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Posts Tagged ‘Kansas Chamber of Commerce’

Partisan Politics Kills People: When Covid Came to Kansas

Tue ,18/01/2022

“Had the United States Republican leaders developed strong guidelines for dealing with Covid 19, the Kansas Legislature would probably have followed them. However, no guidelines were forthcoming, and the pandemic became a partisan political issue. “

Covid-19 first appeared in the United States in January of 2020. It spread rapidly and by early March cases began to appear in Kansas. Two legislators were required to quarantine because they had been exposed to the virus. Governor Kelly declared a state of emergency and issued a series of executive orders designed to keep the virus from spreading. When cases began to appear in Topeka, some members of the Kansas House of Representatives became alarmed. Several of them had health problems that put them at risk. They realized that if they were exposed, the virus would be carried to all parts of Kansas when the legislature adjourned. They decided to pass the budget and adjourn as soon as possible.

To make sure someone was in charge of the virus response when the Legislature was not in session, the House passed a bill giving the Governor emergency powers to manage the virus response until January 2021. The Senate, however, did not want to give that much power to the Governor, saying she might take private property or take your guns away. She could not and would not, but that set up a week of haggling before the Legislature finally passed SB 40 which limited the Governor’s emergency powers. It put a time limit on the emergency declaration and gave the Legislative Coordinating Council, (LCC), whose majority is the Republican Leadership, the right to veto any of the Governor’s emergency orders.

The LCC and the Governor were able to reach acceptable compromises on most issues. However, with Easter coming up, the LCC canceled her executive order that limited the size of gatherings to 10. The Governor sued, and the court ruled she had the power to make decisions under the emergency declaration until April 25th. That prompted the Republican Leadership to call a Special Session to pass legislation to restrict the Governor’s powers. She vetoed it, and there were not enough votes to override her veto. Later, the Governor had to call another Special Session as it was necessary to extend the disaster declaration. There, the legislature passed legislation extending the emergency declaration, but it also gave counties the control of COVID restrictions. The Governor could not veto this, as it would have ended Kansas’s emergency declaration and cost the state billions of dollars in disaster aid. Giving the counties control of the Covid response turned out to be a disaster as many counties refused to enforce public health guidelines.

The Kansas Legislature did not set a good example. Our public health experts said we could stop the spread of Covid by wearing masks, following good hygiene practices, socially distancing, and avoiding mass gatherings. The first Special Session had rules for following those health guidelines, but the Republican leadership did not enforce them. It soon ended up with over 100 legislators, with few wearing masks, packed together in the House chamber. This was in violation of the public health restrictions, but the Republican leaders seemed not to care. By bad example, bad legislation, and inflammatory rhetoric, the Legislative Leadership politicized a public health issue and destroyed Kansas‘s opportunity to contain the virus. Those who complain about damage to the economy and the mental health issues caused by isolation have only the Legislative Leadership to blame. They managed to nullify the Governor’s plan to control the virus in the state, and that has been a disaster. By giving the counties control of the COVID-19 response, Kansas ended up with a patchwork of regulations across the state with 25 counties that followed the public health guidelines and 80 counties that did not.

For example, the Sedgwick County Commissioners immediately voted to relax the health guidelines. The number of Covid cases in Sedgwick County soon grew to over 11,000 with over 130 deaths – and the toll is still increasing. It is now at 75,671 cases with 891 deaths. The virus toll soon grew in Kansas to over 75,000 cases and over 1000 deaths and is now at 500,400 cases with 6,900 deaths. Humans are the virus’ main host, so every case increases the chance of further spread – or even mutation of the virus. This did not have to happen. Our Republican Leadership has shown that they are incapable of keeping us safe.

Vaccines for Covid 19 became available in December of 2020 and were made free to everyone in the United States. Two doses of the vaccine and a booster have proven to be effective in preventing or lessening the severity of Covid 19 and its variants. Booster shots are very important, as they make the vaccines more effective against the Omicron strain of the virus. In spite of effective, free vaccines, the number of cases of Covid in Kansas is still increasing. The partisan battles undertaken by the Kansas legislature have shifted from size restrictions on meetings, mask mandates, testing, and contact tracing – to resisting vaccinations. Though effective vaccines have been available for almost 2 years, over 39% of eligible Kansans still remain unvaccinated.

