Politics & Government

Guns, license plates, taxes: 7 bills from Kansas lawmakers that could affect you

A Wichita flag on a car. The Kansas House has approved a bill to create a Wichita flag license plate.
A Wichita flag on a car. The Kansas House has approved a bill to create a Wichita flag license plate.

Kansas lawmakers are working on bills that could change your life in ways large and small.

Legislators just wrapped up a key week at what is considered the midpoint of the session. They plan to break for a couple days before returning to Topeka. The break offers an opportunity to look at what lawmakers have done so far.

Here are seven things that could affect you.

1. Concealed weapons for young adults

A bill that has passed the House would allow people as young as 18 to have concealed weapons. Right now, you have to be 21 or older to have a concealed weapon in Kansas.

The bill would require people between 18 and 21 who want a concealed weapon to have a permit; people older than that do not need one.

The bill also requires anyone who wants to carry a weapon onto campus to have a permit, which requires training.

Status: A Senate committee held a hearing but hasn’t worked the bill. That will need to happen before a possible Senate debate.

2. Redact Social Security numbers on documents

A House bill would require all parts of Social Security numbers to be redacted from government documents before they are made available to the public.

The legislation comes after the tech website Gizmodo reported that financial disclosure forms for state employees and public officials have showed the last four digits of Social Security numbers online for years.

The Kansas secretary of state had maintained an online database of the disclosure forms, but pulled the forms offline after Gizmodo’s story. The forms are still accessible but a formal records request must now be made to view them.

The bill would applyto nearly all government documents. There are two exceptions: documents held by county recorders of deeds or in courts.

Status: The House has passed the bill and it now heads to the Senate.

3. Lower sales tax on food

A proposed state constitutional amendment would lower the tax on food in Kansas, which is among the highest in the nation.

Kansas, unlike many other states, taxes food at the same rate as other products. When state and local taxes are combined, shoppers can pay above 10 percent on groceries in some areas.

Under the amendment, the sales tax rate on food would fall to 2 percent in 2020.

The state gets an estimated $246 million a year from the tax on food. Losing that amount could prove difficult at a time when lawmakers think they may have to boost school funding.

Status: A Senate committee held a hearing on the constitutional amendment, but hasn’t taken action. If the proposal received two-thirds support in both the House and Senate, it would go to a statewide vote. A majority of voters would need to approve it for it to become law.

4. Wichita flag license plate

A Wichita flag license plate is one step closer to the back of your car.

The House has passed a bill to authorize the plate, after a campaign seeking the plate launched last fall.

More than 1,600 people have committed to purchasing a plate and several businesses have said they will put it on their vehicle fleets, said Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita.

The flag, she said, represents happiness, contentment and home.

During debate in the House, the flag plate was added to a bill that would create a Special Olympics license plate.

Status: The bill is headed to the Senate, where an identical version must be approved for it to go the governor to be signed.

5. Equal time for divorcing parents

A Senate bill would create the presumption that divorcing parents who can’t agree on custody would share time with their children equally by default.

Proponents say equal time is better for children. They point to research showing benefits for children raised by two parents.

Critics contend the bill would discourage parents from reaching their own agreement.

More than 20 states have considered shared parenting legislation. The bills are part of a nationwide push to promote involvement by fathers and co-parenting.

Status: The bill had a hearing in a Senate committee, but the committee hasn’t voted on it. That suggests it isn’t a priority, though it could always be proposed on the Senate floor as an amendment.

6. Help voters with disabilities

The ballots of 23 Sedgwick County voters were thrown out after the November election because of a requirement that disabled voters must sign their own mail-in ballot envelopes.

A Senate bill aims to change that.

The bill waives the requirement that the county election officer must verify a voter’s signature if the voter has a disability that prevents signing. Voters who cannot sign could request assistance in signing or marking an advance ballot.

Individuals who provide assistance would have to submit a statement affirming that the person assisting the voter didn’t influence the voter and completed the forms as the voter instructed. Failure of the assistant to complete or sign the documents as instructed by the voter would be a felony.

When the Sedgwick County votes were thrown out, county commissioners at the time said they were reluctant but believed the current law gave them no choice.

Status: The Senate passed the bill and sent it to the House for approval.

7. Spinning Tires

A House bill would ban wheel spinning and tire squealing and set a $100 fine for violations.

Kansas law already prohibits "exhibition of speed or acceleration." But lawmakers fear the current definition is too loose after the Kansaas Supreme Court threw out a conviction for driving under the influence that began with a traffic stop.

The bill prohibits intentional wheel spinning and tire squealing under normal road conditions.

Status: The bill heads to the Senate after it passed the House.

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman