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Bill Greenblatt / UPI

Filling Tom Schweich’s void in the state auditor’s office may be one of the most important decisions of Gov. Jay Nixon’s tenure. He’ll have to pick somebody who can perform the tasks of an important office – and contend with the rigors of maneuvering through statewide politics.

As chief executive of the state, Nixon has filled lots and lots of vacancies – everything from an opening for Howard County surveyor to slots on the Missouri Supreme Court. This time, the pressure is on: Some want Nixon to select an African-American for the job, which would bring the state to a weighty milestone 194 years in the making. And others feel Nixon, a Democrat, should take the unlikely step of appointing a Republican to the post.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

Kansas lawmakers will be busy this week before they leave for their annual spring break. They'll be on break for nearly a month.

The Kansas Senate has passed its version of a two-year budget and the House could take up a budget this week. Conference committees will also be working to hammer out differences between bills that passed the House and Senate in different forms.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Democrat Kansas Rep. Dennis "Boog" Highberger from Lawrence, provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka. 

Guests:

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Kansas City, Missouri's newly approved budget for the coming year still calls for fewer people and no raises.  But last minute revisions eased some of the cuts in the original version.

The $1.5 billion spending plan the city council approved still pumps $80 million into long neglected pension funds and honors a fire department call for $10.5 million more to cover overtime and operating expenses. 

But improved collections for ambulance services inspired number crunchers to restore a portion of cuts planned in three notable areas.

flickr user j.s. clark / Creative Commons

The Kansas City city council votes Thursday on putting Kemper Arena on the market nationally as “surplus property.” 

Councilman Ed Ford, who chairs the economic development committee says assuming full-council approval, the city will send out a request for proposals on Kemper in early April, hoping to get at least one feasible offer. 

"If there is none, then the city is going to have to determine whether it makes economic sense to to tear it down or to mothball it, because status quo it's not working.  It's costing the city too much money to keep it open for too few events,” said Ford.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback says he isn’t concerned by budget bills in the House and Senate that aren’t balanced. The chambers are considering bills that would require a tax increase to keep the state out of the red. That comes after lawmakers cut taxes in recent years.

Brownback fielded some questions about the budget at an event in Topeka Monday. Brownback does not seem phased by the budget bills. He says lawmakers will fill the deficit, like the Kansas Constitution requires.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Republican Kansas Rep. Tom Phillips from Manhattan, provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka.

Guests:

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Two items that have been on the back burner for some time for the Kansas City City Council will move to the foreground next week. 

Ordinances were introduced Thursday addressing the future of Kemper Arena and regulation of ride-share services like Lyft and Uber. 

A committee will start refining an ordinance declaring Kemper Arena “surplus property” and starting a nationwide request for proposals on what to do with it. 

The length of time a Missourian could receive welfare benefits would be cut in half, if legislation passed by the Missouri House becomes law.

In many states, funding for schools is determined by a complicated formula that adjusts the basic per pupil funding according to set of factors like how many students are considered “at-risk,” receive bilingual services, ride buses or whether enrollment is declining. A bill awaiting Gov. Sam Brownback’s signature would bypass the school funding formula for the next two years in favor of block grants to districts.

Zenoir/Creative Commons

A request from the hospitality industry to put an end to individual liquor server licenses in Kansas City, Missouri, gets thumbs down from a city council committee. 

Representatives of the Restaurant Association have argued that requiring liquor cards is burdensome for workers and inconsistent with policies of other municipalities in the metro. But the Public Safety Committee voted 3-2 for only minor changes. 

A bill that scraps the school funding system in Kansas has passed the Legislature and is heading to the governor’s desk for consideration. The Senate voted 25-14 to concur with a bill that had previously passed the Kansas House. It would temporarily create a block grant system while lawmakers write a new funding formula.

Supporters of the bill say it has $300 million in new funding and gives Kansas schools more flexibility. Republican Senate President Susan Wagle says the bill lets them start over and ditches a school funding formula she calls “broken.”

Kansas Legislature

Republican Kansas Rep. Barbara Bollier from Mission Hills, provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka.

Guests:

A bill that would replace the school funding formula in Kansas with block grants has been speeding through the legislative process. It could stay on the fast track this week and could be on the governor’s desk in mere days.

The bill passed the House on a tight vote just over a week after it was introduced. Republican Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce says the Senate could move to simply agree to the House bill as soon as Monday. That would skip sending the bill through the normal committee process in the Senate, but Bruce says a motion to concur isn’t out of the ordinary

The Kansas House has voted to scrap the current school funding system in Kansas and replace it with block grants for two years. That would give legislators time to craft a new formula.

There was a contentious debate Thursday and the bill won initial approval on a 64-58 vote.

Republican Rep. Ron Ryckman admits change isn’t easy, but he says the plan will give Kansas school districts more local control over how they spend their dollars.

The Missouri House has passed the 13 bills that make up the Fiscal Year 2016 state budget about three weeks earlier than usual.

