Stephen Koranda

Stephen Koranda is the Statehouse Bureau Chief for Kansas Public Radio.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.” 

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.

A committee in the Kansas House has started hearings on Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to raise alcohol and tobacco taxes to help fill a budget hole. ]

Richard Carlson, with the Kansas Department of Revenue, says they focused on alcohol and tobacco taxes because consumption taxes do the least harm to the economy.

“It is one of the very few consumption taxes on a product that is most discretionary for the consumer,” says Carlson.

 Opponents of the death penalty in Kansas are hoping to replace the option with life in prison without the possibility of parole. Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994, but has not yet executed anyone in last 20 years. Anti-death penalty advocates are renewing their push to change the law.

A bill in the Kansas Legislature would create a new class of foster homes. They would have to be heterosexual couples married at least seven years, with no tobacco or alcohol in the home, and they would have to attend a regular social gathering like church. The families would be paid more than other foster care providers.

Republican state Sen. Forrest Knox, who is a licensed foster parent, says the foster care system in Kansas needs some changes. He believes these requirements will provide the best environment for kids.

Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has overturned an executive order that protected many state employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The order he rescinded was put into place by former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Her order had barred executive branch state agencies from discriminating in hiring and employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Doug Bonney, with the ACLU of Kansas, says the move comes as a surprise.

The Kansas House has passed a bill that will eliminate most of a $300 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year.

The bill takes money from the state highway fund, children’s program funding and other places to help fill the gap. The bill passed the House on an 88-34 vote, mostly along party lines.

Several Republicans said they had concerns but voted yes so the state could pay its bills on time. Rep. Don Hineman was a yes vote, but called for reconsidering tax cuts passed in recent years.

A committee in the Kansas House has advanced a plan to balance the current fiscal year’s budget. The bill transfers money from sources like the state highway fund, and makes other changes, to help fill a budget hole. But lawmakers decided not to take as much as originally planned from a fund for kids’ programs.

Members of the Kansas House have voted to amend their rules so they won’t work into the early hours of the morning passing legislation.

The rules says they can’t work past midnight, which often happens at the end of the session. Several lawmakers said the late nights can lead to bad decisions.

Republican Rep. Barbara Bollier, a retired physician, says studies show lack of sleep has effects.

“You are impaired, to the equivalent of being drunk. We do not allow alcohol on this floor for a reason. Because our decision making is supposed to be effective,” says Bollier.

Kansas lawmakers are considering a bill giving law enforcement officers in the Kansas City area more legal protections when they cross the state line. A

The legislation would create an agreement between Kansas and Missouri law enforcement agencies. Proponents say if there were, for example, an emergency in Missouri, this would make it easier for Kansas officers to help.

Kansas lawmakers are just beginning the job of reviewing and modifying Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax and budget plan.

The governor’s proposal slows scheduled income tax cuts and reduces spending to help fill a budget shortfall. Republican state Sen. Ty Masterson chairs that chamber’s budget committee. He says after revenue collections came up short of predictions, it’s prudent to adjust the tax cuts.

“We had the largest revenue estimation miss in the history of the state, and so now you just have to reevaluate. The purpose is still the right purpose,” says Masterson.

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

There are some high-profile issues that Kansas lawmakers will address in the upcoming legislative session, including filling a budget hole. But there are always other issues that rise to the surface and attract attention when lawmakers are in Topeka.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says he’ll be pushing anti-poverty legislation in the coming session, and he also expects work on long-term water policy.

While Kansas had other high profile campaigns in 2014, the race for U.S. Senate in Kansas was so unusual that it attracted a lot of attention. Political staffers and experts weighed in Thursday on that and the governor’s race as part of a panel by the Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas.

Two high-ranking Republicans have criticized Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to use state pension dollars to help fill a budget hole.

Senate Vice President Jeff King and state Treasurer Ron Estes have concerns about the move. They say the proposal hurts the public pension plan, known as KPERS, not long after an attempt to fix it.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration has released a plan to fix a budget deficit in the current fiscal year. Cuts to highway funding and the state’s public retirement system will be key to balancing the Kansas budget.

Brownback’s budget director, Shawn Sullivan, says the administration started by trying to find ways to reduce spending while minimizing the effect the cost-cutting would have on services.

The ACLU wants all state agencies in Kansas to recognize same sex marriages. The group is now asking a federal court to make it happen.

The court filing specifically names several state officials, including the secretary of revenue. It says people in same sex relationships have been denied state benefits, like joining their spouse’s health insurance or filing joint taxes.

Thomas Witt, with the group Equality Kansas, says the courts have let same sex marriages go forward in Kansas, and that means they should also be recognized by state agencies.

New members of the Kansas House of Representatives have been taking orientation classes this week preparing for their first legislative session. They're learning about their legislative email accounts and getting their official photos, but looming budget issues are already on their minds. 

Kansas lawmakers will have to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in the coming years to balance the budget. Republican Linda Gallagher, from Lenexa, believes they need to look at raising revenue. She says lawmakers have already made the easiest budget cuts.

Gov. Sam Brownback is staying tight-lipped about his plans to fix a hole in the state budget. But he says he's looking at all the options. 

Following a meeting at the Statehouse, Brownback gave few details to the media about what he'll propose. He says all options are on the table, including tax increases or slowing future scheduled decreases.

Brownback also won't say whether he'll make budget cuts, known as allotments before lawmakers return to the Statehouse in January. Right now, he says he's conferring with state agencies and studying the numbers.

Kansas lawmakers may dip into highway funding to help balance the state’s budget.

The state Senate’s top budget officials say transportation money could help fill the gap. Andover, Kan., Republican Senator Ty Masterson chairs the Ways and Means Committee. He says transportation is a big expense to the state and Kansas has already built a healthy system.

"Pulling back to a point of preservation, and not this aggressive expansion, wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing," Masterson said. "And it wouldn’t be prolonged."

A survey of school districts in Kansas by an efficiency commission has raised some questions about benefits paid to school district employees. The survey from the K12 Performance and Efficiency Commission showed differences in retirement and other benefits offered to employees.

Dave Trabert is a commission member and he also heads the Kansas Policy Institute, a think tank advocating for what they call a "low-tax, pro-growth environment."

He questions the higher benefits packages offered by some districts.

Same-sex marriages will be allowed to go forward in Kansas.

That comes after the U.S. Supreme Court decided Wednesday not to block the marriages while a lawsuit over the issue waits before an appeals court.

Kerry Wilks, from Wichita, and her partner Donna are parties in the lawsuit. She says she was thrilled to hear the news.

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