Abortion, mortgage fees and voter registration possible issues Kansas Legislature may address in session

01/12/2014 7:10 AM

08/08/2014 10:21 AM

A number of other pressing issues face lawmakers as they wait for a court decision on school funding.

With the state gearing up for an election in the fall, will legislators choose to adjust the requirement of proof of citizenship for registering voters? Will they take up a "heartbeat bill" or rest debate on abortion for the first time in years? The stakes will be high for both Gov. Sam Brownback and representatives running for re-election.

Abortion

This could be the first time in years that the Legislature does not take up a bill to significantly restrict abortion, according to Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell. In the past two years, state lawmakers have passed some of the nation’s most stringent abortion laws and there’s little left to propose that wouldn’t bring Kansas into direct conflict with the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that affirmed abortion as a constitutional right. The Wichita-based Kansas Coalition for Life is expected to push again for a law to outlaw abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected, about five to six weeks into a pregnancy. Although KCFL leader Mark Gietzen has collected dozens of lawmakers’ signatures for the proposal, it’s been blocked for lack of support from the influential anti-abortion group Kansans for Life.

Aviation training

Wichita-area lawmakers from both parties will advocate to restore $2 million dollars in funding to the National Center For Aviation Training in Wichita. Continued state funding for the National Institute For Aviation Research will also be a priority for area legislators from the air capital.

Energy

Conservative lawmakers, including Merrick, want to repeal standards requiring utilities to get 20 percent of the power they sell from renewable sources, primarily wind power, by 2020. The standards were part of a bargain between Republican lawmakers and former Gov. Mark Parkinson to clear the way for approval of a coal-fired power plant near Holcomb in western Kansas. But the coal plant hasn’t been built and plans for it are mired in the federal permitting process.

Fair fares

South-central Kansas lawmakers will again fight to hang on to a $5 million state subsidy that helps to assure lower-fare airline service to Wichita Mid-Continent Airport. Several times in the past few years, lawmakers have removed and then added back the funding during negotiations on the state’s budget.

Gambling

Casino owner Phil Ruffin and some local business interests are ramping up efforts to get another public vote on slot-machine gaming to reopen Wichita Greyhound Park. Sedgwick County voters rejected slots there in a two-question ballot referendum in 2007, that also turned thumbs down on a major destination casino. The destination casino was built just south of the county line at the Mulvane exit on the Kansas Turnpike.

Juvenile corrections

Sedgwick County will seek state support for stable funding to help pay to operate the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch near Goddard. The program houses juvenile offenders in a ranch-like setting near Lake Afton. County officials acknowledge its intensive program of counseling, education, vocational and life-skills training is more costly than regular juvenile programs, but they argue it saves money in the long run by preventing future crimes.

Marijuana

Backers of legislation that would legalize marijuana for medical use are expected to try to advance their bills again. Such bills have languished in legislative committees for several years and never made it to a vote. Supporters hope to gain some momentum from the recent legalization of pot for recreational use in Colorado and Washington state.

Medicaid

Health-care providers will push for the state to expand Medicaid, which could help cover roughly 78,000 uninsured people who fall into the new Medicaid coverage gap. Those in the gap make too much to qualify for Medicaid and not enough to receive subsidies on the new federally run health insurance marketplace. Providers also are looking at models that states like Arkansas, Iowa and Pennsylvania are using to expand coverage.

Mortgage fees

The state’s real estate and banking lobbies seek to eliminate a fee charged by counties to register mortgages. They say it’s an unfair tax because it’s based on the amount of the mortgage, although it costs the county no more to process a large mortgage than a small one. Sedgwick County Register of Deeds Bill Meek is leading a drive by counties to keep the fee. He says it’s comparable to fees charged by other states under different names and that repeal would lead to higher property taxes. It is estimated repealing the fee would cost Kansas counties about $47 million a year in revenue, $6 million to $8 million of that in Sedgwick County.

Prisons

Although the state is in the middle of a two-year budget cycle, funding for corrections remains a point of contention. Lawmakers will need to reach accord with Brownback, who last year vetoed the Legislature’s budget plan for corrections, saying it didn’t adequately fund the department.

Voter registration

Wichita Democrats Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau and Rep. Jim Ward will introduce bills seeking to undo the state’s proof of citizenship requirements for voter registration. The bills, which Faust-Goudeau and Ward failed to pass in last fall’s special session, would match Kansas with federal requirements by including an affidavit swearing U.S. citizenship on voter registration forms, but lift demands that registrants provide passports or birth certificates to prove citizenship, a process which has left nearly 20,000 people in suspended registration status. Wagle and other Republican lawmakers have voiced opposition to repealing the proof of citizenship standard.

Water

Mayor Carl Brewer has asked lawmakers to prioritize Wichita’s water supply during the session, specifically focusing on protecting the Equus Beds aquifer that runs northwest of the city. He emphasized the need for water sustainability as the city seeks to develop industry.

Wichita State University

Wichita State University wants lawmakers to back funding for its plan to create an “innovation campus” designed to foster technology startups. The proposal has seen interest from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, but conservatives say an affirmative decision in the pending K-12 lawsuit could limit funding available for higher education projects.

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