Brownback's agenda piles work on Kansas lawmakers
Topeka, Kan. (AP) — A look at key issues facing the Republican-dominated Kansas Legislature after it convenes Jan. 11:
Balancing the budget
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and the GOP-dominated Legislature must rewrite parts of the state's $15.8 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 to close a projected deficit of roughly $190 million.
Supporters of transportation projects worry the state will divert funds from highway projects, something it's done repeatedly in the past.
Also, legislators in both parties say the state needs to boost pay for corrections officers in state prisons, where turnover is about 30 percent.
Concerns about the financial health of hospitals, particularly in rural areas, are keeping alive a debate over expanding the state Medicaid program's health coverage for the poor. The federal health care overhaul championed by Democratic President Barack Obama encourages states to expand Medicaid, but GOP leaders in Kansas have resisted.
Legislators also are likely to investigate safety issues at the state's mental hospital in Osawatomie and examine foster care for abused and neglected children.
Scrutinizing state courts
Republican legislators in 2014 enacted a law stripping the Kansas Supreme Court of its power to appoint chief judges for the state's 31 district courts, arguing that local judges should have more control over how their courts are run. Critics saw it as an attack on the judiciary's independence.
With a lawsuit against the change pending, GOP legislators last year enacted another statute saying that if the policy change was struck down, the judiciary's entire budget would be "null and void."
The Supreme Court last month struck down the policy change. State officials don't expect the courts to lose all of their funding, but GOP legislators could try to reduce the amount.
Kansas legislators last year junked the state's old, per-pupil formula for distributing more than $4 billion a year in aid to its public, K-12 schools in favor of a law providing stable "block grants" to local school districts. Many educators dislike the law, and it was meant to be temporary, expiring in July 2017. But Republicans are split over how quickly they want to write a replacement formula. Also, the Kansas Supreme Court is still reviewing a funding lawsuit from four school districts.
Kansas is starting work on a plan for complying with a federal rule requiring states to reduce carbon emissions from power plants to combat climate change. Brownback and other Republicans have strongly criticized the rule, but some GOP lawmakers fear the federal government imposing its own plan on the state if it resists. Lawmakers are likely to examine the potential costs to utilities — and consumers.
Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Nickerson Republican, said he expects legislators to investigate increases in electric rates in recent years as well.
Gay rights, religious objections
Gay-marriage opponents were pushing for additional legal protections even before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized it across the nation last year. They're still interested in a religious objections law to keep churches and others from being forced to participate in same-sex weddings. But such efforts face opposition from gay-rights advocates who worry about unleashing discrimination — and from businesses and business groups fearing that employers could lose control of some personnel decisions.
Property tax lid
Many local officials and some legislators, particularly Democrats, want to reconsider limits on cities' and counties' authority to levy local property taxes that are set to take effect in 2018. However, some GOP lawmakers would like to put the limits in effect earlier.
Guns on campus
Faculty, administrators and some students oppose a policy that will require state universities to allow more concealed weapons on campuses starting in July 2017. But gun-rights Republicans are likely to block changes.
By John Hanna, AP Political Writer. Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
The Gayly – January 5, 2016 @ 7:50 a.m.