Archive for Thursday, May 14, 2015

Kansas Senate advances energy, elections, gambling proposals

May 14, 2015

— The Kansas Senate approved bills Wednesday to change the date of local elections and give legislators some say over emissions controls for power plants as one of its committees approved a proposal for reviving a Kansas City-area dog and horse racing park.

The elections measure is designed to increase the turnout in city and local school board elections by moving them from the spring to the fall of odd-numbered years, on the premise that Kansas voters are most used to going to the polls in November. The vote was 22-13.

The emissions bill, approved 35-1, spells out how Kansas would draft a plan for complying with a new federal rule requiring states to reduce the emissions from power plants of greenhouse gases linked by scientists to climate change. Under the bill, an 11-member legislative committee would have to sign off on a plan before the state could submit it to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The House was expected to consider both measures Thursday, and its approval would send them to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback for his possible signature.

Meanwhile, the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee approved a bill designed to bring slot machines to The Woodlands dog and horse racing park in Kansas City, Kansas. It has been closed since 2008.

Here is a look at significant legislative developments Wednesday:


Elections measure

Kansas Republican Party officials advocated changing the date of city and local school board elections, noting their historically low turnout.

But critics, who included some GOP legislators, said there are better ways of boosting turnout, such as allowing balloting by mail for such races.

"That's how you really increase participation," said Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedgwick Republican.

The bill also would cancel all future Kansas presidential primaries in favor of caucuses funded by the Republican and Democratic parties.

The state had a presidential primary in 1992. Kansas law continued to schedule the election every four years, but legislators canceled it each time, largely because of the potential costs.


Emissions bill

The bill dealing with carbon emissions from power plants allows the secretary of health and environment to draft a plan for complying with the EPA rule. The plan could include voluntary agreements with utilities to lower emissions.

States that do not draft their own plans for complying will have a federal plan imposed on them.

The secretary would be required to submit any plan for complying with the EPA rule to the new, joint legislative committee by November.


Gambling proposal

A 2007 law allowed slot machines at dog and horse tracks but said the state would claim 40 percent of the net machine revenues. Track owners have said the state's share is too high for slots to be profitable.

The bill approved by the Senate committee would decrease the state's share to 22 percent for The Woodlands. The full chamber could debate it Thursday.

No one opposed the bill in committee.

But some lawmakers have worried that slots at The Woodlands would hurt a nearby casino owned by the state lottery. The casino's operators were scheduled to begin construction last month on a $200 million, 248-room hotel but delayed the project because of the measure.


Financial literacy

The chairman of the Kansas Education Committee joined the chairman of the State Board of Education in urging local school districts to teach financial literacy.

Republican state Rep. Ron Highland of Wamego and GOP state board member Jim McNiece of Wichita signed a joint letter to local school board presidents and superintendents.

Their letter said financial literacy is an essential part of a sound education.

The House committee had a hearing earlier this year on a bill to require students to pass a financial literacy course in 11th or 12th grade to graduate from high school.

But Highland and McNiece said in their letter that they're urging districts to teach financial literacy instead of seeking a mandate. They said the state board and the House committee would monitor districts' efforts.

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