Monthly Archives: February 2010

Proposed liquor tax increase would help mentally ill, disabled

beerKansans would pay a few more cents for every beer or glass of wine to support programs for the disabled and mentally ill under legislation reviewed by state lawmakers Friday.

The bill would double an existing tax on wholesale alcohol which is passed along to the consumer in the price of beer, wine and liquor. It’s one of several tax hikes being considered by lawmakers looking to close a $400 million budget deficit.

The current tax rate — unchanged since 1977 — is 18 cents for every gallon of beer, 30 cents for a gallon of wine, and $2.50 for a gallon of liquor.

The estimated $21.8 million in additional revenue would be split evenly between mental health programs and services for the developmentally disabled. Lawmakers have cut funding for both since the state’s financial crisis began.

The legislation received a hearing in the House Tax Committee on Friday. There’s no word on when or if the committee might vote to send the bill to the full House.

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Tiahrt cleared by ethics panel

tiahrt_toddFrom The Associated Press

A U.S. House ethics committee has says it found no evidence of wrongdoing in an investigation that involved Rep. Todd Tiahrt of Kansas.

The Associated Press obtained reports from the panel that says seven House members — five Democrats and two Republicans — did not violate ethics rules.

The representatives had steered government money, projects and contracts to companies that donated to their re-election campaigns. All seven of the House members are or were senior members of the House Appropriations Committee. Read More »

Kansas’ statewide smoking ban exempts some areas

smokingbanHere’s where you could and couldn’t smoke under the smoking ban the Kansas House sent to the governor on Thursday. The governor pushed for the ban and is expected to sign it. The ban would go into effect July 1.

Smoking banned

–public places

–taxicabs and limousines

–restrooms, lobbies, hallways and other common areas in public and private buildings, including hotels, condominiums and apartment buildings

–any place of employment

–access points of buildings and facilities

Exempt from ban

–outdoor rooms open to the elements

–outdoor areas of any facility beyond access points

–private homes except when used as a day care home

–hotel or motel rooms designated for smoking guests

–gaming floor of a lottery or racetrack gaming facility

–designated, ventilated smoking areas in adult care homes and long-term care units

–tobacco shops

–private clubs licensed by Jan. 1, 2009

–private clubs that are outdoor recreational facilities, have substantial membership requirements and set aside a designated area away from minors

UPDATED: House sends full smoking ban to governor

smokingbanTOPEKA – The House voted 68-54 to send a comprehensive statewide smoking ban to the governor’s desk Thursday.

The measure, Senate substitute House Bill 2221, would bar smoking indoors — including at restaurants, bars and other public spaces  — beginning July 1. It would allow smoking in state-owned casinos, private clubs and tobacco shops. It overrides any weaker smoking bans, including Wichita’s partial ban.

The bill now goes to the governor’s desk. It was passed last year by the Senate.

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Roberts, CIA clash over whether Kansan ordered torture tapes destroyed

patrobertsThe CIA says that Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts ordered key tapes destroyed that  showed agency officials waterboarding terror suspect Abu Zubayda.

“Senator Roberts listened carefully and gave his consent,” a summary of the briefing states.

Roberts, who was the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time, says that’s not true.

“At no time did Senator Roberts assent to the destruction of any videotapes,” spokeswoman Sarah Little said.

The Politico has more here.

UPDATE #4: Senators advance bill repealing death penalty

UPDATE #4: The Senate just took a voice vote that moves Senate Bill 375, which would abolish capital punishment in Kansas, to final action.

That will likely happen later today and will be a recorded roll call vote.  Procedural votes during the debate suggest that final passage is uncertain.

The Senate voted 20-20 on an amendment that would have stripped a provision from the bill that would have taken out the language eliminating the death penalty. A tie vote means the amendment failed.

Earlier, senators rejected a motion to table the bill on a vote of 18-21; it wasn’t a recorded vote. Opponents to the motion argued that setting the bill aside for later would just prolong the decision.