The Federal government mandated that Federal employees, healthcare workers, and employees in large private businesses either be vaccinated or tested weekly. The Kansas Legislature leaders were so incensed by this that they wanted to call another Special Session in November to discuss how to end the Federal government’s overreach. It is strange that Speaker Ron Rychmann supported this as he had a serious case of Covid in July. Though he kept it a secret and made light of it when discovered, he spent ten days in the hospital and was quite sick. Still, he fought to hold the Special Session with the goal of ending vaccination mandates. The November Special Session required the signatures of two-thirds of the legislators, but with a little help from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce (KCC), they were able to get signatures from all the Republicans. How did that come about?

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Job Act allowed corporations who hid their intellectual assets offshore to bring them back at a reduced tax rate. During the 2019 legislative session, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce thought Kansas businesses that had hidden their assets offshore, should get a Kansas tax cut as well. The bill would have cost the state about $600 million over three years. There was little justification for doing that and it failed as a number of moderate Republicans opposed it. During the 2020 election, the KCC targeted the moderate Republicans and they were purged from the legislature. In 2021, the KCC got the tax it wanted but it had unintended consequences. The purge of moderate Republicans gave a supermajority to the far-right Republican legislators who were opposed to vaccines and public health restrictions. There is little the KCC could have done that would have hurt Kansas and its businesses more.

The Special Session to end Federal vaccine mandates ended up with a compromise bill which the Governor agreed to sign. It allowed employees to opt out of vaccines and required employers to accept medical and religious exemptions without question. If an employee is terminated for refusal to be vaccinated, they may file for unemployment. Employers who deny an exemption request or terminate an employee for not being vaccinated can be fined up to $50,000 per violation. This puts businesses in a tough position as the federal and state requirements are different. This comes in spite of the Republicans’ claimed pro-business stance, and their concerns that the depletion of unemployment funds might cause a tax increase.

Several states, including Kansas, sued the federal government to stop the vaccine mandates. This should have had little chance of success as there are precedents for vaccination mandates. A 1905 Supreme Court ruling, Jacobson v Massachusetts, upheld the state’s right to require vaccinations. Although the ruling only applied to Massachusetts, it made clear that the liberty we enjoy does not give us the right to act to the detriment of others. In December of last year, the Supreme Court refused to hear cases appealing New York’s and Massachusetts’ Covid 19 vaccination mandate for healthcare workers. These decisions reflected a long-standing precedent for upholding the ability of the government to impose mandatory vaccination requirements.

However, in January of 2022, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases concerning vaccine mandates, one involving businesses and one involving healthcare workers. If they had followed precedents, the Court would have upheld the mandates. Even the Justices who rely upon originalism should agree. George Washington ordered the Continental Army to be vaccinated against smallpox, and the soldiers complied. However, the Supreme Court upheld mandates for healthcare workers, but not for businesses. This ruling denied OSHA, which is charged with protecting the health of workers, the best way to protect workers from the Covid virus.

Kansas is now in the midst of another surge in Covid cases as the Omicron variant of Covid is spreading in the state. The Governor has just issued another emergency declaration, along with mandates, because the states’ ICU units and emergency rooms are filling up with Covid patients. The 2022 legislative session is just beginning, and we can only hope that the Kansas Legislature and the Governor will put aside partisan politics and form a united front to keep Kansas citizens safe.

Think Tanks: Why Kansas Has Bad Laws

Tue ,13/10/2020

Think tanks are a body of experts assembled  to provide ideas and advice on specific political or economic problems. The think tanks in the illustration have much in common. They are ideologically driven, funded by dark money, and they wish to reduce taxes and regulations on wealthy individuals and corporations. Combined, they spend over $1 billion a year to influence legislation and public policies.

