- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas will change how it collects taxes from businesses to finance benefits for unemployed workers, and three school districts will receive additional state funds because of decisions made Monday by Gov. Sam Brownback and top legislators.

Brownback signed a bill that overhauls the state’s unemployment insurance program. Besides making changes for businesses that pay taxes to finance benefits, it sets a new cap on that aid.

The Republican governor and top leaders in the GOP-dominated Legislature also met as the State Finance Council to consider requests from public school districts for additional aid under a school funding law that took effect last month. They granted three requests totaling nearly $302,000.

Monday was the 92nd day of lawmakers’ annual session, two more than legislative leaders traditionally schedule.

Here is a look at significant developments Monday:

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UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE

Legislators approved the measure dealing with the unemployment insurance program last month, and it’s designed to make the taxes paid by businesses more predictable. Brownback had a Statehouse signing ceremony.

“This bill will bring a lot of stability to our unemployment funds,” House Commerce Committee Chairman Mark Hutton, a Wichita Republican, said during the ceremony.

The new law sets a series of tax rates for businesses. The state previously set rates annually based on what it thought was needed to finance benefits in the coming year.

The maximum weekly benefit for workers will be 55 percent of the state’s average wage. The cap was 60 percent, but the new law says the new cap couldn’t drop below the current figure of $474.

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EXTRA SCHOOL FUNDS

Under the state’s new school funding law, districts facing extraordinary and unexpected needs would apply for extra state aid, and the State Finance Council would then decide if they should get it.

The new law scrapped the state’s former per-student formula for distributing aid to school districts, replacing it with “block grants.” Brownback and other supporters of the new law contend it makes the funding system more stable.

But many educators are critical, in part because the law trimmed nearly $54 million from the increased funding districts had expected to receive during the current school year. For that reason, one council member, House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, a Kansas City Democrat, opposed distributing the extra funds, saying it was unfair to other districts.

But the council distributed $139,000 to the Mulvane district south of Wichita and $134,000 to the Garden City district in southwest Kansas. Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Nickerson Republican, said both districts saw their property values drop unexpectedly, resulting in less property tax revenues.

The council also approved $28,000 in additional funding for the Twin Valley school district in Ottawa County. Bruce said the money would cover unexpected repairs.

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BIOSCIENCE AUTHORITY

A state agency that nurtures biosciences companies would be abolished under a bill being considered by a legislative panel.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee had a hearing Monday on a bill to transfer the Kansas Bioscience Authority’s functions to the state Department of Commerce.

The authority distributes research grants and invests in Kansas-based life startup companies. The authority has a 10-member board of directors, which includes the state’s commerce secretary.

Brownback has recommended providing $13 million for the bioscience agency and other related research initiatives for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Former state Budget Director Steve Anderson testified in favor of the bill and said the state should not compete with private investors.

The executives of several companies that have received funding from the authority testified against the bill. They said it would force some tech startups to leave the state.

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Associated Press writer Nicholas Clayton contributed to this report.

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Online:

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

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

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