- Associated Press - Thursday, May 7, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The Kansas House passed a bill Thursday that would decrease penalties for marijuana possession, allow the limited production and sale of hemp oil and study uses for industrial hemp.

The House also passed a compromise on green energy policy, and lawmakers considered new tax proposals as they seek ways to fill a budget gap of about $422 million before the close of the session.

The chamber’s 81-36 vote Thursday sends the marijuana bill to the Senate for consideration. First- and second-time marijuana offenders without serious prior convictions would avoid jail time under the measure. That would decrease the population in the state’s overcrowded prisons and save more than $1.7 million over the next two fiscal years, according to state estimates.

Here’s a look at the significant actions taken by the Legislature Thursday:

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MARIJUANA

Two amendments to the bill on marijuana penalties added language that would legalize the sale and production of hemp oil for seizure treatments and initiate a state study into industrial hemp.

Opponents are concerned the measure would open the door to wider marijuana legalization. Republican Rep. Dick Jones from Topeka said that he does not believe there is concrete evidence that hemp oil, which is derived from marijuana plants, can effectively treat patients.

“If you vote for this amendment, you’re just voting for a foot in the door to make marijuana legal country-wide, statewide,” he said.

The bill would allow only state-licensed producers to make hemp oil and would regulate the products to ensure they do not contain more than 3 percent of the compound THC, which gives marijuana its intoxicating effects. Democratic Rep. John Wilson from Lawrence crafted the medical marijuana language and said that only residents with severe seizure disorders would be allowed to purchase the hemp oil, estimating their number at about 24,000.

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RENEWABLE ENERGY MANDATES

The House voted 107-11 to pass a compromise between the wind energy industry and critics of the state’s green energy mandate. The deal would remove a requirement that renewable resources account for 20 percent of utilities’ capacity to generate electricity by 2020.

The mandate would become a nonbinding goal, but legislators would drop a proposal to impose a 4.33 percent tax on the electricity generated from renewable resources in return. The agreement would also decrease a lifetime exemption from property tax for new renewable projects to a 10-years exemption, after which the ventures would pay commercial property taxes.

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TAXES

Kansas legislators sifted through proposals to increase taxes but aren’t yet raising enough revenue to close a budget shortfall.

The House and Senate tax committees considered various measures Thursday. Legislative researchers have said lawmakers must close a $422 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The shortfall arose after lawmakers cut personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 to boost the economy.

The Senate committee previously endorsed proposals to raise about $50 million. The panel Thursday approved Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan to waive penalties for people with unpaid taxes to pick up an additional $30 million. But senators didn’t agree on any other proposals.

The House committee had a hearing on a bill to backtrack on a tax break for business owners enacted in 2012.


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