One of their creations was the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wish lists to benefit their bottom line. At ALEC meetings, corporate lobbyists and state Representatives* meet to approve “model” bills written by corporate lawyers. The model bills usually  have great sounding titles and may address a real problem, but they always grant something on the think tanks’ wish list.

The model bills are not useful unless they are passed into state laws. To do that, it is necessary to elect legislators who will favor corporate interests over those of the average citizen. In Kansas, Americans for Prosperity and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce have taken on that task. If legislators do not vote for bills in the interest of corporations and the wealthy, then these organizations try to make sure they are not reelected. They do this by dirty campaigning, with misleading ads, and postcards that distort the truth. They misquote targeted legislators, assigned them to positions they do not hold, photoshop unflattering pictures of them, and accused them of things they have never done. You may have received some of the postcards or seen some of the ads.

It has been ruled that telling political lies is protected speech, and there is little the attacked candidate can do about it. However, you can. VOTE for the candidate who will put your interests above those of the special interest groups.

*KS ALEC members: There are 47  ALEC members in the Kansas Legislature and some travel to ALEC meetings at state expense.They are listed below: 

KS House of Representatives

  • Rep. Tory Marie Arnberger (R-112), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting [1], registered member
  • Rep. John Barker (R-70), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting[1]State Chair,[2]Attended December 2014 Policy Summit at taxpayer expense[3], and attended 2015 ALEC Annual Meeting with taxpayers covering registration fee[4]
  • Rep. Emil Bergquist (R-91), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting[1]
  • Rep. Jesse Burris (R-82), registered member
  • Rep. Michael Capps (R-85), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting[1]
  • Rep. Blake Carpenter (R-81)registered member
  • Rep. Will Carpenter (R-75), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting[1]
  • Rep. Chris Croft (R-8), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting[1]
  • Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-69)[5][6]
  • Rep. Susan Concannon (R-107), Attended December 2014 Policy Summit at taxpayer expense[7]
  • Rep. Leo Delperdang (R-94), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting[1]registered member
  • Rep. Willie Dove (R-38), Attended December 2014 Policy Summit at taxpayer expense[8][6]
  • Rep. Renee Erickson (R-87), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting[1],[9][10]
  • Rep. Charlotte Esau (R-14), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting[1]
  • Rep. Randy Garber (R-62)[11]
  • Rep. Dan Hawkins (R-100), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting[1],[12] Attended December 2014 Policy Summit at taxpayer expense[13]Attended 2015 ALEC Annual Meeting with taxpayers covering registration fee[4]
  • Rep. Ron Highland (R-51), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting[1]Highland’s staffer Mary Sabatini attended ALEC’s 2017 Annual Meeting
  • Rep. Kyle Hoffman (R-116), paid ALEC membership February 2012[14] Attended December 2014 Policy Summit at taxpayer expense[15]
  • Rep. Nick Hoheisel (R-97), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting[1]
  • Rep. Steve Huebert (R-90)[16]Education Task Force[17]
  • Rep. Susan Humphries (R-99), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting[1]registered member
  • Rep. Megan Lynn (R-49), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting[1]
  • Rep. Stephen Owens (R-74), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting[1][9] [18]
  • Rep. John Resman (R-121), registered member
  • Rep. Ronald Ryckman Sr. (R-78), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting[1], attended 2011 ALEC Annual Meeting[19]. Attended December 2014 Policy Summit at taxpayer expense[20]
  • Rep. Alicia Straub (R-113), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting [1],
  • Rep. Joe Seiwert (R-101), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting[1]Communications and Technology Task Force[21]attended 2015 ALEC Annual Meeting with taxpayers covering registration fee[4]
  • Rep. William (Bill) Sutton (R-43), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting [1]registered member
  • Rep. Paul Waggoner (R-104), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting [1]
  • Rep. Troy Waymaster (R-109), Attended December 2014 Policy Summit at taxpayer expense[22]
  • Rep. Barbara Wasinger (R-11), Attended 2019 ALEC Annual Meeting [1],
  • Rep. Jene Vickrey (R-06), registered member

KS Senate