Kansas Legislature

The Kansas Legislature is in the meat of its 2019 session. Not quite halfway through, but well into the “getting down to business” part.

As such, there are consequential conversations happening throughout the Statehouse. Some occur in hearing rooms. But far more take place out of public view — in offices, hallways and the many convenient alcoves tucked into the building’s less-trafficked spaces.

Republicans in the Kansas Legislature handed Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly her first defeat this week.

On Valentine’s Day, no less.

They soundly rejected her plan to extend the timetable for covering the unfunded liability of the state pension system, KPERS.

Kelly hoped to lower the state’s annual payments by extending the timetable for amassing 80 percent of the dollars needed to pay all future retirement benefits.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Kansas Department of Transportation officials outlined plans Wednesday for putting a state highway program abandoned by former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback back on track.

Years of lean budgets prompted annual raids of the state highway fund. With more than $2 billion siphoned off since 2011, it became known as the “bank of KDOT.”

“By reducing transfers from the state highway fund, we move closer to closing the bank of KDOT,” Kelly said at a news conference staged at the transportation agency.

With Republican Senate President Susan Wagle leading the charge, the Kansas Senate sent a massive tax relief measure on to the House. Wagle says Kansas has to do something to make sure individuals and businesses don't get stuck with a bigger state tax bill after President Trump and Congress overhauled federal tax rules in 2017. 


Three weeks into the 2019 legislative session, the battle lines are becoming clear.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is keeping a relatively low profile (for a new governor) and sticking to her plan of triaging state needs and responding to the most urgent among them.

Toward that end, she’s told her cabinet members to make a deep-dive assessment of their agencies.

Analysis

Kansas senators are studying what it would take to send a so-called “windfall” back to state taxpayers. The price tag could hit $400 million over three years.

The federal tax cut of 2017 will have some Kansans paying more in state taxes.

Republican Senate President Susan Wagle is in a hurry to pass legislation that would apply to tax returns being filed now.

“If we don’t pass this bill, backdate this bill, Kansas individuals, families and businesses will all have a tax increase this year,” Wagle says.

Republican legislators in Kansas expect to push ahead this week with an income tax relief proposal.

The move would defy Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's call for lawmakers to avoid adjusting state tax laws this year.

A Senate committee is set to open hearings Tuesday on a bill aimed at preventing individuals and corporations from paying more to Kansas because of changes in federal income tax laws at the end of 2017. The panel could vote Thursday.

Republicans and Democrats are braced for a fight over whether state government in Kansas should cash in on the ramifications of the 2017 federal tax cut. The sides are staking out their positions and could come to loggerheads sooner rather than later.

Republican legislative leaders want to push the tempo and pass legislation in time for the upcoming filing season to return what they call a “windfall” to Kansas taxpayers. Democrats want to hold off and say lawmakers need to wait and see if there even is a windfall.

A task force created by the Kansas Legislature recommends adding inpatient psychiatric beds immediately to help solve the ongoing crisis in the state’s behavioral health system.

That’s one of 23 recommendations in a new report presented to the state Senate Ways and Means Committee Wednesday.

The Kansas Legislature showed its tendency to be both more conservative and more liberal on Monday.

The selection of House leaders took the Republican and Democratic factions a bit more to the right and left, respectively, while creating a more polarized Legislature facing Democratic Gov.-elect Laura Kelly.

Richard Jones spent 17 years in a Kansas prison for a robbery committed by his doppelganger. When he was exonerated and released last June, he had little to his name other than what had been donated by members of the public who had heard his story.

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer says the state’s government will be more transparent with the new rules for releasing information he signed into law Thursday.

In an election year with a state Supreme Court ruling hanging over their heads, Kansas lawmakers wrestled over school spending, taxes and guns.

They fought among themselves and often split ways from legislators they’d chosen as leaders.

In the end, they decided not to throw a tax cut to voters. It would have partly reversed tough political choices they made a year before to salvage state government’s troubled financial ledger.

The Kansas House killed a tax cut bill on its way out the door Friday, ending the 2018 session with yet another signal that this isn’t the same conservative-dominated body of just two years ago.

This is the Legislature that voted last year to expand Medicaid and end then-Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature 2012 tax cuts with a two-year, $1.2 billion tax hike.

Kansas lawmakers voted to inject money into state services, pensions and higher education just hours before debating legislation to send millions of dollars back to taxpayers.

House and Senate negotiators struck a tentative deal Wednesday to prevent changes in federal tax law from ratcheting up state taxes for Kansans.

The Senate wanted broader tax cuts in the same bill, but couldn’t coax the House team to go along.

Rep. Steve Johnson, who chairs the House tax committee, said his chamber didn’t want to go beyond addressing the federal impact in ways that would produce deeper cuts to state government revenue.

