Kansas lawmakers pass schools plan, but budget issues loom

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Before starting their annual spring break, Kansas lawmakers approved an education funding plan designed to satisfy a state Supreme Court mandate to help poor school districts. They also agreed on an overhaul of the juvenile justice system and new protections for religious groups on college campuses.

But the Republican-dominated Legislature is likely to face difficult budget issues when it reconvenes April 27 to wrap up its business for the year. Lawmakers also have a host of other issues they could consider.

The status of major issues when legislators adjourned Thursday:

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BALANCING THE BUDGET

Legislators approved a bill last month to balance the state’s $16 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. But state tax collections have fallen short of expectations 11 of the past 12 months and many lawmakers are expecting to have to rewrite parts of the spending blueprint to avoid a deficit.

State officials and university economists are scheduled to meet April 20 to issue revised revenue projections.

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SCHOOL FUNDING

Republican supermajorities in both chambers passed a bill Thursday that would redistribute $83 million of the more than $4 billion in annual aid to the state’s 286 school districts. GOP leaders argued that the plan complies with a Supreme Court order last month to boost aid to poor school districts by June 30 or face having public schools statewide shut down.

Democrats and John Robb, an attorney representing four school districts suing the state, are skeptical. Robb said he expects the court to rule in April on whether the plan is satisfactory.

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EDUCATION POLICY

The House on Tuesday rejected a bill backed by GOP conservatives to prevent the state from using multistate, Common Core academic standards in its public schools.

The House Education Committee last month approved a bill for an “opt-in” sex education policy in public schools, requiring them to get a parent’s written permission before students participate in courses. The House has yet to debate the bill.

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JUDICIAL IMPEACHMENT

The Senate narrowly approved a bill Tuesday declaring that state Supreme Court justices can be impeached for attempting to “usurp the power” of lawmakers and executive branch officials. But Republicans were split over the measure, signaling trouble ahead in the House.

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RELIGIOUS OBJECTIONS

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill Tuesday that protects religious groups on public college campuses if they restrict their membership to like-minded believers. Starting in July, colleges won’t be allowed to deny funds or the use of campus resources to such groups based on their membership policies.

House and Senate committees have separate but identical bills before them that would restrict how public schools and colleges could accommodate transgender students, but no hearings are scheduled. Each bill says schools and colleges must limit bathrooms, showers and locker rooms to use by a single gender, determined by “a person’s chromosomes.”

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JUVENILE JUSTICE

The juvenile justice legislation approved Thursday by wide margins in both chambers is designed to save money and reduce the rate at which young offenders commit new crimes.

It would place more low-risk young offenders in community programs that allow them to live at home, rather than in detention centers and group homes. Starting in 2018, they state would be limited to using 50 group-home beds.

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GUN RIGHTS, HUNTING

Voters will decide in November whether to amend the state constitution to add a provision protecting people’s right to hunt, trap and fish subject to “reasonable” laws. The House approved it last month, and the Senate, earlier this month.

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MARIJUANA LAWS

The House and Senate are negotiating over the final version of a bill to lessen penalties for first- and second-time marijuana possession. The House passed its version last year, and the Senate approved its version in February.

The House also approved a proposal last year to allow the use of therapeutic hemp oil to treat severe seizures. The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee approved its own version Monday, but the full chamber has not debated it.

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Online:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org .

 

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

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