Kansas GOP in the House, Senate preach unity at start of 2023 legislative session
Lawmakers say they will try to work across the aisle, with bills on transgender youth, electric car taxes and rainy day funding up for discussion
Senate President Ty Masterson, a Republican from Wichita, said he hoped to find common ground with Gov. Kelly on tax issues. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — It’s all about unity and bipartisanship, according to Kansas leadership at the start of the legislative session. Gov. Laura Kelly said she would seek to work with opposing parties to find common ground during her Monday swearing-in ceremony.
Senate President Ty Masterson, a Republican from Wichita, said the governor’s call for political civility and bringing down partisan temperatures in the Capitol were welcome.
He said the GOP-led Senate would prefer Republicans meet the newly reelected governor in the middle of the political spectrum, especially on issues such as tax policy.
“We’d love to meet in the middle and have those words have meaning,” Masterson said after the Senate completed its first day of business. “I’m optimistic, I really am. People say, ‘Well, she’s not accountable to voters anymore, so she can go as far left as she wants.’ The flip side is she is not beholden to that kind of radical base. She can truly govern from the middle.”
Masterson told reporters the nation was headed for harsh economic times and $1 billion lawmakers deposited in 2022 into a rainy-day fund for state government would be insufficient. He suggested a logical approach would be to dedicate another $1 billion of the state’s revenue surplus in reserve.
“We know a recession is coming,” he said. “We need to put a significant amount back in the rainy-day fund. The cliff will come,” he said.
Masterson also said the Legislature and the governor’s office should be able to cobble together tax reform bills that offer something for everyone.
He said a measure wiping out the state’s sales tax on groceries ahead of the current January 2025 target could be packaged with income tax code changes. That bundle of bills should feature adoption of a flat income tax rate for individual taxpayers, he said. The goal should be 5% or less, he said.
“There might be some package we can work through together,” the Senate president said. “I’d love to have a flat tax.”
Over in the House, Republican House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, supported adding money to the rainy-day fund, though he said he had some reservations about working with the governor on tax issues.
“We’ll just see where it goes, it may not be exactly what she wants, but we will have some tax policy,” Hawkins said. “Her speech was good, inaugurations are all about speeches. She did a good speech, but I don’t really put a lot of thought into each piece of it. She says what she says, and we got work to do, and we’re going to do our work.”
Republicans outnumber Democrats 85-40 in the House, retaining enough seats during the November election to keep a GOP supermajority in place. With the majority of seats held by Republicans, the GOP has enough votes to override any Kelly veto.
Hawkins said priorities would be water, fixing the economy and foster care, among others. House Republicans and Democrats both said they would try to work across the aisle, in speeches following the House swearing-in ceremony.
“We will work across the aisle when we can. We will disagree strongly, but respectfully when we must. But in the end, our focus will be on serious, long-term solutions for our constituents,” Hawkins said.
Minority leader Vic Miller, D-Topeka, echoed this message of unity.
“We need to make sure our passions are tempered by reason and a degree of calm. And just as importantly, we need to be quick to apologize when our emotions get the better of our words and arguments,” Miller said.
The 11 House bills currently on file include bills defining grounds for impeachment of Kansas Supreme Court Justices, providing a sales tax exemption for diapers and feminine hygiene products, COVID-19 vaccine exemptions for children and an electric vehicle tax, among others.
No gun safety legislation has been filed for the legislative session in the House or Senate as of Monday, though some Kansans are pushing for reform.
Activists from Moms Demand Action lined the entrances to the House of Representatives and the Senate, wearing matching sweatshirts to advocate for increased gun safety measures. Lawrence mother Laura Stratton said her family moved to Kansas from New Orleans to raise their children in a safe environment.
“It’s really important to us that Kansas continues to enact more and more gun sense legislation so that our kids we moved here to have, can grow up safe, like everyone else’s kids,” Stratton said.
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