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Would Dorothy and Toto Recognize the New Kansas?

“Home! And this is my room — and you’re all here! And I’m not going to leave here ever, ever again, because I love you all! And — Oh, Auntie Em — there’s no place like home!”

Words spoken by Dorothy upon returning to Kansas from the Land of OZ.

Had she known she would not have clicked her heels three times.  That was the number of clicks it took to transport her from the Land of Oz back home to Kansas. If she had known what Kansas would become, she would have stayed in the Land of Oz.  While there, after all, she played a vital role in the Cowardly Lion getting courage, the Scarecrow brains and the Tin Woodman a heart.  None of those qualities is possessed by most of the legislators in the Kansas state legislature. There is only one character from the Wizard of Oz who would be happy in Kansas today-the Wizard.  As he acknowledged, when his true identity was discovered by Dorothy and her friends, “I am a humbug.” That does not, of course, mean that he couldn’t be as good a governor as Sam Brownback who is now serving. But this isn’t about Sam or the Wizard.  It’s about the state legislature.

Kansas legislators have distinguished themselves by demonstrating through their actions that they lack brains, hearts and courage. On April 16, 2016 Governor Sam Brownback signed the Hope, Opportunity and Prosperity for Everyone Act, known as the HOPE Act.  Although it applies to everyone in Kansas, a reading of the Act discloses that it affects only a few.  The few it affects are families on welfare.

One of the legislators (who sounded like the Tin Woodman might have sounded before he got a heart) explained the Act’s purpose.  It is to make sure, said he, “that Kansans have a high quality of life.  And you don’t have high quality of life if you don’t have a job.” The law doesn’t provide employment but it includes work and job training requirements for those on welfare.  It also provides that lifetime benefits for those on welfare are limited to 36 months, a powerful incentive to get work since the alternative is no benefits and no means of support.

The legislation helps welfare recipients by spelling out the kinds of things for which welfare benefits cannot be used.  If those prohibitions were not enumerated, welfare recipients might squander the $300 a month that they receive on some of the proscribed items not realizing that buying those things are not in their best interest. The legislative summary enumerates the things for which welfare funds may not be used.  The funds may not be used in a “liquor store, casino, gaming establishment. . .nail salon, lingerie shop. . . vapor cigarette store,  psychic or fortune telling business, movie theater, swimming pool, cruise ship . . . .”

Since the average welfare recipient in  Kansas receives less than $300 per month, it is unlikely he or she will be able to book a cruise.  However, as every conscientious legislator knows, one can’t be too careful and people on welfare may be ignorant as well as poor and might squander their benefits had the statute not included guidance.  Helping people on welfare spend their money wisely was not the Kansas legislature’s only contribution to good governance.

On May 19, 2015, it was reported that the legislature had decided to make itself the arbiter of Kansas Supreme Court decisions.  In 2014 the legislature passed a law that took away from the Kansas Supreme Court the right to control the budgets and leadership of local courts because the legislature wanted that control to be local.  A Kansas judge sued to invalidate that law and the case is now pending.  If successful, control of all state courts would be returned to the Kansas Supreme Court, which would be in accordance with the KansasConstitution  The legislature is less concerned with whether its actions are constitutional,  than with the fact that the Supreme Court might take it upon itself to find the legislature’s actions to be unconstitutional. Accordingly, as part of the budget it adopted in 2015 it included language that provides that if the 2014 law is “stayed or is held to be invalid or unconstitutional” certain provisions of the budget, including funding for the courts “are hereby declared to be null and void.” The legislators, who don’t get the separation of powers idea, intend with this language to encourage the courts to rule in favor of the 2014 legislation lest they lose all funding including for salaries of all employees, including judges.

Wherever Dorothy now is, she is probably trying desperately to click her heels three times.  That is what it took to get her from Oz to Kansas.  It might work in reverse.  It would certainly be worth a try.  If any of my readers are visiting Kansas and observes citizens jumping up and down trying to click their heel three times, offer them a word of encouragement.  They need and deserve it.

Christopher Brauchli is a lawyer in Boulder, Colorado.

 

 

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