Lawmakers head home for break, leave budget crisis unresolved

kansas statehouseKansas lawmakers ended the regular part of their 2010 session early Wednesday morning after putting off the year’s most challenging decisions.

Lawmakers left the Statehouse after taking final votes on dozens of bills.

But the really big stuff – solutions to the state’s budget crisis – will wait until lawmakers return for a wrap-up session that begins April 28. This year is the first in memory that lawmakers left for spring break without a budget in place.

The state faces a $467 million deficit in next year’s budget, even after lawmakers cut more than $1 billion in spending. Balancing the budget will require slashing more funding for schools and other services, tax hikes or some combination of the two.

New state revenue estimates will be released in two weeks; lawmakers hope the updated numbers will offer clarity and make consensus easier to find.

“We want to have the most information before us before we make decisions that affect the lives of every Kansan,” said House Appropriations Chairman Kevin Yoder, an Overland Park Republican.

Still, lawmakers stayed busy Tuesday before adjourning just after midnight:

  • Sales taxes would go up to fund a new transportation plan under legislation endorsed by a Senate committee. The plan faces big obstacles this late in the session, however, since it has yet to pass either chamber.

The bill would increase the state sales tax from 5.3 to 5.6 percent and raise car registration fees by $20 and truck registration fees by $100. The estimated $2.7 billion in additional revenue would go to fund highway and transit projects.

  • The House and Senate passed new rules for late-term abortion that would require providers to offer specific diagnoses used to justify the procedure.

State law prohibits abortions after the 22nd week of pregnancy unless two physicians say the procedure is necessary to prevent serious harm to the mother. But opponents of abortion rights have long accused abortion providers of using bogus diagnoses to perform late abortions on demand.

“This is an innocuous bill in many ways,” said Rep. Mike Kiegerl, an Olathe Republican. “We’re talking here about late-term abortions only…It’s a necessary bill, it’s an important bill.”

The bill would also allow the woman who received the abortion, the father, or, if the woman is under 18, her parent or guardian to sue the abortion provider if they believe the abortion was illegal.

The bill is similar to one vetoed last year by former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Gov. Mark Parkinson has yet to weigh in on the bill, which now heads to his desk.

  • Journalists would have greater protections from being forced to identify confidential sources under legislation approved by both chambers. The measure now heads to Parkinson.

Under the so-called reporter’s shield law, journalists could ignore subpoenas unless a judge ruled that it was necessary for them to disclose their source.

  • A proposed state Constitutional amendment designed to block the federal health insurance mandate will live to see another vote.

Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook, a Shawnee Republican, made a motion just before the Senate adjourned to bring the legislation to a vote on the next legislative day, April 28.

The Senate will debate her motion on that day, and if 24 Senators agree the bill will be pulled from committee for full Senate debate. It’s a seldom-used procedural move designed to force a vote on legislation that’s languishing in committee.

It takes a two-thirds majority in both chambers to send proposed amendments to the voters. The House last week rejected the measure.