“It’s all of the tax cuts and these targeted tax cuts that have given us heartburn,” he said.

Kansas lawmakers approved an updated $16 billion budget Saturday on a 92-24 vote as they worked through part of the weekend.

The bill amends the spending plans lawmakers approved last year, and includes some targeted increases in state government funding.

It partially restores cuts to higher education from 2016, at a cost of $12 million. It also allocates $8 million to provide raises to workers in the judicial branch.

The bill funnels more money into the state’s pension plan, KPERS, to make up for a missed $194 million payment.

Changes in federal tax law could actually cost some Kansans more in state taxes.

Kansas lawmakers might turn down that revenue windfall and add an election year tax cut instead. A bill they’re backing would cost roughly the same amount as a court-triggered boost to school spending.

A roiling debate over how to assess big box stores — their worth when occupied, or their value as vacant properties — could upend property tax systems across Kansas.

At the heart is the “dark store theory,” as critics call the strategy. It contends property valuations should look at what an empty store could fetch on the open market.

That would dramatically cut their property tax bills, forcing county and local governments either to get by on smaller budgets or shift a heavier burden to other property owners.

The Kansas Senate has passed a bill that increases the penalties for people who make “swatting” calls.

The bill was sparked by a swatting incident in December in which Andrew Finch was killed by Wichita Police responding to a fake call about a hostage situation at his address.

Swatting involves making a false 911 call to draw law enforcement to an address.

Finch was shot when he came onto his porch to investigate the police activity outside. Police have said Finch disobeyed police commands and was reaching towards his waistband when he was shot.

This story was updated at 5:26 p.m. to include the comments of Planned Parenthood Great Plains' regional director of public policy. 

The state of Kansas wants the United States Supreme Court to review a decision preventing it from terminating its Medicaid contract with Planned Parenthood.

In a petition filed on Thursday, it argues that a federal appeals court was wrong when it decided that Medicaid patients have a right to challenge a state’s termination of their Medicaid provider.

Kansas lawmakers are considering creating a watchdog based outside the state’s child welfare agency, but with access to inside information.

A bill to create a child advocate to review the Department for Children and Families comes after years of horror stories of abused children who ended up injured, missing or dead.

An effort by conservatives to protect what they see as an assault on free speech on college campuses fell to defeat by the narrowest of margins Thursday in the Kansas Senate.

The bill — inspired by the canceling of conservative speakers’ appearances at some elite schools across the country in recent years — would eliminate “free-speech zones” designated for demonstrations. Some critics have seen such zones as a way of moving politically unpopular perspectives out of view.

The mere threat of launching debate on Medicaid expansion in Kansas has caged up a measure to suspend, rather than terminate, coverage for people while they’re locked up.

March madness has many Kansans filling out their NCAA brackets. Kansas lawmakers are considering legislation that could tap into that market by legalizing sports gambling in the state.

A bill before the House Federal and State Affairs Committee would allow sports betting through the Kansas Lottery. At least one major professional league says it wants some input on the rules and a cut of the winnings.

A resolution pending in the Kansas Legislature would urge, but not require, state regulators to make electric rates more competitive.

Ryan Cavanaugh has a vision for downtown Topeka: a restaurant and pub called Brew Bank, where customers can access a wall of 20 electronic, self-serve beer taps as a way to mingle and try local brews.

“It’s just about a community experience,” he said. “For the patrons to be able to try all of these beers and try them responsibly in small amounts is just an exciting thing.”

The devices let customers use an electronic card to dispense brews.

“Let’s face it,” Cavanaugh said, “the technology’s just really cool.”

Kansas lawmakers, increasingly skeptical that tax breaks deliver economic wins, looked closely this week at economic incentive programs.

Senators on the Commerce Committee spent several days discussing bills that would add new requirements to sales tax revenue bonds, known as STAR bonds.

STAR bonds allow local governments to borrow money for a building project, and tax collections created by the development are diverted to pay off the loans.

Questions about a private company’s efforts to win a lucrative prison contract from former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration have lawmakers looking to close a loophole in state lobbying laws.

Current law requires legislative lobbyists to register with the state and report their expenses. But there are no such requirements for those peddling influence in the executive and judicial branches of state government.

On Wednesday, members of the Senate voted 40-0 to pass a bill that would change that.

Kansas lawmakers have forged a compromise to allow more access to video from police body cameras and vehicles.

Legislation debated in the Kansas House Wednesday followed recent shootings by police in the state.

The bill says people in the videos or their families must be given access to the recordings within 20 days.

In the past, it could take months for families to see a video and find out what happened in a fatal police shooting.

Republican Rep. Blaine Finch said this plan would give families a definite timeline.

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