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Hunt for budget savings marks Kansas lawmakers' second-half start, but other issues on agenda

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TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas legislators were looking for budget savings Wednesday after returning to the Statehouse for the second half of their annual session, but also had lobbying laws and rules for social service programs on their agenda.

The House Appropriations Committee approved a proposal to launch a long-term hunt for budget efficiencies. And Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's budget director said the governor is not backing off planned cuts in aid to public schools and funding for higher education, even with better-than-expected tax collections last month.

Lawmakers reconvened after a five-day weekend tied to their "turnaround" deadline, when many bills must clear their chamber of origin to be considered further this year. It was the 47th day of their 90-day session.

The biggest task for Brownback and the Republican-dominated Legislature is erasing a budget shortfall projected at nearly $600 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1. It arose after lawmakers slashed personal income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging to stimulate the economy.

Here is a look at legislative action Wednesday.


CUTS STILL PLANNED

A $28 million reduction in aid to public schools in the current budget and $16 million in cuts to funding for state universities are due to take effect Saturday.

Brownback announced the reductions in late January after tax collections fell short of expectations for the month, to prevent a budget deficit at the end of the current fiscal year, on June 30.

The state collected $22 million more in taxes than expected in February, but Budget Director Shawn Sullivan said it isn't causing Brownback to reconsider.

"There's too much uncertainty with what happens between now and the end of the fiscal year," he said.


MORE BUDGET DEBATES

The House Appropriations Committee approved a proposed $27 million budget for the Legislature for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that includes a requirement for lawmakers to hire a consultant to examine state government and find ways to trim spending in 2016 and 2017.

The committee also directed legislative researchers to compile statistics on vacant jobs in executive branch agencies to determine whether budgets can be trimmed by eliminating them.


SOCIAL SERVICES RULES

Kansas would prohibit adults who receive cash assistance from the state from using it to patronize strip clubs or buy sexually oriented materials under a bill before the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee.

PHOTO: CORRECTS DATE Kansas state Reps. Sharon Schwartz, left, a Washington Republican, and Gene Suellentrop, right, a Wichita Republican, confer during a House Appropriations Committee meeting, Wednesday, March 4, 2015, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. The committee is proposing to launch a hunt for budget efficiencies. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
CORRECTS DATE Kansas state Reps. Sharon Schwartz, left, a Washington Republican, and Gene Suellentrop, right, a Wichita Republican, confer during a House Appropriations Committee meeting, Wednesday, March 4, 2015, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. The committee is proposing to launch a hunt for budget efficiencies. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

The Department for Children and Families promoted the measure during a hearing, but critics said the state would be tightening its rules when child poverty is rising.

The bill puts into state law policies enacted under Republican Gov. Sam Brownback for cash assistance and food stamps. The policies require able-bodied adult recipients to be employed or looking for work.

But the bill contains new restrictions, such as the one involving sexually oriented materials. Another would impose a lifetime ban on receiving food stamps after a felony drug conviction.


LOBBYING LAWS

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee approved a bill requiring lobbyists to publicly report any funds they receive from a government agency, including a city, county or school district. The measure goes next to the full Senate for debate.

Lobbyists for local governments currently must report what they spend on lobbying lawmakers but not what they receive from the agency hiring them.


ANTI-ABORTION PROPOSAL

The House Federal and State Affairs Committee plans to have a hearing Monday on a bill banning an abortion procedure described by critics as "dismemberment" of a fetus. The procedure is used in about 8 percent of the abortions in Kansas.

The measure passed the Senate last month. It was drafted by the National Right to Life Committee as model legislation for states.


MOVING LOCAL ELECTIONS

House Elections Committee Chairman Mark Kahrs, a Wichita Republican, said during a news conference that low voter turnout Tuesday in primaries for city and school board elections illustrates the need to move the elections to the fall of even-numbered years to coincide with national statewide and county elections. The Senate has approved a bill to move elections to the fall of odd-numbered years to boost turnout.


Online:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org


Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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