- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - State universities in Kansas would not be allowed to increase tuition for two years under a proposal drafted Wednesday by legislators, who also advanced a bill authorizing $1 billion in bonds to help shore up the state’s public pension system.

The proposed tuition freeze emerged from budget talks between the House and Senate, during which negotiators settled differences over a $15.5 billion spending plan. On higher education, a major sticking point, the lawmakers agreed to keep state funding for higher education relatively flat despite a projected budget shortfall of nearly $600 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The plan for pension bonds also arose from negotiations between the two chambers. The House approved the compromise plan, 63-57, and the Senate planned to vote on it Thursday, when approval would send it to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

Brownback also announced plans to sign major gun-rights legislation, and the state released statistics on abortion showing an increase last year in pregnancies terminated with a procedure covered by a ban expected to take effect in July.

Here is a look at significant legislative developments Wednesday.

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UNIVERSITIES’ TUITION

House and Senate budget negotiators largely adopted Brownback’s recommendations for higher education spending. His proposals are designed to keep higher education funding stable despite the budget shortfall.

The Senate had approved cuts of $4.6 million for the main University of Kansas campus in Lawrence and $3.2 million at Kansas State University.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, said the tuition freeze recognizes that universities are avoiding such cuts.

“We’re all concerned about the amount of debt students leave our universities with,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican.

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PUBLIC PENSIONS

Issuing the pension bonds would give the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System an infusion of cash, immediately narrowing a long-term gap in the funding for retirement benefits for teachers and government workers. Supporters believe KPERS will earn significantly more from investing the funds raised than it will pay on the bonds.

“It’s good for KPERS retirees,” said House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, a Louisburg Republican. “It’s good for the state.”

Critics believe the idea is risky.

“We’re borrowing money on a debt to pay a debt,” said Rep Ed Trimmer, a Winfield Democrat who opposed the bill.

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GUN RIGHTS

The gun-rights bill Brownback plans to sign Thursday at the Statehouse would allow Kansas residents to carry concealed firearms without a permit.

The new law would take effect July 1, and the National Rifle Association says Kansas will be the fifth state with such a policy.

Kansas still would issue permits for gun owners who want to carry concealed in other states that recognize Kansas permits. A person seeking a Kansas permit must undergo eight hours of firearms training.

Supporters of the bill said gun owners have shown they can be trusted. Critics of the measure contend the state should require some training.

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ABORTION STATISTICS

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported that the dilation and evacuation method was used in 637 abortions in 2014. That was 8.8 percent of the 7,263 pregnancies terminated in Kansas.

Legislators passed a bill last week to redefine the procedure as “dismemberment abortion” and outlaw it. Brownback has promised to sign it.

The health department reported 584 abortions using the method in 2013, accounting for 7.8 percent of the 7,485 abortions that year.

The increase in such abortions was 53, or 9.1 percent.

The decrease in total abortions last year was 222, or 3 percent.

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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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