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Taxes, budget, abortion and hemp on this week's legislative agenda


Kansas lawmakers made almost no progress last week toward balancing the state's current budget or coming up with a plan to fund the next one, but that could change this week when one Senate committee takes up Gov. Sam Brownback's "rescission" bill, and another makes a stab at a tax bill to raise just more than $1 billion over two years.

Meanwhile in the House, which has spent the last few weeks waiting on the Senate to come up with a solid position on budget and taxes, members will focus their attention on a host of other issues that include raising water fees, legalizing industrial hemp and the first abortion bill of the session.

The Senate has been mired in stalemate since early in the session over how to close what once was a projected $350 million funding shortfall for the current year's budget. That shortfall has been whittled down to about $281 million after monthly tax revenues came in a little higher than expected in recent months.

The House passed its version of a rescission bill on Feb. 17 by a margin of 87-36. It largely reflects the governor's plan in that it makes no major cuts in spending, but it does call for delaying payments to schools and the state pension system. Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, along with other GOP leaders, however, have been holding back and insisting on a bill that makes actual cuts — something they've had difficulty getting others to accept, especially if those cuts include K-12 education.

Monday morning, the Senate Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing on the House bill.

Then on Tuesday, the Senate tax committee will hear testimony on another tax bill that is similar in many ways to the bill that Brownback vetoed last month; the Senate narrowly failed to override his veto. It would repeal the so-called LLC exemption, one of Brownback's signature pieces of legislation from 2012, and it would reinstate a third, upper tax bracket while raising rates on many individuals.

Budget officials estimate it would generate $550.5 million in new revenue in the fiscal year that begins July 1, and $440.5 million the year after that. That's not enough to cover the projected shortfalls over the next two years, and it certainly would not provide any additional money for a school finance increase, which the Kansas Supreme Court ordered March 2.

Like the bill that Brownback vetoed last month, those tax changes would be retroactive to Jan. 1, something that Wagle and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, have strongly objected to. And it was their opposition, in large part, that prevented the Senate from mustering the 27 votes needed to override the veto.

Later in the day Monday, the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee will vote on whether to advance a bill that would legalize the production of industrial hemp in Kansas. That's something that has been gaining popularity in some circles of the agriculture industry, especially in water-shortage areas of western Kansas, because hemp requires considerably less water than crops such as corn and soybeans.

That will be followed by another hearing Wednesday in the House Health and Human Services Committee on a bill that would legalize the use of hemp byproducts to treat certain medical disorders. It's essentially the same bill that Rep. John Wilson, D-Lawrence, sponsored last year, which passed the Kansas House but died in the Senate.

Before that happens, the same health committee will conduct a hearing Tuesday on the first abortion bill of the session.

House Bill 2319 would amend the state's Women's Right to Know Act by specifying even more information that abortion providers must disclose to patients before they can perform the procedure. That includes such things as the year the physician got his or her medical degree; how long they've been employed at the facility where the abortion is being performed; whether they've ever been disciplined by the Board of Healing Arts and, if so, links to the webpages where patients can look up records of those disciplinary actions.

The bill even specifies the font and type size that the information must be printed in — Times New Roman, 12-point type.

That hearing comes two days before the Kansas Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging the last major abortion bill passed by the Legislature, which bans a commonly used procedure known as "dilation and evacuation," or D & E, but which is referred to in the law as "dismemberment abortion."

The question in that case is one that has never been presented to the Supreme Court before: whether the Kansas Constitution guarantees the same right to privacy as the U.S. Constitution, and thus provides the same right to abortion that was found in the landmark 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Roe vs. Wade.

A few other issues coming up this week:

• A hearing Monday in the House Taxation Committee on H.B. 2387, providing a sales tax for materials purchased to repair certain property destroyed by wildfires this year.

• Hearings Tuesday in the House Water and Environment Committee, chaired by Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence. One bill would raise certain fees paid by water customers, farmers and ranchers that go into the state water fund. The other would impose more oversight by the Kansas Corporation Commission over oil and gas operators who hold mineral leases giving them the right to drill on other people's property.

• A hearing Wednesday in the Senate Commerce Committee on a bill directing the Kansas Department of Labor to develop a state plan for writing and enforcing the state's own workplace safety rules, thus allowing the state to opt out of the jurisdiction of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

• And a hearing Thursday in the House Taxation Committee on a bill amending the property tax lid that lawmakers imposed on local governments in 2015, and then modified last year.


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