“It is time for us to finish this and take the vote, regardless of what the House might do or what the governor might do,” said Sen. Laura Kelly, R-Topeka.

The bill would replace the death penalty with the crime of aggravated murder, which carries an automatic sentence of life without parole. The change would apply to crimes committed on or after July 1, 2010.

Kansas reinstituted the death penalty in 1994; 10 men are on death row. The state has not executed anyone since the 1960s.

To listen to the debate live, click here.

UPDATE: Senate passes ban on texting while driving

TOPEKA – The Senate has given initial approval to a bill that would ban texting while driving.

Senate Bill 351 would make it illegal for a driver to send text messages or email. For a first time infraction, a driver would face a moving violation and a $100 fine.

Teen drivers are already barred from using cell phones while driving under the state’s graduated driver’s license law.

Some lawmakers have questioned how the bill could be enforced. How, for example, could an officer tell if someone was just turning a phone on or off versus sending a text message, asked Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook, R-Shawnee.

“I have people very close to me who drive on a regular basis and people who drive and text are very dangerous drivers on the road but unfortunately passing this law is just looking for more crime,” said Pilcher Cook. She said she would not vote for the bill.

Check back later for updates here.

Lawmakers are now debating a bill that would abolish the death penalty in Kansas.

Senate to debate abolishing the death penalty Friday

TOPEKA – The full Senate will have the chance to debate a measure that would abolish the death penalty on Friday.

Lawmakers this week have been pushing through a slew of bills this week. Saturday is the deadline for bills non in an exempt committee to pass out of their chamber of origin. After that point the bill is considered dead – although an idea can always be revived via amendment or the bill can be blessed by sending it temporarily to an exempt committee.

There had been some question if Senate Bill 375 would come up for floor debate and a vote in the Senate. The chamber will likely wrap up its work tomorrow.

Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, who schedules bill debates, told the chamber Thursday that the bill would be up for debate on the floor.

The proposal would abolish the death penalty for crimes committed on or after July 1, 2010 and replace the crime with aggravated murder. The new crime would come with a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

Supporters of capital punishment have argued that justice should not come with a price tag and the death penalty acts as a deterrent to violent crime.

Opponents have said that death penalty cases are more costly than other kinds of crimes and does little to deter crime. They have also argued that Kansas no has life without parole sentence which offers a valid alternative without the risk of potentially killing an innocent person.

Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, said Thursday that if the bill made to his desk he would consider it and hasn’t made any forgone conclusions.

Parkinson helped lead the effort to re institute the death penalty in Kansas when he served in the Kansas House of Representatives.

Kansas last executed someone in the 1960s.

Moran changes campaign managers

Jerry Moran’s campaign for the U.S. Senate today confirmed that Aaron Trost is out as campaign manager.

The new captain is Paul Moore, a veteran of John Ashcroft’s Justice Department, a Kansas City native and an Overland Park resident.

Also out is campaign spokesman Dan Lara, who is leaving for family reasons. A new spokesperson has not been named.

A campaign official denied any major staff shakeup. Trost simply decided he wanted to do something different, and had Moran’s support until the end, the official said.

Trost “left us in great shape,” added the official. Moran leads in the polls and has outraised his GOP rival for the nomination, fellow Congressman Todd Tiahrt.

Trost has been unavailable for comment in recent days.

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Kansas Senate sends passenger rail service bill to House

heartlandflyer.croppedTOPEKA – A bill to expand passenger rail service between Kansas City and Texas is on its way to the House.

The Senate today passed Senate Bill 409 on a vote of 37-3.

The proposal would allow the state Department of Transportation to work with groups along the proposed route. It also would allow the state to enter into service agreements with Amtrak.

Groups such as the Northern Flyer Alliance have been advocating for passenger rail service that would connect Kansas City, Wichita and Dallas-Fort Worth. Current passenger rail service stops in Newton.