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Where issues stand at midpoint of Kansas legislative session

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Saturday, March 1, 2014, at 4:27 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, March 13, 2014, at 10:52 a.m.

Here is where some key issues stand at the midpoint of the legislative session.

All-day kindergarten

Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed making all-day kindergarten universal across the state in the next five years. The plan is being studied in a special committee in the House. Whatever the House approves will be different from the governor’s plan, said Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, a member of that committee.

Fitness competition

Two bills still under consideration would address private health clubs, which pay taxes, and nonprofit YMCAs, which do not. A bill passed by the Senate last year to grant tax breaks to health clubs is still being considered by the House Taxation Committee. That committee has offered another bill that would instead remove tax breaks from the YMCA.

Guns

A comprehensive gun bill would bar municipal governments from enacting or enforcing gun restrictions. It did not make it to the House floor last week but probably will be taken up shortly after the session reconvenes. It greatly expands gun owners’ rights, but also includes a provision that would prohibit carrying a loaded firearm while intoxicated.

Juvenile corrections

Judge Riddel Boys Ranch saw its first glimmer of hope late last week. After a bill designed to provide a long-term solution for the cash-strapped facility died in committee earlier in the week, Rep. Jim Howell, R-Derby, was able to get approval for an amendment to another juvenile justice bill. The House approved HB 2633 by a vote of 122-1. Howell’s amendment sets performance standards for juvenile facilities and mandates a cost study for effective programs, things he says are necessary for additional funding. The bill now goes to the Senate.

Local elections

Republicans want to move all municipal elections to the fall, something the city of Wichita opposes. Bills still alive would push local elections to the fall, either in odd-numbered or even-numbered years.

Marijuana

Bills that would legalize medical marijuana have been unable to get hearings. “I just want to have a hearing. In a democracy it’s important to have the evidence presented in a legislative committee,” said Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, a proponent. Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, called the bill a dishonest attempt to disguise a recreational drug as a tested pharmaceutical medicine.

Medicaid

Medicaid expansion has failed to get a hearing at the Capitol. Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, has criticized Republican leaders and said Kansans have already paid for the expansion with their federal tax dollars. Brownback has expressed serious reservations about Medicaid expansion, citing the shaky rollout of the Affordable Care Act. His focus is on getting people off waiting lists for services.

Mortgage fees

A bill that would gradually eliminate mortgage registration fees won approval in the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee. Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, the committee’s chair, said the fees are an unfair penalty for homebuyers. But Sedgwick County officials say the loss of the fees – which brought in $7.4 million for the county in 2012 – could result in cuts in county services.

Open records

Both chambers passed bills intended to increase Kansans’ access to open records. The House approved a bill that would make probable cause affidavits used to justify arrest warrants public documents. The Senate passed a bill that would limit the cost of public records: if the record was under 25 pages and could be obtained within an hour, it would be free. Each bill will advance to the other chamber.

Religious freedom

Senate leaders halted House Bill 2453, which proponents said would have protected employees who refused service based on religious beliefs and opponents said was too broad and discriminatory. But the issue of religious freedom will continue to be debated in Topeka. The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing on the issue, and explore existing laws about it, Thursday.

State fossils

Kansas is one of only five states without a state fossil. That may soon change. The House approved by a vote of 96-27 a bill that would make the pteranodon, a giant flying reptile, and the tylosaurus, a giant marine predator, the official state fossils of Kansas. It now goes to the Senate.

Wichita State University

President John Bardo has been pushing hard for legislators to back a plan for WSU to create “an innovation campus.” Wagle has called it one of her top priorities of the session and praised Bardo as “a mover and a shaker.” She said the Senate Ways and Means Committee is also enthusiastic about the proposal.

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