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Kansas Legislature approves tighter social services rules as lawmakers prepare for break

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TOPEKA, Kansas — Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said during a news conference Thursday that he is open to raising the sales tax to fill gaps in state's budget.

The governor also signed into a law a bill allowing Kansans to carry concealed firearms without a permit as the Legislature passed a raft of measures including tighter restrictions for residents receiving state assistance and new regulations for transportation companies that ride-hailing service Uber says could force it out of the state.

Here is a look at what the Legislature passed ahead of its annual spring break.


TAXES

Brownback said in his first open press conference in weeks that he would like to continue shifting the state away from income and property taxes and that he hoped legislators would find a mix of consumption taxes to tackle the state's revenue shortfalls when they return from break.

The state faces budget shortfalls of nearly $600 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1, and a proposed budget passed by the Senate in March would still fall about $150 million short without tax increases. Brownback has recommended raising taxes on cigarettes and alcohol to generate the necessary revenue and said Thursday that he would be open to an across-the-board sales tax hike.

Kansas' sales tax rate is currently 6.3 percent. Brownback did not specify how much he thinks that could increase.


SOCIAL SERVICES

The House and Senate approved tighter rules for social services Thursday, sending the bill to the governor to sign it into law. The policies include a requirement that able-bodied adult recipients of cash assistance have jobs or seek work. The measure also sets new rules that include a $25-a-day limit on ATM withdrawals with cash assistance cards, which is intended to combat fraud and prevent recipients from using their benefits to buy tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs.

Supporters said it furthers a goal of helping people move from state assistance into jobs. Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said in a statement that the bill would empower residents to become self-sufficient. But critics see it as an attack on the poor.


GUNS

Kansas became the fifth state to allow its residents to carry concealed firearms without a permit after Brownback signed a bill ending the permit and training requirement Thursday.

The National Rifle Association says Kansas will join Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming in having such a policy when the change takes effect July 1. Kansas still will issue permits for gun owners who want to carry concealed firearms in other states that recognize Kansas permits.

Brownback said gun owners have shown they are responsible, but Democratic Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau of Wichita said the state still should require some training for gun owners who opt to forgo the permit and carry within the state.


TAXI SERVICES

Both chambers passed a bill Thursday that would require drivers from transportation network companies to hold additional insurance for periods when they are transporting riders for pay and also require them to undergo background checks through the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

The bill directly affects the company Uber, which connects independent drivers to riders through a smart device app.

The company urged users to protest Monday, providing a link in its app to email all Kansas legislators a letter on the issue. So many did so that the Legislature's email service was temporarily inoperable Tuesday.

Uber said in a statement after the passage of the bill that the measure would "destroy thousands of Kansas jobs by making it impossible for Uber to continue operations in the state."


AP political writer John Hanna contributed to this report.

Online:

Social services bill: http://bit.ly/1G7ZZ44

Concealed carry bill: http://bit.ly/1CBkcev

Taxi services bill: http://bit.ly/1BWfYvt

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