Daily Archives: March 18, 2010

Senate passes Flint Hills burning resolution

TOPEKA – The full Senate passed a resolution Thursday asking the federal government to exempt prairie burns in the Flint Hills from counting against air quality measurements.

The burns, which are conducted each spring, process helps keep trees and other woody plants from encroaching on the grasslands and helps provide richer fodder for cattle.

Cities, including Wichita and Kansas City, Kan., worry that smoke from the burns would bump them out of compliance with stricter ozone rules that the U.S. Environmental Protection agency is considering,

The non binding Senate Concurrent Resolution 1623, which passed with no opposition, asks the U.S. Congress to recognize the area as an ecosystem of historical significance.

The resolution passed, 40-0.

Senate panel does not endorse any tax increases

TOPEKA – A bundled of tax increases went nowhere in the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee on Thursday.

The original plan was to move out a series of tax increases on cigarettes, alcohol, sugary drinks and the sales tax but scaled back from the original proposals.

While raising taxes was not a pleasant idea, “we’re not in that luxury position at this time”, said Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, who chairs the committee

The Senate Ways and Means Committee had previously passed out budget proposal for fiscal year 2011, which starts July 1, that relied heavily on increasing the state’s revenue collection. Most of the state’s $400 million plus shortfall for the budget would have come from the increase.

The measures all failed in committee, some not even getting the seconds necessary to be debated.

Sen. Chris Steineger, D-Kansas City, Kan., said that while he did not want to see schools cut more “I would rather see a little more trimmed out of the budget before I am force to raise taxes.”

He worried any bill sent to the full Senate would be used to amend all the tax increases on to.

Senate panel advances bill to shield news reporters’ confidential sources and notes

TOPEKA — The Senate Judiciary Committee today advanced a bill to allow news reporters to shield confidential sources and protect unpublished information from disclosure to law enforcement in some circumstances.

Thirty-seven states have enacted so-called “shield laws” protecting journalists.

Proponents of shield laws contend that requiring journalists to disclose all their materials and sources infringes on the free-press rights granted by the First Amendment, intimidates potential whistleblowers and turns news outlets into an investigative arm of the government.

Opponents argue that exempting journalists from disclosure can hamper efforts by police and prosecutors to arrest and convict criminals.

The Kansas law seeks to balance those competing interests.

The bill that passed out of committee Thursday would require lawyers seeking journalists’ confidential materials to show:

– The information sought is relevant to the case at issue.

– The information could not, after exercising due diligence, be obtained by other means.

– The information would be admissible in court and that its value in the case “outweighs any harm to the free dissemination of information to the public through the activities of journalists.”

On Wednesday, the committee amended the bill to establish that the burden of proof under the three-part test would be the “preponderance of evidence,” an easier standard to meet than the “clear and compelling” burden initially proposed.

The committee also decided to allow judges to award legal fees to either side if litigants “had no reasonable basis” to either demand or oppose disclosure of journalists’ information.

Representatives of the Kansas Press Association and the Kansas Association of Broadcasters said they were pleased the bill, now numbered House Bill 2585, made it through the committee, clearing the way for a Senate floor vote.

Kent Cornish, executive director of the broadcasters’ association, said the bill should cut down on “fishing expeditions” by lawyers who demand that TV stations turn over all the footage they shoot at news scenes.

Both he and Rich Gannon, the lobbyist for the press association, said they didn’t have a problem with the changes the committee made.

Gannon said it’s difficult to conceive a situation where the government could obtain reimbursement of its legal costs from a reporter who resisted turning over unpublished information.

“You’d have to think long and hard to figure that out,” he said.

Statehouse emptied after plumbing fix backfires

Hundreds wait outside the Capitol as Topeka firefighters investigate an alarm that forced evacuation of the building.

Hundreds wait outside the Capitol as Topeka firefighters investigate an alarm that forced evacuation of the building.

The state Capitol was briefly evacuated today after workers tripped a fire alarm.

Several hundred lawmakers, staff and visitors were ordered to leave the building about 1:30 p.m.

The Topeka Fire Department responded to the alarm and gave the all-clear to return to the building after about 10 minutes.

Firefighters said the alarm was triggered when workers in the Statehouse renovation project were welding pipes and caused smoke that drifted into a sensor.

UPDATED: House panel moves $5.1 billion budget proposal to the full chamber, all cuts not tax increase

UPDATE1: With the amendments passed by the House Appropriation Committee, the 2011 budget would be $5.2 billion and leave a $302.1 million ending balance and relies only on cuts.

The ending balance would help cushion the state against the projected shortfall for the 2012 fiscal year, which would start July 1, 2011. That is expected to be about $300 million.

The House budget committee proposal would delete a $50 increase to the state’s per pupil state aid levels which the governor had proposed and does not replace about $172 million in federal stimulus funds.

The bill also would eliminated proposed under market pay increases for state employees, netting $8.5 million and recommends a 5 percent a pay reduction for most state employees which could result in state offices closing at 3 p.m. on Fridays. The latter move would garner the state about $21 million.

The proposal now goes to the full House for debate, which will likely happen next week.

TOPEKA – The House Appropriations Committee’s budget proposal for balancing the 2010 fiscal year includes an idea the chamber has resisted in the past – enacting a primary seat belt law.

The idea, which failed narrowly in the House last year, has passed the Senate twice this year. It would allow law enforcement to stop and ticket drivers if people in the vehicles were not wearing their seat belts. Passing the law would net the state $11 million from the federal government.

Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, included passage of the law in cuts and revenue maneuvers he suggested passing the law.

The House budget committee started consideration of the fiscal year 2011 and 2010 budget packages Thursday morning, which are included in House Bill 2706. The 2011 budget faces a $400 million-plus shortfall which House leaders have said can be filled through cuts.

The House has pushed its bill out and made a few adjustments. One was to insert the entire bill into what is now House substitute for Senate Bill 73. The bill is available online but it will take a bit before that version reflects the new language.

The House initial proposal tallies up at $5.6 billion, about $200 million less than the $5.8 billion package that the governor proposed in January.

The Senate passed their budget proposal last week and both chambers are expected to debate their versions next week. The session is scheduled to end April 1. The Senate’s plan leaves a $364 million gap that would be filled by tax increases, which the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee is debating today. For more details on the budget and the debate check back later, or read Friday’s Wichita Eagle.