KANSAS LEGISLATURE | ghgh

Tax bills still on hold in Kansas legislature

Updated: 2013-04-07T04:57:37Z

— Kansas lawmakers have wrapped up their regular session, but they still haven’t agreed on how to make last year’s big income tax cuts work in the future without painful reductions in state services.

They did send Gov. Sam Brownback bills expanding the range of places licensed Kansans can carry guns, allowing drug tests for welfare and unemployment recipients suspected of drug use, defining human life as beginning at fertilization, changing how appellate judges are appointed, deregulating big phone companies and letting Kansans legally wield switchblades.

“We didn’t shy away from controversial subjects,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican.

Meanwhile, attempts to let grocery stores sell strong beer and wine, crack down on illegal immigration and restrict collective bargaining among teachers appear likely to drift for another year.

Legislators saved big questions about state tax code and spending for a wrapup session due to start May 8.

That leaves lawmakers a lot to think about over their recess, most notably whether to extend a six-tenths of a cent sales tax hike due to expire in July. It would help them make up for a gaping budget hole in a few years. But it could be politically painful; many see it as a tax increase or a broken promise.

Both tax bills could push budget problems caused by income tax cuts further down the road and reduce the state’s ending balances.

Here’s a look at where issues stand.

•  Taxes. Lawmakers are deadlocked over whether to indefinitely extend the six-tenths of a cent sales tax set to expire in July. The extension is viewed by Brownback and many in the Senate as key to avoiding extreme cuts in state services after massive income tax cuts signed into law last year.

The governor’s proposal to zap the mortgage tax deduction to help bring in more state revenue has been ditched in favor of phasing down the value of all tax deductions. The Senate plan would cut income tax rates more over the next few years, and then more whenever the state’s revenue grows more than 4 percent. The House views the sales tax extension as politically toxic; its proposal does not call for immediate additional tax cuts but instead favors modest income tax reductions triggered when state revenues grow by more than 2 percent year to year.

These bills have been sent to the governor:

•  Abortion. A bill passed Friday defines life as beginning at fertilization, which some contend could eventually lead to banning common methods of birth control. The bill also prohibits women from deducting abortion-related costs as medical expenses on state income taxes and prevents Planned Parenthood and others from providing information on human sexuality in schools.

•  Drug tests. Legislation to require drug tests of welfare and unemployment recipients suspected of illegal drug use got strong support from lawmakers. Those who fail lose benefits until they finish treatment and job skills training. Those convicted of drug felonies can’t get welfare for five years. A second conviction results in a lifetime ban.

•  Education reform. Lawmakers generally agree with Brownback’s push to improve reading, but his proposal to hold back third-graders who can’t pass reading tests failed. Teachers groups and other advocates said it could cause problems and that such efforts must start at a younger age. A revived version of the plan allows parents and school officials to decide whether to hold back first-graders who have reading problems.

•  Guns. School boards could designate teachers and other employees to carry concealed weapons. And concealed weapons could be carried inside any public building that does not have security guards and metal detectors at public entrances, although local governments would have four years to set up such security. A second gun bill aims to protect any guns made and kept in Kansas from federal regulation, despite concerns that federal law trumps state law.

•  Human trafficking. Brownback and Attorney General Derek Schmidt strongly backed a bill that would create a victims assistance fund and tough new penalties for selling children into prostitution. The bill, which draws on methods used in Wichita, passed the Senate 38-0 and the House 120-0.

•  Phone service. A bill written by AT&T relieves the company and some others from having to comply with minimum quality of service standards. The bill allows telecommunications companies to shut down wireline service to difficult-to-serve rural customers and to opt out of serving poor customers receiving Lifeline subsidies. It also pares back the authority of the Kansas Corporation Commission to regulate fraud and other abusive practices.

Some legislation has already been signed:

•  Judicial reform. Brownback used his first signature of the year to approve a bill that will let the governor pick judges, subject to Senate confirmation. Brownback’s administration and some conservative Republicans had hoped to pass a bill to let voters consider a constitutional amendment to provide the same selection process for state Supreme Court judges. But the idea failed to gain traction.

•  Rape. A new law eliminates the statute of limitations for rape and criminal sodomy and extends the statute for sexually violent crimes until 10 years after child victims turn 18.

•  Unions. Public unions will no longer be allowed to deduct money for political activity from the checks of workers who voluntarily allow such deductions. Supporters said they wanted the government out of the process of the deductions. Teachers unions saw the bill as the opening blow of a wider attempt to weaken unions.

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