- Associated Press - Sunday, April 27, 2014

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas legislators are scheduled to reconvene Wednesday, ending their annual spring break to wrap up business for the year while still facing fiscal, environmental and criminal justice issues.

The Republican-dominated Legislature already has approved and GOP Gov. Sam Brownback has signed the year’s biggest measure, a school funding plan to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court mandate to boost aid to poor school districts. But lawmakers still have to finish work on the budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Lawmakers are expected to remain in session at least into the weekend. Wednesday would be the 77th day of their annual session, with 90 days specified by the Kansas Constitution.

Here’s a look at major issues still facing lawmakers.

FINISHING THE BUDGET

Legislators last year approved most of the budget for the next fiscal year, but Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed all of their proposals for the state prison system, deeming them inadequate. Lawmakers still haven’t set spending for the Department of Corrections, with disagreements among senators and House members over education programs for inmates and additional staff for the women’s prison in Topeka. Total state spending for the next fiscal year is likely to exceed $14.5 billion, slightly less than the figure for the current budget.

STATE WORKERS’ PAY

Legislators also must decide whether to give the state’s civil-service workers their first across-the-board pay raise since 2009. Brownback proposed a 1.5 percent increase, but Republican legislators balked, worried about finding the funds to help poor school districts. Budget committees in the House and Senate have drafted alternative plans, but each proposal would end guaranteed longevity bonuses for workers with 10 or more years of experience.

POTENTIAL TAX CHANGES

Both the House and Senate have approved proposals to reorganize the state agency that reviews disputes between taxpayers and the state or local governments and have appointed negotiators to draft a final version. Lawmakers also are working on the final version of legislation to settle a long-running disagreement between counties and several large companies over how their equipment is taxed, potentially worth millions of dollars to some firms. And negotiators are considering the fate of a Senate proposal to exempt private health clubs from property taxes.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE ISSUES

House and Senate negotiators have drafted the final, compromise version of a bill that would set shorter deadlines for filing appeals in death penalty cases and expedite their handling by the state Supreme Court. The same measure also would make redacted copies available to the public of documents filed by law enforcement officers to obtain search warrants or justify arrests, rather than keeping them completely confidential.

WHITHER PRAIRIE CHICKENS?

Brownback and many GOP legislators are upset with the federal government’s decision last month to list the lesser prairie chicken as a threatened species and oversee conservation efforts. The Senate already had approved a bill declaring that the federal government had no authority to regulate prairie chickens in Kansas and making it a felony for federal employees to try. But a House committee watered the measure down, taking out the felony provision.

RENEWABLE ENERGY STANDARD

The powerful Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the small-government group Americans for Prosperity have pushed for the repeal of a state law requiring utilities to have wind and other renewable resources account for 20 percent of their peak generating capacity by 2020. The Senate approved the measure last month, but the proposal has foundered in the House.

GAY MARRIAGE RESPONSE

The House passed a bill in February aimed at providing new legal protections for individuals, groups and businesses that refuse for religious reasons to provide goods, services or accommodations for gay wedding ceremonies or same-sex marriages. Critics said the measure was much broader than advertised and would allow widespread discrimination against gays and lesbians, including by government employees. Senate Republican leaders so far have held firm in their refusal to have the chamber debate it but still face pressure from some social conservatives to reconsider.

LEGALIZED GAMBLING

Brownback earlier this month allowed a bill designed to lure a state-owned casino to southeast Kansas to become law without his signature. But opponents of legalized gambling are looking for a trade-off, a Senate-approved measure to block slot machines at the now-closed Wichita Greyhound Park. The House has yet to approve the measure.

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Online:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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