Here are some of the major issues legislators will face in the session that begins Monday.
After passing a package of anti-abortion laws last year, the Legislature might continue to chip away at Roe v. Wade by shortening the window for women to terminate a pregnancy. Two ideas on the table: ban or substantially restrict abortions after the fetal heartbeat becomes detectable, usually six to seven weeks; put a "personhood" amendment on the ballot that would define human life as beginning at fertilization. In the past two years, voters in Colorado and Mississippi rejected personhood amendments.
Wichita, regional partners and some other cities hope the state will again provide $5 million to subsidize low-cost airlines in Wichita and elsewhere. The Affordable Airfares program is often the subject of debate from lawmakers in the Kansas City region, who benefit less from the policy. But Gov. Sam Brownback supports it and told The Eagle he would continue to advocate for it this year.
Aviation research, training
Wichita business leaders hope to get continued funding for the National Institute for Aviation Research and other workforce training programs to help bolster innovation and promote new and expanded aircraft business, particularly in the wake of Boeing’s announced exit in 2013.
The Democrats’ jobs plan hinges on new gambling revenue. A grassroots effort is running strong in hopes of a bill that could let Sedgwick County voters have another, easier-to-understand vote on whether to allow slot machines at Wichita Greyhound Park. Meanwhile, Brownback has said that gambling debates distract the Legislature from more important issues and that he doesn’t want them considered this year. The Democrats’ plan would open the door to a casino in southeast Kansas by reducing the minimum amount a company must invest for the state to approve a casino from $200 million to $100 million. Democrats say slots at three existing racetracks would generate $33 million for the state and a new casino could pump $11 million more into state coffers.
Kansas may again debate laws that would deport more illegal immigrants and make an undocumented life in Kansas riskier. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has done work across the nation on illegal immigration, said he expects several proposals aimed at reducing the state’s illegal immigrant population, estimated at 50,000 to 80,000. Lawmakers will likely debate whether to repeal an existing law that allows children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at state colleges if they have graduated from a Kansas high school and lived in Kansas for more than three years. And Democrats have proposed a law that would require state and local government agencies and their contractors and subcontractors to check their employees’ residency using the federal E-Verify system. Wichita seeks to avoid any unreasonable burdens new laws create.
The Legislature is required to redraw political boundaries based on the latest Census figures. House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, says redistricting could create “World War III” for legislators. Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, calls it a “very political” process. And just about everyone in the Statehouse expects it to drive the session well beyond its usual 90 days.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt is proposing a package of laws that would expand state resources for investigating child sexual abuse, including cybercrimes; strengthen the ban on sex between foster children and parents; make it easier to commit sex criminals to the predator confinement program at Larned State Hospital; authorize courts to order lifelong electronic monitoring of sex offenders; and allow court orders prohibiting offenders from contacting their victims for life.
Backers of strict voter ID laws may make a run at moving up provisions requiring new voters to provide a birth certificate and/or other documents proving citizenship. That provision of last year’s photo-ID law isn’t due to kick in until after the 2012 presidential election. In a separate effort aimed at saving money, some lawmakers want to consolidate city council, school board and other elections on a single November ballot with state and federal elections. One counterargument is that longer ballots would take more time and lengthen waiting times at the polls, discouraging voter turnout.
Wichita is again seeking $1 million in state money to help pay for the aquifer recharge project that aims to ensure adequate water supply through 2050 in the Wichita region. The project has driven water rates in the area up significantly in recent years. Meanwhile, Gov. Sam Brownback is proposing new rules that would do away with “use it or lose it” policies that many say discourage conservation.