Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick says he'll be working to focus the chamber on economic issues for the rest of the legislative session. Some controversial bills in the House have caught national attention and criticism in recent weeks.
Merrick, a Republican from Stillwell, Kan., says he can't stop members from filing bills, but he can try to get lawmakers back to what he calls the basics of making Kansas the “most business-friendly state in the country.”
A committee in the Kansas Legislature is considering a bill that would overhaul the state's retirement system.
The Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, or KPERS, covers thousands of state workers and local government employees like teachers. The proposal would switch KPERS to a 401(k)-style plan where employees manage their retirement benefits.
Currently, KPERS is a pension that pays benefits to a worker based on their salary and years of service. Right now, there's about a $10 billion long-term shortfall.
The full Kansas House could soon consider a bill cutting back local government firearm regulations. That comes after a House committee amended and approved the legislation on Wednesday. It would bar local governments from regulating the open carry of firearms and make other changes.
A committee in the Kansas Legislature could vote this week on a controversial religious freedom bill. It says businesses, individuals and other groups with strong religious beliefs can't be forced to recognize same-sex marriage and provide employment or other services to same-sex couples.
Michael Schuttloffel is with the Kansas Catholic Conference. He uses the example of a photographer asked to photograph a same-sex wedding ceremony.
Gov. Sam Brownback is taking steps to help reduce a shortage of propane needed for home heating. He's easing trucking regulations and directing state officials to provide help to poor families.
Brownback and the state fire marshal say Kansans who are running low on propane should not try alternate heating methods that could be unsafe.
"There's a temptation sometimes to do almost anything to stay warm and some of those things, like using a stove to keep warm or hooking up a five gallon propane tank to your house, is dangerous. It can cost lives,” said Brownback.
Hundreds of Kansans gathered at the Statehouse Wednesday to celebrate the end of the building's 13-year-long restoration project. The event coincided with Kansas Day, the state's 153rd birthday.
School children, members of the public and former and current state officials attended the ceremony. Historians learned that the Kansas Statehouse was never formally dedicated after its initial completion, so Gov. Sam Brownback took the opportunity to unveil a plaque and officially dedicate the Kansas Capitol.
Death penalty appeals in Kansas could speed up under a bill before a Senate committee. There are currently rules limiting the length of court documents and setting deadlines for the process to move forward, but they often aren't followed. The bill would enforce those rules.
Kris Ailslieger, with the attorney general's office, held up a court document more than an inch thick. He says lengthy court briefs and delays often extend the process.
Gov. Sam Brownback is proposing a reversal of some state university salary cuts and a 1.5 percent raise for classified state employees. He's also hoping to rewrite the Department of Corrections budget.
Andover Republican and Senate budget committee chair, Ty Masters, says most of the governor's proposed $460 million dollar spending increase is allocated for corrections, but some lawmakers will still have concerns.
Gov. Sam Brownback made comments aimed at the courts, referenced Kansas history and touted his administration's accomplishments during the annual State of the State address Wednesday night.
Brownback unveiled some of his legislative priorities as he spoke before the members of the Kansas House and Senate. He held up what he says are the achievements of his administration over the last three years: building up state financial reserves and balancing the budget during the recession.
Officials at the Kansas Department of Corrections have recently been working to deal with budget cuts. Some lawmakers voted against the state budget for the current fiscal year specifically because of the cuts to corrections. Legislators may now try to go back and reverse some of the reductions.
Secretary of Corrections Ray Roberts says they have had to deal with a $4 million funding shortfall. He says they had to move money from other areas and cut back on offender programs, and they are still more than $1 million short.
The 2014 Kansas legislative session is underway, and on the first day, two lawmakers introduced bills that would reduce a backlog of voter registrations.
Nearly 20,000 registrations are on hold in Kansas because of a new law that took effect last year requiring people registering to vote for the first time in Kansas to provide documents proving their U.S. citizenship.
The bills that have been introduced would allow people registering to instead sign an affidavit swearing they're a U.S. citizen. Lying on the form would be a felony.
The 2014 Kansas legislative session kicks off Monday, and Gov. Sam Brownback says education is at the top of his priorities, including his recently unveiled reading initiative and instituting statewide full-day kindergarten.
"I think the public wants to see us produce high-quality products, here from government. And the core function of state government is education," Brownback said in an exclusive interview. "We put over half of our state general fund in K-12, but we need to see it produce and not just put money in. And, not ask for any results."