Republicans want to send the budget to Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, early enough to require him to make any line-item vetoes while lawmakers are still in session.  That, in turn, would allow them to override any vetoes right away instead of waiting until September's veto session.

Republican Kansas Rep. Lane Hemsley from Topeka, provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka.

Guests:

A budget-writing subcommittee in the Kansas Senate has proposed cutting millions of dollars from the University of Kansas and shifting that money to the KU Medical Center. The plan would also cut Kansas State University.

The proposal from Republican Sen. Tom Arpke would cut KU’s main campus by more than $9 million over the next two years. Arpke says there would be a similar funding increase for KU Med, with the goal of training more doctors for rural areas.

A Kansas Senate committee will hold a hearing Wednesday to study the governor’s choice to fill a vacancy on the Kansas Court of Appeals. Gov. Sam Brownback has picked Topeka attorney Kathryn Gardner to fill the open seat.

During the hearing, senators will hear from any supporters and opponents of Gardner’s nomination. Then, senators will have a chance to pepper Gardner with questions about her experience and qualifications.

When Brownback announced that Gardner would be his pick, he said she meets the standards Kansans set for judges.

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Democrat Kansas Sen. Marci Francisco from Lawrence, provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka.

Guests:

Within minutes of the news of Auditor Tom Schweich's death, Gov. Jay Nixon ordered all flags on Missouri property lowered to half-staff.

But the governor will soon have a much bigger decision to make: who to appoint as Schweich's successor.

Missouri law seems to suggest that a decision must be made rapidly:

M Glasgow / Flickr--CC

Kansans could carry a concealed gun without a permit under a bill that has advanced in the state Senate. Currently, Kansans need to get a permit, which requires training and a background check.

Republican Sen. Jacob LaTurner says you can already openly carry a gun without a permit.

“This issue is about our 2nd Amendment right, which we’re guaranteed under the state Constitution and the federal Constitution. This bill gets us closer in line with what many of us believe was the intent,” says LaTurner.

"You need a liquor card for the job” is something job applicants often hear in Kansas City, Mo. But City Councilman Scott Wagner has introduced an ordinance to change that.

Kansas City requires the personal licenses for people who sell alcohol in the name of public safety – protecting credit cards and personal ID information from someone who has a serious felony record. 

But at a committee hearing on Wednesday, Laura McDonald of the More-Square Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity was one of several witnesses who questioned that logic.

The Kansas House has advanced a bill that would bar political candidates from removing themselves from the ballot after the filing deadline. Currently, candidates can declare they can’t serve in office and have their name taking off the ballot before an election.

Republican Rep. Mark Kahrs repeatedly referenced Democrat Chad Taylor dropping out of the U.S. Senate race last year.

Peggy Lowe / KCUR

Doug Bonney keeps the envelope close by, tucked on top of the left side of his desk, about an inch thick and marked with his own handwriting: “Marriage Equality Case.”

Bonney, the legal director of the ACLU of Kansas, keeps it handy because he’s been busy filling it up. Over nearly five months, Bonney has represented two gay couples in their case against the state, who have succeeded, little by by little, in overturning the ban on same-sex marriage.

A Kansas law currently allows some students who are in this country illegally to pay in-state tuition at state community colleges and universities. Around 650 students are now using the program, but a Kansas House committee is considering a bill that would take away that benefit. Lawmakers heard testimony on the proposal Tuesday.

Republican Rep. John Rubin, from Shawnee, is against the idea of giving in-state tuition to the children of immigrants living here illegally. He says the policy has helped turn Kansas into a “veritable sanctuary state.” 

Matt Hodapp / KCUR

Republican Kansas Sen. Jeff Melcher from Leawood, provides an insider perspective on the historic 2015 legislative session underway in Topeka.

Guests:

A Kansas House committee has approved legislation that would let convenience stores sell full-strength beer and allow grocery stores to sell beer, wine and liquor. The proposed changes, which would take effect in 2018.

Republican Rep. Scott Schwab says this change will be convenient for Kansas consumers. He says in his family, his wife doesn’t want to go to a liquor store while out shopping.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

The top Democrat in the Kansas Senate says lawmakers haven’t accomplished enough so far this session.

Legislators are facing a significant deadline this week, which marks the midpoint of their scheduled time in Topeka. Democratic Sen. Anthony Hensley believes they’re not making enough progress solving problems like a budget shortfall.

Hensley is concerned that they haven’t tackled some big issues and they haven’t passed enough bills. He says they’re already set up to go beyond the normal 90 days of the Kansas session.

The Kansas Senate has given first-round approval to legislation that would bar a specific type of abortion procedure, known as dilation and extraction abortion. The bill calls it “dismemberment abortion.”

Several Republicans focused on the procedure itself, describing it as gruesome.

“And there is no basis upon which anybody can attempt to defend it, and yet some do. I would hope that this body would set, yet again, an example for the nation,” said Republican Sen. Steve Fitzgerald.

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