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Senate lays out tax debate schedule; Democrats announce details of Bernie Sanders appearance

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Republican leaders in the Kansas Senate announced their plans for debating tax bills the rest of this week, and one scenario could put the just-passed House plan on Gov. Sam Brownback's desk early next week.

That, however, depends on what happens Thursday morning in the House when it votes on final passage of its plan, which would raise income taxes to the tune of just over $1 billion over the next two years. The House advanced that bill to final action on a surprising 83-39 vote, and if it picks up another one or two votes on Thursday, that would put it over the two-thirds majority threshold for overriding an almost-certain governor's veto.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, announced on the Senate floor Wednesday that, assuming the House passes its bill, the Senate will send it straight to the floor for debate on Friday, bypassing the normal process of holding on to the bill while the Senate sends its own bill over to the House.

Should the Senate pass the House bill without any changes — which would be highly unusual — that would send the bill directly to the governor's desk.

Before any of that happens, however, the Senate plans to take up what has come to be known as the Senate Democrats plan on Thursday. That bill would raise an estimated $1.2 billion over the next two years.

And in another unusual move, Democratic Sen. Tom Holland, of Baldwin City, the ranking minority member on the Senate tax committee, will be the one who carries the bill on the floor, meaning he will explain its contents and answer questions from other senators.

Holland acknowledged that it's unusual for a member of the minority party to carry such a major piece of legislation on the floor. But given the fact that the bill has been dubbed "the Democrats bill," he thought it was probably fitting.

It wasn't entirely clear what the strategy was behind putting two tax bills on the debate calendar back to back, or what the implications would be if both bills pass. But Denning said he sees nothing wrong with doing that.

"You know, everybody's been talking about tax policy for four years," he said. "We're all comfortable with the bill; we know what's in it. Everybody's ready to have the debate. We're getting close to Turnaround, so the most efficient day to do that is if (House Bill) 2178 gets out of the House, just bring it to the Committee of the Whole and save us a couple of days."

Turnaround Day, which is Thursday, Feb. 23, is the traditional midpoint of the session and the deadline for most nontax and nonspending bills to pass out of their chamber of origin.

Both the House and Senate Democrats bills would eliminate the so-called LLC loophole on pass-through business income, and both would reinstate a third, higher tax bracket on top of the existing two. The main difference is that under the Senate Democrats plan, that higher bracket would kick in earlier: anything over $35,000 a year for individuals, or $70,000 a year for couples filing jointly. The threshold in the House plan is $50,000 for single filers and $100,000 for couples filing jointly.

Also, the Senate Democrats would keep rates for the bottom two tax brackets the same: 2.7 percent for the bottom bracket and 4.6 percent for the middle bracket. But for the upper bracket, the rate would go to 6.45 percent.

Under the House plan, rates for the middle bracket would increase to 5.25 percent, and the upper bracket rate would go to 5.45 percent.

Details of Bernie Sanders event

The Kansas Democratic Party confirmed this week that former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders will speak in Topeka at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, in the Topeka High School gymnasium. But they implore people who want tickets to the event not to call the high school. Tickets are available through the Democratic Party's website.

Sanders will be the keynote speaker at the state party's annual Washington Days convention being held that weekend. The convention itself will be at the Downtown Ramada Inn in Topeka.

Sanders finished a close second for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 behind former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But he won the Kansas Democratic caucuses in March by more than a three-to-one margin.

In the U.S. Senate, he is listed as an independent from Vermont because he was not officially a member of the Vermont Democratic Party when he was last elected. Sanders refers to himself as a Democratic Socialist.

Since the election he has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump's policies on immigration, financial regulation and other issues.

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