Kansas Legislature

A roiling debate over how to assess big box stores — their worth when occupied, or their value as vacant properties — could upend property tax systems across Kansas.

At the heart is the “dark store theory,” as critics call the strategy. It contends property valuations should look at what an empty store could fetch on the open market.

That would dramatically cut their property tax bills, forcing county and local governments either to get by on smaller budgets or shift a heavier burden to other property owners.

The Kansas Senate has passed a bill that increases the penalties for people who make “swatting” calls.

The bill was sparked by a swatting incident in December in which Andrew Finch was killed by Wichita Police responding to a fake call about a hostage situation at his address.

Swatting involves making a false 911 call to draw law enforcement to an address.

Finch was shot when he came onto his porch to investigate the police activity outside. Police have said Finch disobeyed police commands and was reaching towards his waistband when he was shot.

This story was updated at 5:26 p.m. to include the comments of Planned Parenthood Great Plains' regional director of public policy. 

The state of Kansas wants the United States Supreme Court to review a decision preventing it from terminating its Medicaid contract with Planned Parenthood.

In a petition filed on Thursday, it argues that a federal appeals court was wrong when it decided that Medicaid patients have a right to challenge a state’s termination of their Medicaid provider.

Kansas lawmakers are considering creating a watchdog based outside the state’s child welfare agency, but with access to inside information.

A bill to create a child advocate to review the Department for Children and Families comes after years of horror stories of abused children who ended up injured, missing or dead.

An effort by conservatives to protect what they see as an assault on free speech on college campuses fell to defeat by the narrowest of margins Thursday in the Kansas Senate.

The bill — inspired by the canceling of conservative speakers’ appearances at some elite schools across the country in recent years — would eliminate “free-speech zones” designated for demonstrations. Some critics have seen such zones as a way of moving politically unpopular perspectives out of view.

The mere threat of launching debate on Medicaid expansion in Kansas has caged up a measure to suspend, rather than terminate, coverage for people while they’re locked up.

March madness has many Kansans filling out their NCAA brackets. Kansas lawmakers are considering legislation that could tap into that market by legalizing sports gambling in the state.

A bill before the House Federal and State Affairs Committee would allow sports betting through the Kansas Lottery. At least one major professional league says it wants some input on the rules and a cut of the winnings.

A resolution pending in the Kansas Legislature would urge, but not require, state regulators to make electric rates more competitive.

Ryan Cavanaugh has a vision for downtown Topeka: a restaurant and pub called Brew Bank, where customers can access a wall of 20 electronic, self-serve beer taps as a way to mingle and try local brews.

“It’s just about a community experience,” he said. “For the patrons to be able to try all of these beers and try them responsibly in small amounts is just an exciting thing.”

The devices let customers use an electronic card to dispense brews.

“Let’s face it,” Cavanaugh said, “the technology’s just really cool.”

Kansas lawmakers, increasingly skeptical that tax breaks deliver economic wins, looked closely this week at economic incentive programs.

Senators on the Commerce Committee spent several days discussing bills that would add new requirements to sales tax revenue bonds, known as STAR bonds.

STAR bonds allow local governments to borrow money for a building project, and tax collections created by the development are diverted to pay off the loans.

Questions about a private company’s efforts to win a lucrative prison contract from former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration have lawmakers looking to close a loophole in state lobbying laws.

Current law requires legislative lobbyists to register with the state and report their expenses. But there are no such requirements for those peddling influence in the executive and judicial branches of state government.

On Wednesday, members of the Senate voted 40-0 to pass a bill that would change that.

Kansas lawmakers have forged a compromise to allow more access to video from police body cameras and vehicles.

Legislation debated in the Kansas House Wednesday followed recent shootings by police in the state.

The bill says people in the videos or their families must be given access to the recordings within 20 days.

In the past, it could take months for families to see a video and find out what happened in a fatal police shooting.

Republican Rep. Blaine Finch said this plan would give families a definite timeline.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee say Kansans wrongly convicted of crimes deserve to be compensated by the state. The panel amended and advanced a bill Monday that would do that using more than just cash.

Right now, Kansas pays nothing automatically to people imprisoned on botched convictions. People in that situation can use lawsuits to seek payments, but the bill in the legislature would create a system for compensation without a legal fight.

Kansas congressional candidate Tyler Tannahill is sticking with his planned giveaway of rifle similar to the one used in the mass shooting at a Florida high school.

The Leavenworth Marine veteran running for the Republican nomination in the 2nd District announced the contest for an AR-15 rifle on social media the day before the Florida gunman killed at least 17 people.

