Posts tagged with Kansas Legislature

‘Celebrate Freedom Week’ approved by House

The Kansas House on Friday approved a bill that will require public schools to have a "Celebrate Freedom Week" every year in mid-September.

Supporters said it would help students learn more about the early history of the United States and founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

"I think it's time we got involved in celebrating patriotism," said state Rep. John Bradford, R-Lansing, who said he felt that children were not getting enough instruction on U.S. history.

But opponents of House Bill 2280 said schools were already teaching American history and that mandating a specific period for the instruction could mess up teachers' class schedules.

"How ironic that we have a bill with freedom in the name that is one more mandate on local government," said state Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton.

State Rep. Ward Cassidy, R-St. Francis, said he liked the idea of a "Celebrate Freedom Week," but opposed mandating schools to have it. "I don't think every time we come up with a great idea we should force schools to do that great idea," he said.

The measure was approved 95-25 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.

In addition to studying the "original intent, meaning and importance" of the nation's early documents, the bill says, "The religious references in the writings of the founding fathers shall not be censored when presented as part of such instruction."

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Senate Republican leaders say $10 million for KU medical building may be cut

Senate leaders Thursday said Gov. Sam Brownback's budget proposal will be cut and that may eliminate $10 million to help Kansas University build a new health education building.

"As you look at cuts, the easiest things to cut are projects that haven't started yet," said Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, described the KU proposal as "low-hanging fruit," in efforts to cut the budget.

Their comments came after the Senate wrapped up business before the unofficial halfway point of the 2013 legislative session.

Wagle said Brownback's budget will have to be cut in order to bridge a revenue shortfall. Meanwhile, she said, she believes a majority of the Senate will vote to keep in place the 6.3 percent state sales tax rate, which was scheduled to fall back to 5.7 percent on July 1.

Keeping the sales tax at 6.3 percent is necessary to buy down income tax rates, Wagle, Bruce and Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence said.

KU has made construction of a $75 million medical building at the KU Medical Center a major goal to increase the number of trained doctors.

Brownback proposed $10 million over two years to help jump-start the proposal. A Senate budget committee has removed the funding but the House budget committee has kept it in.

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Measure banning “wrongful birth” claims approved by Kansas Senate

Topeka — The Kansas Senate on Thursday approved legislation that critics said would allow doctors to withhold information about prenatal problems from pregnant women if they believe it would lead the mother to get an abortion.

Senate Bill 142 bans civil actions for a claim of so-called "wrongful life" or "wrongful birth," in which a doctor withholds information about medical problems with the fetus from the pregnant woman and the baby is born with problems the mother was not warned about.

Abortion rights supporters say the measure will encourage doctors to lie to pregnant women.

State Sen. Pat Pettey, D-Kansas City, said the measure "invites doctors to break the oath of their profession." She added, "This legislation is disrespectful to woman and families."

But supporters of the bill said a doctor who lies to a patient would still be liable for medical malpractice and possible violations of standards set by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts.

State Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, said the legislation, supported by Kansans for Life, would prohibit parents from filing lawsuits where they want to be compensated for not aborting their child.

The measure was approved by the Senate, 34-5, and now goes to the House for consideration.

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Senate committee recommends workers’ comp bill backed by business, opposed by labor

Topeka — The Senate Commerce Committee on Monday recommended approval of a workers' compensation bill opposed by labor and trial lawyers.

Pro-business interests said Senate Bill 73 updated medical guidelines dealing with workers injured on the job and the employer-paid insurance system to compensate them.

The bill would use the American Medical Association Sixth Edition of injury impairment ratings, rather than the Fourth Edition which is currently used and agreed to two years ago by both sides of workers' comp litigation.

Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said the proposed change was a mistake.

"I have a huge concern that there are classes of workers out there who will no longer qualify for work disability," under the newer edition, he said.

