Opinion

Let us now mourn just a few of the ways lawmakers missed out on helping Kansans

May 12, 2021 3:33 am

With some reasonable-sounding bills this session, the Kansas Legislature didn’t even try to aim for the stars. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Really, the first responders weren’t asking for much.

It was a surprise to me, as I imagine it was to many Kansas Reflector readers, that they weren’t already getting worker’s compensation benefits for PTSD.

“Kansas state law does not recognize PTSD as an eligible workman’s compensation claim. There are no job-related mental health benefits; care is only covered if an employee received a physical injury,” wrote Chrissy Bartel, president of the Kansas Emergency Medical Services Association’s Peer Support Society, in a Reflector guest commentary back in early March.

House Bill 2393 would have fixed that.

“It is urgent that our legislators vote to pass this bill and solve this problem,” Bartel wrote. “Just in the last week of February, there were two responder suicides within days of each other. We do not have time to waste.”

House Bill 2393 never got a hearing.

Assigned to the clearly very busy Commerce, Labor and Economic Development committee, relief for the firefighters, emergency responders and police officers would have to wait.

Granted, adding that benefit would have cost the state $4.6 million, but whether that’s a reasonable price for all of us to pay out of respect to first responders would have been a worthy debate.

Another bill that would have saved the state a couple hundred thousand dollars — while buying an infinite amount of goodwill — also never got a hearing. But then, Rep. Mark Schreiber, a Republican from Emporia, never did think his legislation to abolish the death penalty would get a hearing this session, despite its 33 co-sponsors from both parties.

When I spoke with Schreiber back in February, I thought it would be an easy way for Kansas lawmakers to show us “that mythical yet evasive unity some people say they want right now.”

Other important laws passed this session with broad bipartisan support and the governor has signed them. Still, it’s time to pour a few out for lost opportunities.

A bill championed by three rural Republicans and three urban/suburban Democrats would have been a baseline good-faith effort to repair a problematic aspect of law enforcement. House Bill 2133, sponsored by Republican representatives Brett Fairchild of St. John, Michael Houser of Columbus and Michael Murphy of Sylva, and Democratic representatives Gail Finney of Wichita, Brett Parker of Overland Park and Rui Xu of Westwood, would have required law enforcement officers executing search warrants at residential premises “to be uniformed and to knock and announce themselves before entering the property.”

It’s hard to know who could legitimately argue that’s not a good idea, but we won’t know because it didn’t get a hearing in the House committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice.

Also seems like a good idea: Being able to put yourself, voluntarily and for reasons only you need to know, on a list where you can’t buy a gun. Could maybe save a life but who knows. No hearing.

New Kansas election laws were passed, vetoed and overridden. None of that action included House Bill 2278, which provides for “publication of signed statements of fair campaign practices.” Among other things, it would establish “consequences for political advertising that materially misstates or misrepresents facts about a candidate’s position and voting record on an issue.” Who could argue against that? Someone would have found a way, if there’d ever been a hearing.

I could go on like this for a long time. Anyone could, just clicking on all the bills listed under each committee on the Kansas Legislature’s website, lamenting what Legislators spent their time on and dreaming about what might have been.

Here’s hoping Kansas lawmakers think about the next time they need a first responder.

Correction: An earlier version of this column referred to House Bill 2170, which proposed  amending the Kansas rural housing incentive district act to permit bond funding for vertical residential renovation of older buildings in central business districts and did not get a hearing. That legislation ultimately passed in Senate Bill 90.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

C.J. Janovy
C.J. Janovy

C.J. Janovy is a veteran journalist with deep roots in the Midwest. She was the Opinion Editor for the Kansas Reflector from launch unit l June 2021. Before joining the Reflector, she was an editor and reporter at Kansas City’s NPR affiliate, KCUR. Before that, she edited the city’s alt-weekly newspaper, The Pitch, where Janovy and her writers won numerous local, regional and national awards. Her book “No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas” was among the Kansas Notable Books of 2019.

MORE FROM AUTHOR