Donovan
The Wichita Republican and Senate tax committee chairman twice tried hammering out a compromise for moderate tax cuts and twice he couldn't get his chamber on board. Donovan's negotiations were limited by the fact that the governor had the option of signing a much larger tax plan that the Senate and the House had already passed.
Kansas City officials and local lawmakers called this bill the city's biggest legislative achievement this year. The state gave Kansas City the authority to establish a land bank to acquire vacant or abandoned properties and set them aside for rehab or resale so that they can be put back on the tax rolls. A Federal Reserve Bank study found that there were 12,000 vacant residential properties in the city. Upkeep and maintenance on vacant property costs the city about $1 million a year.
Missouri voters will decide this fall whether to give the governor more control over the selection of judges to serve on the state Supreme Court and state Court of Appeals. The change would allow the governor to appoint four of the seven members of the judicial selection committee. Currently, governors only appoint three of seven members, with three elected by members of the Missouri Bar Association and the final spot held by the chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court.
Two bills passed on the legislative session's final day takes aim at the federal health care law. The first measure allows employers to refuse to provide health insurance that covers contraception, abortion or sterilization if those services go against their religious or moral beliefs. The second would let voters to decide this fall whether the governor should be allowed to establish a state-based health insurance exchange.
The only major education bill to clear both the House and Senate this year would allow charter schools in any unaccredited school district or in an accredited school district upon approval of a local school board. Charter schools receive tax dollars but operate independently from public school districts. They're currently allowed only in Kansas City and St. Louis.
More than $30 million of casino fees were redirected from early childhood programs in order to fund the state's veterans' nursing homes. Early childhood programs would instead receive $35 million from Missouri's share of a nationwide settlement with tobacco companies. Missouri operates seven skilled-care nursing homes that have beds for 1,350 military veterans, with a waiting list of about 1,700 additional veterans.
Lawmakers voted to make it cheaper for companies to ship radioactive material through Missouri. While Republicans originally proposed exempting one Canadian company from fees and inspections on shipments of radioactive materials, a compromise instead will lower the fees for all companies. Fees are used to pay for inspections, security escorts by the Missouri Highway Patrol, training and equipment.
K.C. schools takeover
Despite near unanimous support among lawmakers, a bill that allowing state takeover of the failing Kansas City Public Schools died without coming up for a final vote. House Republican leaders refused to send the bill to go to the governor unless the Senate passed a controversial measure barring seniority from playing a role in teacher layoffs. Facing a Democratic filibuster, the teacher layoff bill died and took the Kansas City schools bill down with it.
Legislation reinstating campaign finance and ethics rules previously struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court never gained traction. The original law was tossed over procedural issues. The ruling nixed rules banning the laundering of donations through campaign committees, expanding the investigative powers for the Missouri Ethics Commission and a mandate that donations of $500 or more to be reported within 48 hours during the legislative session.
Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed legislation making it harder for employees to win workplace discrimination lawsuits by requiring them to prove discrimination was the "motivating factor" and not simply a "contributing factor" in the employer's action. The legislation made its way to the governor's desk despite a nearly 15-hour filibuster. Nixon vetoed an identical bill last year.
A judge ruled the ballot summary for a proposed constitutional amendment authorizing a photo ID requirement to vote was inadequate, striking the question from the fall ballot. Lawmakers were unable to approve a replacement ballot measure. Additionally, legislation that would implement the photo ID requirement stalled, passing the House but never getting serious attention in the Senate.
Exemption of public projects in disaster areas from the prevailing wage in the Senate. Another bill that would have made Missouri the 23rd state to pass a "right to work" law never got serious attention from either legislative chamber.
A handful of bills that fell into the realm of "economic development" never gained traction. Efforts to expand tax credits to attract auto suppliers and data centers were among the bills that faltered. Meanwhile, a judge struck down the Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act -- a fund created last year to help science and high-tech industries grow around the state.
