2019 Legislature in Review

The Kansas Catholic Conference 2019 Legislative Review

If the 2019 Kansas Legislative “Veto Session” ended at 3:08 a.m. on Sunday, May 5, our next round of work at the Kansas Catholic Conference began at 3:09 a.m.!

This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.  The point is that our work never really ends, but new chapters and new challenges begin.  Here is a brief overview of what happened this year—and what we can expect moving forward.


Without question, the most significant action of the Session came not from elected officials at the Capitol, but from the Kansas Supreme Court.  Their ruling on the case called Hodes and Nauser v. Schmidt had the practical effect of removing restrictions on the practice of live dismemberment abortion in Kansas.  State lawmakers had outlawed this horrific method of abortion, but the Court ruled that the law was unconstitutional.  Some legal experts believe the ruling voids virtually all Kansas laws restricting abortion.

The scope of the ruling was broad and breathtaking.  According to data collected by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), the lives of about a dozen pre-born babies end by dismemberment abortion each week in Kansas abortion clinics. These deaths and the injury to mothers will now continue indefinitely.    

The only legal recourse is passage by the people of Kansas of a state constitutional amendment that simply states there is no fundamental right to abortion in the Kansas Constitution. The process to make this happen is difficult, but not impossible. Here’s what needs to happen:

Language for a proposed State Constitutional Amendment must be created.

2/3’s of the House AND Senate must approve the language, allowing it to appear on the ballot of an upcoming election. (The Governor CANNOT veto this!)

A simple majority of the people of Kansas voting in that election must vote to approve the amendment.

This amendment will not outlaw abortion, but only says there is not a constitutional right to abortion in the State Constitution. Only then will duly elected legislators be able to pass reasonable laws restricting abortion. 

The Kansas Catholic Conference will be helping lead the effort to pass a constitutional amendment.  It will take time, money, ground troops and PRAYER to be successful.  We know the Evil One will be on full alert fighting our efforts. 

The Devil thrives on division and will seek to divide Catholics and other people of faith, distracting us from our goal.

Details of our strategy and execution of a plan are now being work on, but please begin now by praying each day that Kansas will once again be a place where our unborn children are safe and mothers are protected from the evil of abortion and the unscrupulous abortion industry.


The recent Abortion Decision by the State Supreme Court is closely linked to the other major issue of the 2019 Legislative Session: Medicaid Expansion. 

The Catholic ethos or “motivation” behind extending this government-paid healthcare delivery system is good.  About 140,000 Kansans are in need of healthcare coverage, a basic human need.  Your Catholic Bishops and the Kansas Catholic Conference endorse Medicaid Expansion, but with “grave concerns” about cost and sustainability, as well as the specter of increased government-paid access to contraceptives.

Now that the State Supreme Court has declared abortion to be a constitutional right, there is the very real possibility that with Medicaid Expansion comes government-paid abortions.  In fact, the ruling of Hodes and Nauser v. Schmidt cites as their justification three cases from other states having to do with state funding and required abortions.

If Kansas passes Medicaid Expansion, will Kansas citizens be required to pay for abortions?  This is the new and burning question we are exploring and seek to resolve. 

We are grappling with a compelling moral dilemma.  Yes, we seek healthcare for all people, including the poor, the underemployed and the undocumented immigrant.  But can we as Catholics also support legislation that opens the door to government-sponsored abortion on a large scale?

There are other concerns as well—will Kansans be required to provide “gender dysphoria” treatments like hormone blockers, “sex change” operations and gender-change-affirming counseling at taxpayer expense?  What about conscience protection for healthcare providers?  

The challenge before us is colossal, but not impossible.  We have a great many “spiritual tools” at our disposal—the Virtue of Prudence, the intercession of Our Lady, Untier of Knots and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, among others. 

We anticipate that a legislative interim committee will be formed to address these and other concerns and legislators will address Medicaid Expansion once again in January of 2020.  We support this approach and will be engaged in the process.  PLEASE PRAY that we are successful as we seek to inject the Voice of Christ into these crucial discussions and decisions.  


