- Associated Press - Monday, January 11, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The latest on the Kansas Legislature’s opening day (all times local):

4:20 p.m.

A legislative study committee wants Kansas to consider a foster family’s structure as an important issue in placing abused and neglected children in foster care.

The committee approved a recommendation Monday that the Department for Children and Families use “evidence-based” factors in placing foster children. Conservative Republicans who oppose same-sex marriage backed the recommendation, and the panel’s GOP chairman has said he believes children fare better in general with parents in so-called traditional marriages.

Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka said the recommendation encourages DCF to discriminate against gays and lesbians.



DCF faces allegations that it discriminates against gay and lesbian foster parents seeking to adopt the children in their care. DCF says it focuses on what’s best for each child, and Republicans on the committee said that’s their top concern.

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3:30 p.m.

Republicans in the Kansas House have elected Rep. Dan Hawkins of Wichita as their new caucus chairman.

Hawkins prevailed in a 60-29 vote Monday over Republican Rep. J.R. Claeys of Salina.

The chairman runs special caucus meetings for House Republicans, and Hawkins said he hopes to have them once a week.

Hawkins replaces former Republican Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady of Palco. He resigned from the Legislature in December to become a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.

Hawkins also is chairman of the House Health and Human Services Committee and will keep that position.

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2:15 p.m.

The Kansas Legislature has opened its annual session.

The House convened at 2 p.m. Monday, the time specified for the opening in the state constitution.

The Senate gaveled in about 2:15 p.m.

Leaders of each chamber’s Republican majority were hoping this year’s session will be 80 or fewer days. Sessions are typically scheduled for 90 days, but last year’s was the longest ever at 114 days because of GOP infighting over budget and tax issues.

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12:55 p.m.

The Kansas House has four new members as the Legislature opens its annual session.

The two new Republicans and two new Democrats were sworn in before lawmakers convened Monday.

The newest is Republican Rep. Chuck Weber of Wichita. He replaces Steve Brunk, who stepped down earlier this month to become the executive director of a Kansas affiliate of the conservative group Focus on the Family.

Republican Rep. Ken Rahjes of Agra has replaced Travis Couture-Lovelady after Couture-Lovelady became a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.

Democrats had two House members resign last year for personal reasons.

Rep. Ben Scott of Topeka replaced Harold Lane and Rep. Henry Helgerson of Wichita replaced Carolyn Bridges.

Helgerson served in the House from 1983 through 2000 and filled a Senate vacancy in 2004.

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9:40 a.m.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is calling on Kansas to expand its Medicaid program to provide health coverage for thousands of additional families.

Clinton issued a statement Monday, hours before the Republican-dominated Legislature opened its annual session.

The federal health overhaul championed by Democratic President Barack Obama encourages states to expand their Medicaid programs and promises the federal government will pay almost all of the cost.

Clinton said expanding Medicaid also would help small rural hospitals.

She said, “Health care for Kansas families should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few.”

Top Kansas Republicans have been skeptical that the federal government will keep its funding promises.

Told of Clinton’s statement, Kansas House Speaker and Stilwell Republican Ray Merrick dismissed it.

He responded, “Hillary who?”

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9:30 a.m.

Kansas legislators face closing a projected $190 million shortfall in the budget for the state’s next fiscal year as they opened their annual session.

The Republican-dominated House and Senate were convening Monday afternoon for the session’s first day.

GOP leaders were hoping Republicans could avoid the infighting that made last year’s session the longest ever at 114 days. Sessions are typically scheduled for 90 days, but top Republicans hope this year’s will be 80 or even fewer days.

The projected deficit is the gap between anticipated revenues and spending already approved under the $15.8 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Republican legislators last year closed a bigger shortfall by raising sales and cigarette taxes. GOP Gov. Sam Brownback has ruled out further tax increases this year.

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