The Kansas Supreme Court generally issues rulings on Fridays, so many people in the Kansas Legislature were watching to see if the court would release its opinion in a controversial school finance case Friday.
The justices did not, so lawmakers are likely to start the legislative session on Monday without a decision in the case.
House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, says the case could prompt lawmakers to consider rewriting the state's school funding formula.
Gov. Sam Brownback has a plan to beef up veterans' services in Kansas. The proposal would include improvements at two facilities and new workers aimed at helping veterans.
The plan would include a $1.4 million renovation of a veterans' home in southwest Kansas. It would also add 40 new beds for long-term care services to a veterans' facility in Winfield.
Gregg Burden, executive director of the Kansas Commission on Veterans' Affairs, says under the proposal they'll also be looking to hire four new staff members to help veterans access the benefits they've earned.
Legally married same-sex couples are suing the Kansas Department of Revenue over a policy that says they must file separate state tax returns. Kansas does not recognize same-sex marriages, but some other states and the federal government do.
Thomas Witt is with the group Equality Kansas. He says married same-sex couples in Kansas could file a single federal return but would be forced to file two separate state returns.
A state panel is recommending some of the final details for the Kansas Statehouse grounds. The major parts of the renovations should be completed by the end of the year. The Capitol Preservation Committee is recommending additions like a walking trail, new signs and a series of light posts around the property. But they voted not to recommend placing two fountains on the grounds.
Landon Fulmer is a member of the panel and the governor's chief of staff. He questioned a proposal to install two fountains at a cost of more than $90,000, because they'd have to be shutdown in winter.
The Kansas Board of Regents has approved a new social media policy for state university employees. Violating the policy could lead to sanctions, including dismissal.
Regents Chairman Fred Logan says there is a concern that social media can lead to what he calls "extraordinary damage" to institutions very quickly. He says the requirements are narrowly drawn and highlight exceptions to First Amendment protections that have been created by the courts.
A federal agency has been ordered to take another look at the national voter registration form and consider a change requested by Kansas and Arizona. The two states require proof of citizenship in some cases when registering to vote. The states want the federal form to include instructions on the document requirement.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says the federal Election Assistance Commission hasn't yet made a decision.
The Kansas State Board of Education has made a strong statement urging school districts to teach cursive writing. The recommended grade school standards say the board "expects" districts to teach cursive.
The board voted 10-0 to tell school districts to keep cursive in the classroom, citing research that indicates handwriting is connected to cognitive development.
Board member Janet Waugh, from Kansas City, Kan., says she understands why schools might cut back on cursive.
The chairman of the Kansas Corporation Commission, Mark Sievers, has announced he will resign. Sievers has chaired the regulatory board since 2011. The organization has recently been involved in some controversies.
The KCC regulates utilities like electricity and gas, as well as motor carries and oil wells. Last month, a Shawnee County judge fined the organization for violating the state's open meetings act.
Republican Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts says he isn't satisfied with the pace of negotiations on the farm bill. The legislation is in a conference committee where negotiators will try to work out differences between versions passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
The current farm bill has already expired, which means some programs will end later this month and prices for commodities like milk will go up if there isn't some kind of agreement.
The Thanksgiving weekend marks the start of Christmas tree sales in many places. And here in Kansas, a lot of the trees sold are grown in the state. But Christmas tree farmers have faced challenges in recent years because of drought conditions.
Eldon Clawson, president of the Kansas Christmas Tree Growers Association, says some growers have had to take steps like adding drip irrigation to keep trees healthy.
“It’s an investment, a major investment, but it’s paid off for their trees,” says Clawson.
A select group of Kansas lawmakers will receive an update on the state's Internet technology security during a committee meeting Tuesday. The annual audit involves combing through the security protocols of state agencies looking for problems.
Gov. Sam Brownback met with education officials and some top Republican lawmakers Monday to discuss school finance. The gathering comes as the Kansas Supreme Court considers a lawsuit over education spending and lawmakers prepare for the 2014 legislative session.
Brownback says the closed-door meeting was aimed at bringing together his office, education officials that represent local districts and lawmakers. He says those groups have not always seen eye-to-eye on the issue of education funding, leading to lawsuits.
Wind energy tax credits help make wind power more affordable, and have boosted the industry in states like Kansas. But those credits are set to expire at the end of the year, and lawmakers from Kansas disagree on what should be done.
Republican Congressman Mike Pompeo from Wichita said last week that the federal government supporting wind energy with tax credits is an intrusion into the economy. Pompeo says opposition is growing and he's arguing to let the credit expire.