TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas lawmakers expect a push to overturn a state Supreme Court decision protecting abortion rights, a contentious debate over income tax cuts and some bipartisan harmony on Medicaid expansion during this year’s annual session.
The GOP-controlled Legislature may also tackle medical marijuana after it convenes on Monday for 90 days of lawmaking.
A look at some of the biggest issues:
Top Republicans and the influential anti-abortion group Kansans for Life plan to push for an amendment to the state constitution to declare that legislators can regulate abortion as they see fit.
It’s a response to April’s ruling by the state Supreme Court that the Kansas Constitution protects access to abortion as a fundamental right. The decision blocked enforcement of a ban on a common second-trimester procedure. Abortion opponents fear that the ruling could lead courts to overturn a raft of restrictions enacted over the past 10 years.
To get an amendment on the ballot for voters to consider, supporters need two-thirds majorities in both chambers.
ANOTHER TAX FIGHT
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly last year vetoed two Republican proposals for cutting income taxes, arguing that the measures would decimate the state budget. But Kansas officials in November issued a new fiscal forecast for state government that boosted revenue projections and undercut her argument.
Kelly said in a recent Associated Press interview that she still wants to hold off because making changes in income tax laws “out of context” could make it harder to change the entire tax system next year.
But Republicans are determined. Their proposals were designed to provide relief to individuals and businesses that are paying more to the state because of changes in federal tax laws at the end of 2017.
Kelly and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, have outlined a compromise plan for extending the state’s Medicaid health coverage to as many as 150,000 additional people.
Their bipartisan bill is sponsored in the Senate by 22 of the chamber’s 40 members, enough to pass it.
The House passed an expansion bill last year, but Denning and other top Republicans managed to bottle it up in committee, despite majority support. Denning’s deal clears the way for a plan to pass, though conservatives are still going to fight it as potentially too expensive.
The state received an bad economic jolt just ahead of lawmakers’ session when Wichita’s largest employer, Spirit Aerosystems, announced that it was laying off 20% of its Kansas workforce, or 2,800 employees. Spirit produced about 70% of the troubled 737 Max aircraft for Boeing, which suspended its production.
The layoffs could affect lawmakers’ decisions on budget and tax issues, and they and Kelly face questions about how best to help laid-off workers.
STALEMATE ON GUNS
Mass shootings across the nation continue to fuel interest among some Kansas legislators for gun-control measures, particularly a measure to allow relatives and law enforcement officials to petition courts to have guns taken away from people deemed a risk to themselves and others.
But the Legislature still has gun-rights majorities, and proposals for a “red flag” law have spurred a backlash over concerns about whether people’s right to due legal process would be respected. The House and Senate each have a proposal to ban such laws at the local level and to bar state and local officials from helping to enforce gun-confiscation orders issued under a federal law.
House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, said he can see the anti-red flag proposals advancing. Kelly said she won’t push gun-control measures this year.
With conservative neighbors Missouri and Oklahoma authorizing the medical use of marijuana, Kansas lawmakers are under increasing pressure to consider doing the same.
They’ve taken steps with laws to create an industrial hemp research and production program and to protect people who use cannabidiol oils to treat children with debilitating medical conditions from criminal prosecution.
But allowing wider use of marijuana for medical person faces opposition from law enforcement groups.
SHADOWED BY POLITICS
Politics will cast a shadow on the Legislature’s session. All 40 Senate seats and 125 House seats will be on the ballot, and lawmakers inevitably will consider how their votes on hot-button issues play with conservative GOP primary voters or more centrist general election voters.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, is running for the U.S. Senate in a crowded race that has her emphasizing her conservative bona fides. But Denning, facing a potentially tough general election race in a county that Kelly carried easily in 2018, has political incentives to move to the center.
In the House, Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican, has been considering for months attempting in 2021 to break a tradition against serving more than two, two-year terms in the Legislature’s most powerful position. That creates pressure on him to deliver big on GOP goals.