Governor repeats call for middle ground in State of the State address

Gov. Kelly detailed her budget and policy priorities Tuesday night.
Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 6:59 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Gov. Laura Kelly invoked the spirit of iconic Kansans Dwight Eisenhower and Bob Dole in asking state legislatures to work together to make Kansas the best state for families.

Kelly delivered her 2023 State of the State address Tuesday night to a joint session of the Kansas House and Senate. The speech was delayed two weeks by what turned out to be a false-positive COVID test for the Governor.

Kelly’s speech doubled-down on themes from her inaugural address and proposed budget, including fully ending the state sales tax on food, diapers and feminine hygiene products; implementing a four-day sales tax holiday for back to school shopping; raising the threshold for seniors paying income tax on social security benefits; expanding Medicaid.

“The argument for expansion is simple – and should be one on which we all agree. Regardless of political party, we all want our rural communities to be hubs of commerce and economic activity,” Kelly said. “By far, the fastest way to a healthier workforce would be to enable 150,000 Kansans to have access to affordable healthcare.”

Kelly spent several minutes on education funding, saying it is her intent to fully fund K-12 public schools every year she is in office. Her budget also includes a proposal she says puts Kansas on the path to also fully fund special education, adding she will push the state’s Congressional delegation to deliver on federal funding.

She also called on lawmakers to take politics out of school policy discussions.

“Know this: I will oppose any efforts that are designed to turn parents against teacher, to turn communities against their school, to turn young people away from the teaching profession,” Kelly said. “I will resist politicians who want to score political points at the expense of our students and our families. Our students should not be used as political pawns.”

Among the special guests in the House chamber for the speech was Chris Howell. Howell was the caregiver for Army veteran David Auble, who was urged to obtain marijuana to ease his pain while in his final days of battling cancer. According to the Governor, Auble refused, saying he did not want to break the law. Kelly used the story to urge lawmakers to reach agreement on legalizing medical marijuana.

“That’s not to say that legalizing medical marijuana won’t be complex. Of course it will,” she said. “We’ll need to put in place effective safeguards to ensure that it’s used appropriately and that it’s not abused.”

Among other priorities the Governor detailed were funding for the state’s water plan; increasing mental health services, particularly for first responders; and decriminalizing fentanyl test strips, among other actions to address the opioid crisis.

“Drug addiction is a disease, not a moral failing. Which means we need to change the way we treat it,” Kelly said. “My budget gives schools the funding they need to have naloxone on hand – so that should a student overdose, first responders will have enough time to get to the scene to save a life on the spot.”

Kelly said, just as the examples set by Eisenhower and Dole, current lawmakers can work together to find solutions to challenging issues.

“In the past four years, we’ve turned our state around. Now, by working together, we can achieve a Kansas families will want to call home for generations,” she said. “Over the next four years, we must see each other as partners, not as foes, to build on all we’ve accomplished in the last four years.”

Fellow democrats applauded Kelly’s message.

“I am filled with hope and optimism as we enter Governor Kelly’s second term,” Sen. Dinah Sykes, D-Senate Minority Leader, said in a statement. “With no election at stake, Kansas Republicans have nothing to hide behind when they obstruct these common sense policies that will improve their constituents’ lives.”

Over the past several weeks, Republicans have said they will strive to meet the Governor in the middle where they can. While they have indicated possible support on her sales tax proposals, House Speaker Dan Hawkins has said Medicaid expansion is unlikely.

In remarks recorded before the speech, Senate President Ty Masterson said successes to which the Governor points are due to Republican support.

“The nature of our divided government means that any bill reaching the governor’s desk only does so with Republican effort, and all meaningful victories -- whether axing a tax, balancing a budget, or bringing new economic development to Kansas, all began with Republicans. Regardless of who attempts to take credit, I am optimistic that we will find more common ground,” he said.

Masterson also questioned whether Kelly will be willing to compromise on issues the GOP plans to raise again, such as the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” which bans biological males from women’s and girls’ sports, and the Parents’ Bill of Rights, dealing with public schools.

“On many issues, the governor’s party has her walking down the far-left lane, if not the ditch outside of that. With how many times we heard her tell us she is in the middle, this session, we will give her ample opportunity to show she really meant it,” Masterson said.

Read the full text of the Governor’s State of the State address