Trial lawyers and labor officials said the Sixth Edition guidelines were untested and would be confusing to Kansas physicians who had become accustomed to the Fourth Edition.

Holland's amendment to keep the Fourth Edition was rejected.

But several Republicans also expressed concern about changing to the Sixth Edition and an amendment was approved to delay its implementation until 2015.

The committee also removed a proposal in the bill that would have disallowed payment through workers' compensation insurance coverage to undocumented workers.

In addition, Sen. Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, successfully amended the bill to shorten to 10 days from 20 days the time an injured worker has to file a workers' comp complaint.

Some on the committee said the shorter period would increase the number of workers' comp disputes because workers would be faced with a tighter deadline to decide to pursue a claim. But Denning said the shorter deadline would encourage workers to get treatment while giving employers more certainty about whether they would face an injured worker claim.

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Bill filed to require establishment of adult stem cell center at KU Med

Topeka -- A bill pushed by abortion opponents that would require the Kansas University Medical Center to establish a center that focuses on adult stem cells has been filed in the Legislature.

Senate Bill 199 would create the Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center.

The measure is authored by 22 conservative Republican senators, including Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita, Majority Leader Terry Bruce of Hutchinson, and Public Health and Welfare Chair Mary Pilcher-Cook of Shawnee.

A hearing on the bill will probably be held later this month.

Under the proposal, KU would appoint a director of the center who would be responsible for oversight of patient treatment and research with adult, cord blood and other non-embryonic stem cells. Abortion opponents oppose human embryonic stem cell research because it involves the destruction of the embryo.

The director could solicit grants, gifts and contributions. The bill also sets up a 13-member advisory board.

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Realtors rally to oppose Brownback’s plan to eliminate homeowner tax deductions

Topeka — Realtors from across the state gathered Wednesday just outside Gov. Sam Brownback's office in the Statehouse to rally in opposition to a proposal by the governor to eliminate the homeowner mortgage interest and property tax deductions.

Brownback has said removing the deductions are needed to balance the budget and ratchet down the state personal income tax in future years.

Realtors say elimination of the deductions will hurt hundreds of thousands of Kansans and send the housing market into a tailspin.

Realtors gather outside Gov. Sam Brownback's office in the Statehouse to oppose the governor's proposal to eliminate tax deductions used by homeowners.

Realtors gather outside Gov. Sam Brownback's office in the Statehouse to oppose the governor's proposal to eliminate tax deductions used by homeowners. by Scott Rothschild

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Prayer list targets “dark spiritual areas” of Kansas, including Lawrence

Topeka — A prayer list put out by the Capitol Commission, which is dedicated to spreading the teachings of Jesus Christ, calls for praying for "dark spiritual areas" of Kansas, including Lawrence.

In a one-page list of Capitol Prayers being passed around the Statehouse recently, prayer is urged for a number of Kansas leaders, including Gov. Sam Brownback and his staff, and for those who are ill or facing adversity within the Legislature and state government.

The list also states under the heading Intercessor's Challenge: "Target prayer for dark spiritual areas of SE Kansas, Lawrence, KCKS, North Johnson County — ask God to restore the land."

Dave DePue, the Kansas pastor for Capitol Commission, said the prayer was to improve the economies in those areas.

"We just seem to be stalled in getting this economy turned around," DePue said, although he added that Lawrence seems to be doing well economically.

Asked about the term "dark spiritual area," he said, "I don't know whether that is worded right, because Lawrence isn't losing population."

The list also included a prayer for the judicial system and asking God "to provide wisdom for restructuring the Kansas selection process."

DePue is a full-time volunteer for Capitol Commission and is often seen around the Statehouse. He often prays with Brownback and legislators. He said he takes requests from legislators and others to put the prayer list together.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said he didn't think it was appropriate to refer "to certain areas of the state as dark spiritual areas."

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Americans for Prosperity calling on legislators to sign anti-tax pledge

Topeka — The Kansas chapter of Americans for Prosperity wants members of the 2013 Legislature to sign a pledge that they will vote against tax increases.