CLERGY ABUSE CRISIS IMPACTS THE STATEHOUSE                                                                                         

The insidious impact of the Clergy Abuse Crisis seeped into the halls of the Statehouse in the form of bills targeting the Catholic Church.  One proposal sought to eliminate and break the seal of Confession.  Other elements proposed elimination of the statute of limitations, requirements for minimum monetary awards for abuse victims, restrictions on agreements and other unacceptable proposals.

Fortunately, we were able to squash these unfair and unconstitutional proposals.  We endorsed a bill that would require “duly ordained clergy” members to report instances and sexual and physical abuse to law enforcement.  Senate Bill 218 unanimously passed the State Senate but did not get a vote in the House.

During our testimony in favor of the bill I offered a sincere and heartfelt apology to all victims of clergy abuse and thanked them for courageously coming forward and bringing this scandal into the light.  We cannot say “I am sorry” enough.

The Senate hearing also gave us an opportunity to tell lawmakers that because of the hard lessons we have learned, the Catholic Church throughout Kansas has created what we believe to be the “Gold Standard” of safe environments for our children.  We invite others to emulate this model.

Some are tempted to look elsewhere in our culture and point out the failings of other institutions and people in regards to sexual abuse—corporations and business executives, public schools, youth organizations and others.  I remind them that yes, while this corruption of human sexuality and power happens elsewhere, we must first and foremost focus on the situation in the Church.  We point out that especially since 2002, the Church has experienced a precipitous drop in clergy abuse cases.  This is good, but we must be ever vigilant.  Our first concern is for the care and compassion for victims of past abuse and the protection of the vulnerable today. 


Sometimes “flying under the radar” can be an effective strategy.  Case in point: the 2019 School Finance Bill that was hotly debated in the Kansas Legislature before being signed into law.  Buried deep in the fine print of this bill was an important “technical fix” that will greatly expand educational opportunities (including a Catholic education) for students from low-income households. Here are the details. 

In Kansas we have a small, but important “school choice” program called the Tax Credit for Low Income Students Scholarship Program (TCLISSP).  For you “policy wonks,” you can read about it here:    https://www.ksde.org/Tax-Credit-for-Low-Income-Students-Scholarship-Program

Students from low-income households who ALSO attend one of Kansas’ 100 “low performing” public schools are eligible for scholarships that allow them to attend a non-public school, like a Catholic school.

A year ago, the Legislature changed how the “low performing schools” list was determined.  This seemingly harmless change actually cut nearly in half the number of elementary-aged children eligible for the scholarship program.

Working diligently and without fanfare, the Kansas Catholic Conference was able to “tweak” this list so that it only includes elementary schools where students are most likely to take advantage of the program.  Signed into law, we anticipate that perhaps twice as many low-income students in Kansas will now be eligible for this program—many will attend Catholic schools!

Data from the Kansas State Department of Education shows that Catholic (and other non-public schools) are more successful in educating students from low-income homes. 

In the Catholic way of thinking, parents are the first and best educators of their children—be that through home schooling, Catholic schools, or even public schools.   The (TCLISSP) offers parents and families from certain low-income households the opportunity at an education that better fits their needs.  The KCC will continue to advocate for our families in this way!    


We tried—and failed—to override Governor Kelly’s veto of the abortion pill reversal bill.  The Senate voted to override, but we were ONE VOTE SHORT of an override in the House.  This bill would have required abortions doctors to give women information that shows them how they could reverse or stop their chemical abortion once it started. 

We supported measures to abolish the death penalty in Kansas.  This measure was defeated by ONE VOTE in a House committee.  We will continue our efforts.

We supported, and failed, in our efforts to reform Kansas “payday loan” legislation, which we feel unfairly targets economically distressed Kansans.  The Payday Loan Lobby is strong…we will continue our efforts. 

We continue to seek a resolution to our immigration crisis.  There must be justice for the immigrant while maintaining the security and integrity of our borders.  This is primarily a Federal issue. There is little that can be done on the state level to help the undocumented immigrant, but perhaps finding a way to help them legally obtain a driver’s license is something that can be done.

What do YOU think?  Send me an email at Chuck@KansasCatholic.org

Mary Unitier of Knots, Pray for Us!