Written by Scott Rothschild
Lawrence Journal World

Republicans, who hold a significant majority in the state House of Representatives, are pushing issues that have little to do with improving the economy. At least that’s what Democrats in the Legislature say.

His party outnumbered 92-33, House Democratic Leader Paul Davis, of Lawrence, ticked off a long list of issues that Republicans muscled to the forefront just last week.

They include more abortion restrictions, increased regulation of sexually oriented businesses, an Arizona-like crackdown on illegal immigrants, decreasing a tax break for working poor families, eliminating the corporate income tax and trying to change the Kansas Constitution to put public schools and higher education under direct control of the governor, Sam Brownback, a conservative Republican.

“The extreme wing of the Republican Party has got the train moving at full speed,” Davis said.

The week before last, the House GOP took aim at unions, approving a bill that prevents unions from collecting dues through members’ paychecks that can be used for political purposes, and prohibiting public employee unions from endorsing candidates.

But House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, defended the House GOP’s work product.

He said it is not unusual for the House to advance many of its policy issues to the Senate while the committees are working on state agency budgets.

“Our caucus is very interested in drilling into these budgets,” O’Neal said. “They are still very focused on the fiscal side of the equation.” The state faces a nearly $500 million revenue shortfall for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

But Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, said much of what House Republicans have pushed through hasn’t gained traction in the Senate even though Republicans in the Senate hold a 31-9 majority.

For example, he said, the proposed constitutional amendment by O’Neal to abolish the State Board of Education, whose members are elected, and Kansas Board of Regents, whose members are appointed, and create a Cabinet-level secretary of education would be “dead on arrival in the Senate.”

Voters, Hensley said, want legislators “to be doing things to create jobs.”

When asked to comment on the legislating going on over in the House, Senate President Steve Morris, a Republican from Hugoton, focused more on what was going on in the Senate.

He noted the Senate has approved bills dealing with workers’ compensation, unemployment compensation and business taxes. He also pointed out that Senate Republicans proposed an initiative to increase the number of engineers produced in Kansas, a plan that was also praised by Democrats.

“Our folks believe trying to work on providing additional jobs to the state should be our priority,” Morris said.

Davis said a defining moment of the 2011 legislative session occurred last week in the House during debate on the bill to add more restrictions to strip bars.

Democrats tried to amend the bill to make it easier to build a casino in southeast Kansas. Republicans blocked the measure.

“Instead of creating new jobs, extreme Republicans are playing morality police,” Davis said.