Kansas lawmakers Sunday approved a measure to increase car registration fees, voted to sell the assets of the Kansas Bioscience Authority and even debated the naming of a bison herd.
Those items and more were on the Legislature’s clogged calendar, pushing back the start of a House budget debate to late Sunday evening — and probably Monday morning.
Legislators were hoping to pass a budget bill that addresses the state’s $290 million shortfall, then adjourn the 2016 legislative session.
House members voted Sunday to suspend the chamber’s rules to allow debate after midnight, although some questioned the move. If the House approves a bill, it would then go to the Senate.
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“The later the hour, the less likely that we end up making good decisions,” said Rep. Melissa Rooker, a Fairway Republican. “The later it gets, nerves are shot.”
The bill to add $3.25 to vehicle registration fees now goes to Gov. Sam Brownback. The cost of registering vehicles under 4,500 pounds would be $38.25.
The money would go to the state Highway Patrol to improve trooper recruiting and retention and to add 75 officers over five years. Many counties in the state have no troopers dedicated to them.
Both chambers approved a bill to sell the assets of the Kansas Bioscience Authority, a move expected to generate about $25 million. That revenue is already figured into the 2017 fiscal year budget.
The public-private agency was created in 2004 to nurture biotech companies, but state funding has been reduced in recent years, and the authority’s board voted in December to go private.
Another bill approved Sunday and headed to the governor for his signature would prevent cities and counties from imposing requirements for food labeling and from regulating schedules of workers of private employers.
Then there was a bill to name a bison herd. The proposal would name the herd in Crawford County after Bob Grant, a former state lawmaker. The effective date of the bill was changed in a legislative committee to a date after the November election.
Grant’s widow, Lynn Dixon Grant, is a Democratic candidate running for state Senate against Republican Sen. Jacob LaTurner of Pittsburg.
“They’re playing politics with a guy’s widow,” Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said. “The term for that is ‘despicable,’ but a better term is ‘buffalo dung.’ ”
LaTurner strongly objected to Hensley’s accusations, pointing out that he previously voted in favor of naming the bison herd after Grant.
After almost an hour of debate, the bill was sent back to a conference committee by a 24-16 vote.
Meanwhile, both houses passed a health bill, which dealt with such matters as physician certification and allowing midwives to deliver babies without a doctor’s signature. The bill also prohibits midwives from performing abortions.
Concerns were raised over adding the language about the abortion provision late in the process. Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, said it violated a legislative rule.
But Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, said there were higher principles.
“What is most important is the protection of innocent human life,” she said.
As for the budget bill and the Legislature’s late-night plans, there’s plenty to debate.
The budget bill delays a $99 million payment to the state’s pension fund until 2018, a controversial move to free up cash. And it would depend on Brownback to make a 3 percent cut to most state agencies.
Brownback also would take $185 million from the state highway fund and reduce funding to state universities by about $17 million.
While the bill leaves much for Brownback to cut, it directs that funds for K-12 public schools can’t be reduced.
“We’ve been very consistent when we passed the block grant that we want stable and secure funding for our schools in unsecure times,” said Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican and House Appropriations Committee chairman.
Brownback appears to be on board with the bill. His spokeswoman, Eileen Hawley, sent a message late Saturday night that the governor had reviewed the bill and “believes it is something he can sign.”
The delay to the pension fund, the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, and the 3 percent state agency cuts were included in three packages of options Brownback recommended to the Legislature for closing the $290 million shortfall.
“We took bits and pieces of all three of the governor’s recommendations,” Ryckman said.
The budget bill would leave the state with a $27 million ending balance for the fiscal year through June 30 and an $81 million ending balance for next fiscal year.
While the protection of K-12 school funding drew praise Saturday, the delay in the KPERS payment troubled lawmakers.
The bill includes protections for making up the payment to the pension system with 8 percent interest, including tapping any revenue that comes in above the state’s revenue estimates and using funds from the state’s tobacco settlement receipts above the amount appropriated for early childhood programs.
Another controversial provision in the bill was requested by Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican and Senate Ways and Means Committee chairman. It would change the way future spending cuts are applied to state universities.
The change would mean bigger cuts for the University of Kansas and Kansas State University while reducing the cuts to smaller universities such as Pittsburg State.
KU’s cut would be about $5 million next year, and K-State’s would be $4 million, in each case about $1 million more than under a previous formula.
The Wichita Eagle and AP contributed to this story.