A push to make more divorcing Kansas parents split custody evenly could, some critics contend, make the break-ups harder for children. What’s more, they worry a shift to a 50/50 custody standard could prevent a spouse’s escape from an abusive relationship.

A bill creating a new equal custody standard would significantly raise the standard needed for a judge to give one parent more time with the children than the other.

Kansas legislators under the of age 45 have banded together with the goal of addressing issues important to young people. The Kansas Future Caucus is a new bipartisan group in the Statehouse.

Republican Rep. Stephanie Clayton, one of the leaders, says young people often are disconnected from government officials.

“We are opening the conversation because that’s the best place to start and often this is just a group that’s largely ignored and disrespected in some ways by government officials," Clayton says. "We want to change that.”

The Kansas Supreme Court could soon decide whether there’s a right to abortion in the state constitution.

Gov. Jeff Colyer wants lawmakers to consider amending the constitution to establish that such a right doesn’t exist.

In his first address to lawmakers this week, the Republican governor called for amending the state constitution to help protect Kansas abortion restrictions.

A telemedicine bill aimed at improving health care access for Kansans, particularly in rural areas, may get bogged down in abortion politics.

The legislation would mean insurance companies can’t refuse to pay for services provided long-distance that they would cover at an in-person office visit.

More controversially, the bill would not allow drug-induced abortion or other abortion procedures through telemedicine.

The Republican race for governor remains crowded, but a little less so with Ed O’Malley’s announcement Thursday that he’s ending his campaign.

O’Malley, a former Kansas House member who last fall took a leave of absence from his job as CEO of the Wichita-based Kansas Leadership Center to campaign, said his inability to keep pace on the fundraising front prompted the decision to withdraw.

Kansas has repeatedly dipped into its highway fund in recent years to balance the budget for all of state government.

Now lawmakers are contemplating a task force to study what that’s meant for the state’s roads and bridges.

Following the borrowing, road projects saw delays across the state. The task force would study the sidelined projects and suggest long-term transportation strategies for Kansas.

Over the decades, Republicans and Democrats both made it hard for the public to know what goes on in the Statehouse. But in the wake of a Kansas City Star series highlighting the lack of transparency, some members of both parties are pushing for change.

Recent days have seen a flurry of activity.

Fellow Republicans on Wednesday characterized Gov. Sam Brownback’s spending plan — more than $6.6 billion a year — as a beeline return to deficits and an abdication of responsibility in a budding crisis.

The governor, poised to leave for a spot in the Trump administration, unveiled a five-year, $600 million increase in school funding Tuesday evening. When lawmakers dug into that proposal Wednesday, they griped about key details.

A proposal to strengthen Kansas’ laws against elder abuse is expected to come before lawmakers during the upcoming legislative session.

Kansas lawmakers studying economic development policies say the Legislature should consider changes to a major incentives program next year.

During a meeting Wednesday at the Statehouse, a special committee recommended more study of the STAR bonds program, and members of both parties said they want more oversight.

Sen. Julia Lynn, an Olathe Republican, said there hasn’t been enough accountability in the program. She wants the state to use formulas that determine whether proposed projects will create enough economic development to outweigh their costs.

A female former legislative staff member is charging that sexual harassment is widespread at the Kansas Statehouse.

Abbie Hodgson, who served as chief of staff to former House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs from 2014 to July of 2016, was one of several women quoted in an article about sexual harassment in Statehouses across the country published Wednesday by The Hill, a Washington, D.C., publication that covers government and politics. 

Kansas lawmakers considered tighter rules on payday lending during a committee meeting Wednesday, but they ultimately decided not to recommend more regulations for the short-term loans.

The uninsured rates in Kansas and Missouri continue to drop, but not as fast as those in states that have expanded their Medicaid programs.

New numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau show the uninsured rate in Kansas dropped to 8.7 percent in 2016 from 9.1 percent the year before. That is not a statistically significant change.

Approximately 249,000 Kansans lacked health coverage in 2016, down from about 261,000 the previous year.

The uninsured rate in Missouri declined to 8.9 percent from 9.8 percent the previous year.

kansas.gov

In 2010, then U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, during his Topeka gubernatorial campaign, told voters they should use five policy objectives to evaluate his performance – something he called the “Road map for Kansas.”

kansas.gov

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback – and his soon-to-be successor Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer - have been in the national spotlight since last week’s announcement that Brownback had been nominated by the Trump Administration to serve as the ambassador for international religious freedom.

The New York Times ran stories on both men last week – one highlighting Brownback’s legacy and another describing who Colyer is.

Attorneys for the state and the Legislature faced a barrage of questions from skeptical Kansas Supreme Court justices Tuesday scrutinizing the Legislature’s school finance plan.

Pages