TOPEKA, Kansas — The Kansas Senate rejected a bill that would make it easier for teachers to be fired, marking a rare defeat for a conservative bill in the GOP-dominated chamber as legislators churned through a loaded agenda Wednesday.
The measure, defeated on a 13-27 vote, would have automatically terminated all teacher contracts at the end of their current term, narrowed salary talks to setting the minimum pay and made it more difficult for teachers to appeal firings and benefit cuts.
The Senate also passed a bill repealing presidential primaries in the state, while Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed an overhaul to school funding into law and the House approved a measure that would potentially shrink the civil service.
Here's a look a look at major legislative developments.
Republican Sen. Jeff Melcher from Leawood proposed the changes and said they would help schools reward good teachers and fire underperformers.
He later appeared to refer to the bill's defeat when speaking on the Senate floor. "We keep seeing good bills go down, we're seeing amendments to make sure we protect inefficiency in government and I'm really having a hard time understanding what may have happened over the weekend that caused the Republican Party to dissolve," Melcher said.
Republicans hold 32 of the chamber's 40 seats, with Democrats holding the rest.
Opponents said the bill would result in worse job security and lower base salaries for the state's teachers.
Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly called the legislation "one more attack on our public school teachers" who have already seen their jobs made more difficult by conservative education reforms.
"Who is going to want to teach in Kansas? Certainly not the best and brightest," Kelly said.
Both chambers have passed bills narrowing collective bargaining between school boards and teachers unions that reflect a compromise the two sides reached in January.
Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed a $4.1 billion plan to overhaul Kansas' school funding system into law during a private ceremony in the presence of GOP leaders.
It scraps the current formula for determining state aid and replaces it with "block grants" to school districts based on their current aid. The grant system will be in place for two years while the Legislature develops a new formula. The state's 286 school districts lose $51 million in aid they expected to receive for the current school year under the plan. The bill has been lauded by the conservatives and business groups.
Brownback said in a statement that the plan will give more direct spending control to officials closest to the classroom.
The Kansas Senate voted unanimously to repeal presidential primary elections in the state, thus ending the legislative ritual of canceling presidential primary elections each time they near. The state has canceled every presidential primary since 1992 due to the cost, which was estimated to be about $1.8 million for 2016.
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 will now move on to the House.
State agencies would be allowed to remove civil service protections for new workers and employees changing positions under a bill passed by the House 74-51 that will now move to the Senate.
Civil service employees have typically enjoyed greater job security and benefits than political appointees or private-sector workers and the bill's supporters have said that such employees would only lose those protections by voluntarily changing positions.
Critics say the bill aims to gradually reduce the number of protected jobs in government and would allow agencies to coerce workers into positions without civil service benefits in order to be promoted or get raises.
GREENHOUSE GAS LIMITS
The House passed a bill 121-3 that requires the state to draft a plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants but allowing legislators to have a say in its contents.
The legislation 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 bill will now be considered by the Senate.
AP Political Writer John Hanna contributed to this report.
Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org