So far, 25 have signed the anti-tax pledge. Here is a link to those who have:

But would a legislator be breaking that pledge if he or she supported extension of the 6.3 percent state sales tax rate? Under current law, that rate is set to decrease to 5.7 percent on July 1, 2013.

The answer to that question is yes, but there is a caveat. According to Jennifer Rezac, a spokeswoman for AFP-Kansas, if extending the 6.3 percent state sales tax rate "were included in legislation that has an overall net reduction in taxes, then it wouldn't be violating the pledge."

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which vehemently opposed the temporary sales tax increase when it was passed in 2010, now supports maintaining the rate if it means further reductions in state income taxes.

Both the Kansas Chamber and AFP have worked hard, and succeeded in many instances, in helping defeat legislators who voted for that temporary state sales tax increase, which was approved to avoid deeper cuts to schools, social services and public safety.

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Sen. Wagle elected president of the Kansas Senate; Merrick new House speaker

Topeka — The Kansas Senate took a hard right on Monday as Republicans elected Susan Wagle as the next Senate president to complete the conservative takeover of state government.

State Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, on Monday awaits vote in the Senate. Wagle was elected Senate president by the Republican caucus.

State Sen. Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, on Monday awaits vote in the Senate. Wagle was elected Senate president by the Republican caucus. by Scott Rothschild

Wagle speaks with colleagues after her election as Senate president on Monday.

Wagle speaks with colleagues after her election as Senate president on Monday. by Scott Rothschild

Wagle, R-Wichita, whose victory makes her the first woman to lead a chamber in the Kansas Legislature, has been a staunch conservative voice for 22 years in the Statehouse and in the middle of many conservative-moderate fights within the Republican Party.

In 2003, Wagle made national headlines alleging improprieties in a human sexuality class at Kansas University. An investigation by KU concluded that the charges were unfounded.

Wagle will replace moderate Republican Steve Morris, who was among a group of moderates defeated in the Republican primary by a conservative blitz led by Gov. Sam Brownback, the billionaire Koch brothers and Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

On Monday, conservatives in the Senate elected their people in all leadership positions. No moderates were even nominated.

When the Legislature convenes Jan. 14, Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, will be majority leader, and Jeff King, R-Independence, Senate vice president. They will join House leaders already firmly in the conservative ranks. Wagle defeated fellow conservative state Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, in a 23-9 vote.

After her election, Wagle, who has survived several bouts with cancer, said the vote for her “brings hope and encouragement to an awful lot of people who want a reason to get out of bed in the morning.”

How far right will the Senate go?

Later, she said the budget will be the dominant issue of the next legislative session.

Because of Brownback’s tax cuts, which includes eliminating income taxes for 191,000 businesses, the state is facing an estimated $328 million revenue shortfall next year.

“My greatest concern is the budget deficit we’re facing and how we’ll resolve that, and I think that will clearly dominate the session,” she said.

Wagle said a big factor in fixing the state budget will be what the federal government does to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff” of automatic tax increases and budget cuts.

She said making history as the first woman elected Senate president was nice, but added, “I don’t think that was why I was elected.”

Republicans hold a 32-8 advantage over Democrats in the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said the new Republican leaders are more conservative the current ones. “It just remains to be seen how far right they will go,” he said.

He said conservatives will be divided on some issues, such as undocumented workers, where the tea party wants tough restrictions that the Kansas Chamber of Commerce opposes.

“I don’t think it’s a given they will walk in lockstep,” Hensley said of conservative Republicans.

Of Wagle, he said, “I’ve admired her independent streak in the past. She is her own person,” he said. But, he noted, they differ on many issues, mentioning her push for anti-union legislation.

Senate Democratic revolt

Hensley faced a revolt in his eight-member caucus from state Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City.

