Archive for Friday, April 11, 2014

Kansas Legislature: What passed, what died, what remains

April 11, 2014

— Meeting nearly round-the-clock last weekend, Kansas legislators ended the regular legislative session by passing with slim majorities a school finance bill in response to a court order, and a repeal of teacher tenure that has ignited a political firestorm.

And while that may be the most memorable work product of the session that started in January, legislators approved a wide variety of bills and still have work to do when they return April 30 from their annual break.

Here are some of the more notable measures that were passed:

• After years of battle, parents of children with autism won a requirement for insurance coverage for the brain disorder, although the measure was scaled back to satisfy insurers. That bill awaits Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature.

• In a display of opposition to the federal Affordable Care Act, Republicans approved bills to join an interstate compact to take control of federal health dollars in Kansas, and a measure that would indefinitely ban the state from expanding Medicaid.

• Republicans also passed a bill aimed at curtailing party switching between candidate filing deadlines and primary elections. Brownback, a Republican, has already signed it into law.

• The Legislature approved to a bill that will nullify city and county gun restrictions and ensure that it’s legal to openly carry firearms.

• Voters in November will decide whether to amend the Kansas Constitution to legalize charitable raffles by certain non-profit organizations.

• A more than 25-year-old $250,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases will be increased to $350,000 over a period of eight years.

• In a spirit of bi-partisanship, legislators and Brownback unanimously endorsed a bill that allows the state attorney general’s office to enforce Kansas law against telemarketers who call a consumer’s listed cellphone.

• The state now has an official marine fossil, the Tylosaurus, and official flying fossil, Pteranodon.

• Higher education officials said they were pleased that the Legislature restored some of the cuts to universities made last year, and included bonds for significant projects, such as Kansas University’s new health education building.

• The Legislature also approved and Brownback signed into law a bill allowing Kansas to join a regional group of states that would establish standards for online courses and automatically authorize the member states to deliver distance education courses in each state, and a bill allowing the universities to purchase property insurance from companies that haven’t been admitted to do business in the state.

And legislators aren’t done.

While the regular session ended late Sunday, the so-called wrap-up session starts April 30 with the 90th day of the session arriving May 13. Sessions are supposed to last 90 days but in recent years they have frequently gone long.

The Legislature needs to finish work on the Kansas Department of Corrections’ budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Several issues that legislators worked on in the regular session will come up again during the wrap-up.

Those include a bill to phase out the mortgage registration fee and a proposal to try to block the federal government from protecting the lesser prairie chicken. In addition, a measure to move municipal elections to the fall is still alive.

Efforts to de-fund the Common Core education standards, exempt private fitness clubs from property taxes and shorten death penalty appeals also remain in play.

And on April 17, state budget experts will announce new revenue projections for the upcoming fiscal year and the next one. Those projections often set into motion more budget adjustments.

Earlier in the session, the Legislature drew national attention for a couple of bills that ultimately died.

In February, the House adopted a bill touted by conservative Republicans as a “religious freedom” measure that they said would have, for example, allowed wedding photographers to deny services to same-sex couple based on religious beliefs.

But opponents said the measure was so loosely worded, it would have resulted in Jim Crow-like discrimination against gays and lesbians.

As negative publicity intensified, the business community weighed in, saying the bill would have disrupted their operations. That’s all Senate leaders needed to hear to kill it.

But as the saying goes, “nothing ever dies in the Statehouse.” Gay rights advocates have said they fully expect the issue to come up again.

Just as the furor was subsiding over that bill, a Wichita Democrat introduced legislation that detailed the legal parameters of spanking — hard enough to leave redness or bruising. The measure was quickly shelved, but it provided material for late-night comedians for several days.

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