Kansas lawmakers pass raft of bills before deadline

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators have reached the midpoint of their annual session having advanced measures on gun rights and teacher union collective bargaining but having left others to languish, including ones that would legalize medical marijuana, expand the Medicaid program and limit fracking.

In order to survive beyond Friday’s “turnaround” deadline, most bills had to have been approved by the chamber in which they originated.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, said in a statement Thursday that he was pleased the House managed to pass 35 bills over the three-day period leading up to the deadline.

The Senate passed 60 bills in the two days before the deadline — half of them in a nearly nine hour session that stretched from the Thursday afternoon to just before midnight.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Democrat from Topeka, said the Legislature has been in a state of “dysfunction,” having passed fewer bills than usual by this point and not having fully addressed projected budget shortfalls of nearly $600 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

“Things are really moving at a very slow pace and, as I say, the big issues are still out there.” Hensley said. “We have a very serious problem here on our hands with the revenue shortfalls that we have, and as of the turnaround time we just have not dealt with reality.”

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LOCAL ELECTIONS

City and local school board elections would move from the spring to the fall on odd-numbered years under a bill passed by the Senate. Supporters say the move will increase turnout because people are used to voting in the fall elections.

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BUDGET

Spending cuts announced by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and a budget-balancing bill passed by Legislature erased a $344 million deficit projected for the current fiscal year. Brownback has vowed to repeal the state’s school funding formula and replace it with block grants to individual districts, but lawmakers have yet to discuss such proposals.

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GUN RIGHTS

People would be allowed to carry concealed firearms without a permit under a bill approved by the Senate. Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, said she still has concerns about the bill, but prefers to err “on the side of freedom.”

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SCHOOLS COLLECTIVE BARGAINING

Both the House and Senate passed bills limiting collective bargaining between school boards and teachers unions in a manner similar to a compromise reached by education groups in January.

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MARIJUANA

The House delayed action on two bills that would have reduced penalties for offenders’ first two marijuana possession convictions and allowed some patients who suffer from seizures to receive medical marijuana products. Another House bill that would have initiated a state study into industrial hemp was also delayed.

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DRUNK DRIVING

The House passed two bills on drunk driving. One would stiffen penalties for drunk drivers who physically harm others and the other would allow a person’s first drunk driving offense be expunged after five years.

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ABORTION

A procedure used in about 8 percent of Kansas abortions would be banned under a bill passed by the Senate. Critics of the bill say the procedure, in which a doctor uses clamps, forceps or similar instruments to remove a fetus from the womb in pieces, is the safest option in some cases.

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PUBLIC PENSIONS

The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would raise $1 billion in bonds to pay off part of the projected $9.8 billion shortfall in funding for Kansas Public Employees Retirement System benefits and extend the horizon for paying it by 10 years, to 2043.

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ELECTION FRAUD

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach would have the power to prosecute cases of suspected election fraud under a bill passed by the Senate. The bill would also boost penalties for election fraud.

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MEDICAID EXPANSION

The Legislature didn’t take action to expand Medicaid in line with the 2010 federal health care overhaul, although rival bills were submitted and Rep. Jim Ward, a Democrat from Wichita, attempted to insert expansion language into a separate health bill through an amendment.

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FRACKING

Proposed restrictions to the controversial hydraulic fracking process did not advance beyond the committee stage and will likely not be considered again until next year.

 

 

 

 

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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