The first ballot for Senate minority leader was tied 4-4 and then Hensley won 5-3 on the second ballot. State Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, challenged state Sen. Laura Kelley, D-Topeka, for assistant minority leader and won.

On the House side, Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, won a three-man race for speaker to replace Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, who retired from the Legislature to lead the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg, was elected majority leader.

Republicans hold a 92-33 edge over Democrats in the House. State Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, was re-elected House minority leader.

Because the House speaker and Senate president are mentioned in the state constitution, Republicans’ selections must be ratified by each chamber once the Legislature convenes the session, but that’s traditionally a formality. House leaders will hold their jobs for 2013 and 2014, but Senate leaders will retain them through 2016.

Wagle has history

Wagle has fought moderate Republicans in several highly publicized issues.

In 2000, as chairwoman of the House Taxation Committee, Wagle launched an investigation into then-Attorney General Carla Stovall’s hiring of her former law firm to work on litigation against tobacco companies.

In 2003, Wagle went to the floor of the Senate and alleged a Kansas University professor showed pornographic videos, rationalized pedophilia and harassed female students in his human sexuality class. But an investigation by KU said the allegations were unsubstantiated.

And last year, Wagle questioned the operations of the Kansas Bioscience Authority. Later, the agency’s chief executive officer resigned.

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Conservatives are in the driver’s seat in the Kansas Legislature; professors ask where they will take the state

Topeka — A group of political science professors on Thursday said conservative Republicans led by Gov. Sam Brownback are in the driver's seat in Kansas and now the question is where will they take the state.

Washburn University political science professor Bob Beatty on Thursday speaks during a roundtable discussion on the recent election. Seated behind him is Gwen Mellinger, a professor at Baker University.

Washburn University political science professor Bob Beatty on Thursday speaks during a roundtable discussion on the recent election. Seated behind him is Gwen Mellinger, a professor at Baker University. by Scott Rothschild

"The governor is going to be able to push through his legislative agenda in a very meaningful way," said Joe Aistrup of Kansas State University. "We are going to see a very strong pendulum swing to the right," Aistrup told about 75 people who gathered for a post-election discussion at Washburn University.

Conservative Republicans knocked off eight moderate Republican incumbents in the state Senate in August and will be in charge of that chamber when the legislative session starts in January. In the 125-member House, Republicans, most of them conservatives, hold a 92-33 edge over Democrats. More than 50 members of the House will be new legislators.

Aistrup said conservatives have made moderate Republicans in Kansas "almost extinct." Moderates, he said, are retired, beaten or converted, and he said that the Democratic Party probably won't be viable in Kansas for decades.

Michael Smith, of Emporia State University, said now that conservatives have taken over state government and hold all six congressional positions, they must show what their small government philosophy will look like.

Smith said to make significant budget cuts on the federal and state level will require cuts to health care and education and it will be interesting to see how the public reacts to that.

Ed Flentje, of Wichita State University, said the number of state governments in control of the Republican party has grown from nine in 2008 to 24 in 2012. In fact, he said only 11 states have divided party control.

"At the state level, red states got redder and blue states got bluer," Flentje said.

Burdett Loomis, of Kansas University, said Kansas has become a more conservative state while the United States "is trending blue." He said Republican governors face a dilemma. "They've got to deal with the federal government. They can choose to cooperate, work with it, or not cooperate and play it on a pure political basis," which could hurt the states, he said.

Loomis said one of the bills that he expects will pass next year in the Kansas Legislature and be signed into law by Brownback would allow a religious defense to discriminate against gays.

"That kind of legislation will slide through the Legislature," he said. Last session, the House approved the bill, but Senate leaders, who have since been defeated in the GOP primary, wouldn't consider the bill. Several Lawrence officials fought against the measure, saying it would have nullified a city of Lawrence anti-discrimination ordinance that includes sexual orientation.

Bob Beatty and Mark Peterson, both of Washburn University, and Gwen Mellinger of Baker University also spoke at the event.

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