The Legislature passed a tax bill costing about $3.7 billion over five years. It collapses the state's current three-bracket system to two brackets starting in 2013. It cuts the highest income tax rates to 4.9 percent from 6.45 percent and 6.25 percent. It also reduces the lowest tax rate to 3 percent from 3.5 percent. It increases the standard deduction for married joint filers to $9,000 from $6,000. The law also allows the state sales tax to drop by six-tenths of a cent in 2013. It keeps deductions for charitable contributions and interest on home mortgages, but cuts the sales tax rebates on groceries. It retains deduction for contributions to a college savings plan.
Pharmacists gained the right to refuse to provide drugs they believe might cause an abortion. The new law bars anyone from being required to prescribe or administer a drug they "reasonably believe" might result in the termination of a pregnancy. Abortion opponents said the bill is a narrow upgrade of a 1969 Kansas law that said no one should be required to perform or participate in abortion procedures. Critics said it would put pharmacists and doctors in a position to refuse to provide birth control.
State base funding per student will increase by $60 in a plan to spend $40 million more on elementary and secondary education. The extra money means $2 million more for Shawnee Mission schools, $2.1 million more for Olathe, $1.7 million more for Blue Valley and $1.8 million for Kansas City, Kan. However, a proposal that would have given some districts the ability to raise property taxes for extra-curricular activities died.
Lawmakers agreed to use money from three state-owned casinos to solidify the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, which has a projected $8.3 billion shortfall between expected revenue and the benefits promised to teachers and government workers in the next 20 years. The bill also sets up a new retirement plan for public employees hired after 2014 to limit the state's future financial risks.
A broadly worded new law bars Kansas courts from basing their decisions on foreign law. While the bill doesn't specifically mention Shariah, or Islamic, law, critics thought the measure was aimed at Muslims. The law says said courts cannot apply any foreign law or legal code that would not grant the same right and privileges granted by the state or federal constitutions.
One stoke of a pen could move this into the "fail" column. But for now, there's $700,000 in the state budget for the arts, which will now be part of the so-called Kansas Creative Arts Commission within the state commerce department. The state also will be adding a check-off to the income tax for anyone who wants to contribute to the arts.
For the second consecutive year, proposals for cracking down on illegal immigration didn't get far. A House committee blocked a number of immigration bills, including one requiring police to verify the citizenship of anyone they detain if they reasonably suspect that person is here illegally. A rival plan allowing undocumented immigrants to help fill state-certified labor shortages in agriculture and other industries also died in the House.
Brownback lost a bid to gain control of state appeals court appointments. The Senate rejected a plan that would have moved Kansas toward a system similar to the federal government, where the chief executive nominates judges subject to legislative confirmation. State appeals court judges are now screened by a nine-member nominating commission that includes five attorneys, plus four non-attorneys named by the governor. The governor chooses someone from a list of three nominees selected by the commission.
The Legislature refused to go along with Secretary of State Kris Kobach's attempt to move up the start date for requiring proof of citizenship when registering to vote. The proof-of-citizenship requirement is set to start next January. Kobach wanted it to start June 15. The House approved the new start date, but the proposal died in the Senate amid concern that the state Department of Motor Vehicles wouldn't be ready to impose the requirement so soon because of a computer upgrade.
The Kansas House buried a bill requiring radiologists to inform women they have dense breast tissue that can hide cancer detection during a mammogram exam. Federal law currently requires radiologists to send mammogram results to a woman and her physician. But nothing requires the report to contain details about the density of her breast tissue. Experts maintain that puts some women at risk of a missed cancer diagnosis.
The size of Johnson County's delegation in the Legislature was left in limbo because of the nasty debate over redrawing election districts. Population numbers suggest Johnson County should receive one new Senate district and three new House districts following the census. But the Legislature didn't finish drawing new districts before going home and it's now in the hands of three federal judges.
School finance reform
Brownback's plan for overhauling the state's school finance formula would have given school districts unlimited power to raise property taxes to fund their operations. However, the plan ran into opposition from school districts that complained that it shifted more responsibility for education funding onto local school districts and didn't adequately link funding to the cost of educating a child. There also was concern the plan would lock school districts into an inadequately low funding level and not account for increasing expenses.
Brad Cooper, firstname.lastname@example.org.