by Joe Bollig
TOPEKA — Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, can describe the recently concluded legislative session with one word: disappointing.
And he can state the reason with two words: Kansas Senate.
It’s the same old story, year after year.
Great bills go sailing through the Kansas House with big majorities, only to be stymied in the Senate, he said.
“As is usually the case on the Senate side — whether it’s a life bill, conscience bill, religious freedom bill — they don’t get a hearing,” said Schuttloffel.
“[These bills] don’t get any sort of attention through the regular process on the Senate side,” he continued. “We have to use procedural gimmickry to force a floor vote. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
One such good bill killed by the Senate, said Schuttloffel, was the Pro-Life Protections Act, House Substitute Bill 313 (formerly H.B. 2598). It passed the house 88 to 31. Senate president Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, referred the bill to the Senate Standing Committee on Federal and State Affairs.
“[This] major pro-life bill would have prevented any taxpayer subsidization of abortion,” said Schuttloffel. “It had a lot of odds and ends we weren’t able to get to last year when we passed our major reform abortion bills.”
The main bright spot of the otherwise disappointing session, which ended May 21, was the passage of the Healthcare Rights of Conscience Act, which was House Substitute for S.B. 62 (formerly H.B. 2523).
This bill, signed on May 15, protects health care workers from job loss and medical entities from lawsuits if they refuse to prescribe abortion-inducing drugs or devices, provide abortion referrals, or participate in abortion procedures.
“It builds on existing law, which says you can’t be forced by your employer to participate in abortions,” said Schutt-loffel. “That’s an older law that needed to be updated in view of advancements in abortion pharmaceutical technology.”
A second, but minor, success was a floor debate in the House on school choice.
“We passed a school choice bill out of committee, got it to the House floor, but it was defeated,” said Schuttloffel.
“It was a very small start, focused on giving a limited number of low-income families the opportunity to attend private schools they otherwise couldn’t afford,” he continued. “It would have empowered parents to have a choice where their kids go to school.”
A final positive development was an informational hearing in the House about a death penalty repeal bill. No vote was taken, however.
But the conference’s top priority this year was the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, House Substitute for S.B. 142 (formerly H.B. 2260).
This bill would have protected the right of religious individuals and religious institutions to act consistent to the dictates of conscience and to live their faith as full participants in society. This bill passed the House 91 to 33, but couldn’t make it through the Senate.
Even given some positive moves and that one candle in the dark, the Healthcare Right of Conscience Act, the bottom line is the session was a disappointment.
“We’re disappointed. . . . We couldn’t get a Senate vote on the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, and very disappointed our Religious Freedom Act didn’t get to the governor’s desk,” said Schuttloffel.