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A roundup of legislative issues and how they fared in Topeka

By Brad Cooper, The Kansas City Star
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

April 23--As this year's session of the Kansas Legislature winds down, here is a look at key pieces of legislation that were considered this year. The Legislature returns April 30 to finish business, possibly in just several days.

Autism: The Legislature passed a bill mandating insurance coverage for children with autism. The measure requires coverage of up to 1,300 hours a year for a key therapy called applied behavior analysis for children up to 6 years old. The coverage mandate would eventually drop to 520 hours a year after a child had undergone four years of therapy. The bill also would require 520 hours a year for any child from age 6 to 12 years old.

The bill doesn't limit coverage for age and hours of treatment for other autism services. The new mandate would apply initially only to insurance plans offered before the Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2010 and only to businesses with more than 50 employees. Gov. Sam Brownback signed the bill into law.

Guns: In a move that would ensure firearms can be carried openly statewide, lawmakers passed a bill that cancels out city and county gun restrictions. The bill would affect Johnson County cities such as Leawood and Prairie Village, which ban the open carry of firearms in public places. The bill was awaiting Brownback's signature as of press time.

Religious freedom: A bill that would have shielded anyone refusing to provide service to same-sex couples on religious grounds died in the face of an avalanche of national criticism. While supporters said the bill was intended only to protect the religious freedoms of anyone who didn't want to provide services to a same-sex marriage, critics said its reach was much broader and was tantamount state-sanctioned discrimination against gay couples. The bill passed the House but Senate President Susan Wagle pronounced the bill dead in her chamber before it ever got a hearing.

Wind energy: For the second straight year, wind energy advocates successfully fought off attempts to repeal the state's renewable energy standards. The standards require utilities to generate 20 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2020. Enacted in 2009, the standards grew out of the debate to build a new coal-fired power plan in southwest in Kansas.

Snakes: Efforts to remove the redbelly and the smooth earth snake from the state's threatened species list have failed so far in the Legislature. Johnson County officials had pushed for their removal because they were driving up the cost of development projects. Johnson County spent $95,000 mitigating for the snakes on two sewer projects totaling $30 million. Johnson County WaterOne is spending $130,000 in habitat preservation for a water line project serving the southeastern part of the county.

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Lesser prairie chicken: A bill aimed at stopping the federal government from protecting the lesser prairie chicken has advanced through the Senate. It now awaits action from the House and, potentially, a conference committee.

The bill is a response to the federal government's recent decision to list the bird as "threatened," meaning that it could soon be in danger of extinction. A key issue to the bill is an original provision declaring it a felony for federal workers to try to regulate the chicken. A House committee struck the felony provision after it was passed by the Senate.

Fluoride: A bill requiring cities and other local governments to issue warnings that they fluoridate their water supplies died in a committee after it was roundly denounced by public health officials. The bill declared that fluoride was dangerous and said more studies were needed. The bill died in a committee.

Obamacare: The Legislature continued its fight against the federal Affordable Care Act by passing a bill allowing Kansas to join a compact with other states hoping to get out from under the health care law. The bill pushed by Republican Rep. Brett Hildabrand of Shawnee is rooted in a part of the U.S. Constitution that allows Congress to approve multi-state compacts, an unlikely possibility in the near future since Democrats are now in the majority in the U.S. Senate. Eight other states, including Missouri, are thought to have passed similar types of legislation. The bills have been pushed by the the Houston-based Competitive Governance Action, which describes itself as a nonprofit that advocates state control over health care. The bill awaits the governor's signature.

Sex education: A bill that requires parental consent for students to take human sexuality courses passed out of a House Committee. It awaits action in the Kansas House.

Schools: The legislature passed a bill intended to resolve a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that found a wealth disparity in state funding between rich and poor school districts. However, the bill contained controversial provisions that strips teachers of due process rights and promotes school choice. Teachers are angry over part of a bill that takes away their right to a hearing if a school district wants to fire them after they've been on the job for three years. The bill also gives state tax credits to corporations that fund scholarships for less affluent children to attend private schools. The bill handed Johnson County schools a big win because it gives them some limited authority to raises more local property taxes to fund their operations. Brownback signed the bill into law Monday.

Elections: A bill moving city and school board to elections to the fall of odd-numbered years from the spring of odd-numbered years is still sitting awaiting action by the full House. The goal of holding primary elections in August followed by general elections in November was to boost voter turnout. The bill passed out of a committee but its future is highly doubtful.

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Mortgage fees: A bill eliminating a nearly 100-year-old fee to register a mortgage is sitting in a House committee after it was passed by the Senate. As originally proposed, the bill would have cost counties statewide about $45 million, including about $16 million in Johnson County. However, the bill increases fees for filing various documents at the courthouse to help ease the loss of the mortgage fee revenue. The bill phases out the mortgage fee over five years. By 2019, Johnson County will lose about $10 million.

Party switching: The game is going to become harder for Democrats who want to pretend they're Republicans so they can try to influence the GOP Primary. The governor signed into law a bill that bars voters from changing political party from June 1 until after the August primary results are official. Previously, voters could change their party registration up to two weeks before the primary.

Mobile phones: The Legislature expanded the state's no-call list to keep mobile phones off limits from telemarketers. State and local prosecutors currently can only respond to complaints about unwanted calls on landlines. The governor signed the bill into law.

Surrogate pregnancy: A bill pushed by state Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook of Shawnee that would have banned paying for surrogate pregnancies died in a committee after the Senate president came out against the proposal.

Medicaid expansion: The Legislature did nothing to advance this during the session. However, it passed a bill that requires lawmakers to sign off on any plan to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act and Brownback signed it into law.


(c)2014 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services



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