Governor talks budget, gay rights in early days of session

(WIBW/Doug Brown)

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Gov. Sam Brownback says he'll let legislative debate take its course when it comes to gay rights, and he admits he doesn't like everything in the budget proposal he unveiled this week.

Days into the legislative session, though, Brownback told 13 NEWS he's happy to see lawmakers hit the ground running.

"I think people want to get things done as quickly as possible," he said.

A big issue is the budget. Facing a $190 million shortfall, he proposes once again taking money from the Kansas Dept. of Transportation - $25 million. It's an option he admits he doesn't like.

"I'd like to get off of it. But this is the situation we're in today," Brownback said. "We're still able to build all the T-Works projects we told people we we were gonna do. We're able to maintain a robust road program, repair program.

But Democrats are taking the Governor to task for a budget plan they say is not in line with people's priorities. In a news conference earlier Thursday, Democratic leaders listed priorities of funding schools and public safety.

"Schools are under attack, communities are less safe, and the economy isn't working for the middle class families," said House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, D-Kansas City.

Brownback maintains the economy is growing. And even though it's not in his budget, he would support an increase in vehicle title fees to hire more Kansas Highway Patrol troopers.

Four days into the session, gay rights have come up in several discussions. Wednesday, a special committee declined to make allegations of discrimination against same-sex couple part of an audit of the state's foster care and adoption system.

Brownback declined to say whether it should be reviewed, but did offer his general position on audits.

"Go in and look broadly at things so that you're looking throughout and saying, 'Is this system working the way it should?'" Brownback said. "Whatever they approved is what the legislative process should be."

The Governor also declined to take a stance on a bill up for committee hearing Thursday adding sexual orientation to the state's anti-discrimination law. Last February, he rescinded a prior executive order giving that protection to state workers.

"(The prior order was) where you created a protected class just for state employees. And I said at that time these are things that should be in statute, not in executive order, so let's see what (legislators) come forward with," Brownback said.

One decision that was reached was from the State Board of Healing Arts. It said it will not take action against a Kansas Planned Parenthood clinic following an investigation into whether it was illegally selling fetal tissue from abortions. Brownback had directed the investigation and said he stands by the inquiry.

"This is a state that believes in life and the dignity of life," Brownback said. "The fact that here is an organization that you have videos of and being investigated nationally for trafficking in baby body parts."

Brownback already issued a directive to remove Planned Parenthood as a provider from the state's Medicaid program.

Brownback also said lawmakers must start talks on how to repair and restructure corrections facilities and Osawatomie State Hospital, which he says have not received sufficient funds for many years. He says he does not want to see a repeat of the situation with the state's Docking Building, which is slated for demolition because state officials determined it would be too costly to repair and upgrade.