- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas would stop scheduling a presidential primary once every four years under a bill advancing Tuesday in the Legislature, as members tackled a crowded agenda.

The Senate gave first-round approval to a bill repealing a law requiring the state to schedule a presidential primary, and it expected to take a final vote Wednesday. The state has canceled each primary since 1992, usually because of the anticipated cost, but lawmakers have kept the law scheduling the elections on the books.

House members advanced a bill directing the state Department of Health and Environment to develop a plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants but requiring the Legislature’s energy committees to approve it. It’s a response to a federal rule requiring states to develop stricter emissions standards by 2016.

A bill introduced in the Senate would spell out the grounds for impeaching state Supreme Court justices, including attempting to usurp the Legislature’s or executive branch’s power.

Here is a look at major legislative developments.

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PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARIES

The presidential primary bill in the Senate would end the regular legislative ritual of canceling each election as it nears. The estimated cost of the 2016 election is about $1.8 million.

The measure initially canceled only the 2016 contest, scheduling the next presidential primary for 2020. The law says that if the secretary of state can’t set the election for a date on which at least five other states are holding contests, the Kansas vote is the first Tuesday in April.

Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka then noted the Legislature’s history of canceling primaries.

“We do have this conversation every four years, and I’m just trying to figure out why we keep having this conversation when our decision is always the same,” she said.

The Senate later approved an amendment to the bill to repeal the law scheduling the primary. The change would leave the Republican and Democratic parties to hold caucuses, covering the costs themselves.

About 350,000 voters participated in the 1992 primary. Caucuses draw a fraction of that number, but the state GOP sees them as more valuable for party-building.

The bill would go to the House next.

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GREENHOUSE GAS LIMITS

The bill on greenhouse gas emissions standards was prompted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s declaration that states must draft a plan or have federal rules imposed on them.

An earlier version of the bill would have given the final say on the state’s plan to the Kansas Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities, but it met resistance in committee.

The House expected to take final action on the bill Wednesday. It would go next to the Senate.

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IMPEACHING JUSTICES

The new Senate bill spelling out the grounds for impeaching Supreme Court justices was sponsored by the Judiciary Committee, but Republican Sen. Mitch Holmes of St. John acknowledged he sought it.

The list of impeachable offenses also would include breaches of judicial ethics, attempting to “subvert fundamental laws and introduce arbitrary power” and failing to “adequately supervise subordinate employees.”

The state constitution says justices can be impeached by the House, tried by the Senate and removed if convicted of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

“The Legislature has no guidelines,” Holmes said. “Without guidelines, there’s not going to be any impetus to exercise our constitutional authority.”

Many GOP conservatives like Holmes have said the Supreme Court overstepped its authority in past decisions in education funding lawsuits requiring lawmakers to boost spending on public schools. The court also has been criticized for repeatedly overturning death sentences in capital murder cases.

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TOBACCO, ALCOHOL TAXES

The Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee reviewed the governor’s proposals to raise cigarette and alcohol taxes. The tax on a package of cigarettes would nearly triple, to $2.29 from 79 cents, and the tax paid by consumers at the liquor store would rise to 12 percent from 8 percent.

Public health advocates backed the higher taxes, saying they’d reduce consumption. Business owners criticized the proposals, saying consumers would go across state lines to shop.

A committee vote isn’t expected until at least late April.

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MENTAL HEALTH PRESCRIPTIONS

The Senate approved, 40-0, a bill aimed at controlling the cost of mental health drugs in the state’s Medicaid program. It would require a review of mental health drugs and set up an advisory committee to draft guidelines on prescription use.

The measure goes to the House.

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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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