- Associated Press - Thursday, March 17, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Transgender students at Kansas public schools and colleges would be required to use restrooms, showers and locker rooms for their birth sex under two bills introduced in the Legislature.

A transgender-rights activist decried the proposals Thursday, but the chairwoman of a House committee sponsoring one of the measures said the state must deal with such issues and students’ privacy.

The House also advanced two proposals to limit local government officials’ power, and the Senate passed a bill to tighten up the rules for a state program that uses bonds to help finance big economic development projects.

Here is a look at legislative developments Thursday.

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TRANSGENDER STUDENTS

Separate but identical measures dealing with how public schools and colleges accommodate transgender students were introduced Wednesday in the House by its Federal and State Affairs Committee and in the Senate by the Ways and Means Committee.

Both say schools and colleges must limit such facilities to use by a single gender and say sex is “determined by a person’s chromosomes.” Both bills declare that they’re enacting “student physical privacy” protections and that allowing students to use facilities for the opposite sex could cause “embarrassment, shame and psychological injury.”

The measures would allow parents to request special accommodations such as unisex bathrooms, but in no case could a parent seek access to facilities for “the opposite sex.”

House committee Chairwoman Jan Pauls, a Hutchinson Republican, said no one has sought a hearing on her panel’s measure and it’s most likely intended to raise the issue with the public.

“It’s a serious privacy concern for parents as well as students,” Pauls said. “We still keep male coaches out of women’s locker rooms.”

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said passing such legislation would force transgender girls being to use boys’ facilities, and transgender boys to use girls’ facilities.

“All this is going to do is single out and isolate trans kids in high school and it’s going to make them vulnerable to attack, bullying, injury or possibly worse,” Witt said.

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STAR BONDS CHANGES

The Senate approved a bill that would tighten up the rules for using so-called STAR bonds. The state Department of Commerce authorizes such bonds for cities and counties, and they’re paid off with sales tax revenues generated in a development district.

The chamber’s 34-4 vote sends the measure to the House.

Each STAR bonds project would be required to have an independent consulting report and a commitment from private developers to provide more than half of the financing.

The measure is a response to efforts by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration to lure the 117-year-old American Royal horse and livestock exhibition to Kansas from Kansas City, Missouri. Critics fear the state would expand an existing district in Wyandotte County and use existing tax revenues that might flow to the state to back new bonds.

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KANSAS BIOSCIENCE AUTHORITY

The bill on STAR bonds also allows the state to sell off the assets of the Kansas Bioscience Authority. The agency was set up a decade ago to nurture emerging bioscience businesses and diverts state income tax revenues for investments.

Brownback and other critics argue that such investments are more effectively handled in the private sector. Also, the governor hopes to raise $25 million to help balance the state budget.

The senators voting against the bill said the Bioscience Authority has been an effective economic development tool.

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LOCAL EMPLOYMENT RULES

One bill advanced by the House to curb local officials’ power would prohibit cities and counties from regulating the work hours or wages of private employees unless state law requires it.

The House gave it first-round approval on an 81-34 vote, with final action expected Friday.

Critics say the bill would strip local governments of the authority to decide what job regulations are best for their area. Supporters contend that the measure would prevent government interference in private businesses.

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FOOD LABELING LIMITED

Another bill winning first-round approval in the House would prohibit cities and counties from creating nutrition labeling on food or non-alcoholic beverages sold in restaurants, cafeterias or vending machines.

The vote was 77-37, and final action was expected Friday.

The proposal also would forbid local governments from barring certain foods to be sold because of its nutritional content. It also prevents municipalities from restricting the growing of livestock or food crops approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Kansas representatives gave the bill first round approval with a 77-37 vote Thursday.

Supporters say the measure makes nutrition labeling and food sale consistent, while opponents argue it infringes on local control.

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GUANTANAMO PROTESTS

The Senate’s eight Democrats sent a letter to President Barack Obama opposing moving terror suspects to Fort Leavenworth from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The letter came two days after the Republican-dominated Legislature adopted a resolution decrying the Democratic president’s push to close the Guantanamo detention center.

The GOP-sponsored resolution goes to Obama. It not only criticizes his plans but declares that he’s shown a willingness to violate U.S. law and sought to lower the nation’s global standing.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said the resolution contained “polarizing and uncivil rhetoric.”

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Associated Press writer Melissa Hellmann also contributed to this report.

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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

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