Kansas House approves bill that would move local elections, cancel presidential primaries



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TOPEKA, Kansas — The Kansas House approved a measure Thursday that would move local elections to the fall in odd-numbered years in a bid to boost turnout.

The bill would also permanently cancel the state's presidential primary elections and the Senate passed a tweak to the state's abortion laws before lawmakers adjourned for a four-day weekend.

The House's vote 64-58 on the local elections bill sends it to the governor.

Here is a look at the significant actions taken by the Legislature Thursday.


LOCAL ELECTIONS

Republican Rep. Steve Huebert from Valley Center said he once lost a school board election by seven votes and believes that "the current system is the ultimate voter suppression tool."

He said he thinks moving local elections from the spring will increase turnout because people are used to voting in the fall.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach said the bill was "a good first step" to eventually moving local elections to even-numbered years so that they coincide with state and national elections. He said this would increase turnout even more significantly.

But, critics say it would force elected school board members to take office in the middle of fiscal years, which could disrupt the budgeting process.

The bill also would bar general election candidates from dropping out of a race unless experiencing "severe medical hardship."


PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY

The measure also would cancel the state's presidential primaries, which the secretary of state's office estimates would cost the state about $1.7 million for the 2016 elections. Legislators have canceled the past five primaries because of their cost, opting instead for caucuses funded by the Republican and Democratic parties.

Democratic Rep. Tom Sawyer from Wichita said he opposed eliminating the primaries because they generate interest in the state and attract more campaign spending in the form of advertising purchases and temporary jobs.

"If there's ever a year to have a presidential primary, the kind of year to have it is 2016 because both parties have open races," he said.


ABORTION

The Kansas Senate voted 39-0 Thursday to approve a bill aimed at allowing the state to enforce a ban on what critics call "webcam" abortions.

The measure modifies a provision of a 2011 law requiring a doctor who provides an abortion-inducing drug to be in the same room when a patient takes it. Among other things, the bill creates an exception for medical emergencies.

The state hasn't been able to enforce the law because two providers filed a lawsuit in Shawnee County District Court against it.

The bill now goes to the House.


BUDGET AGREEMENT

House and Senate negotiators agreed Thursday evening on a proposed $15.5 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that would limit increases in tuition at state universities.

The plan drafted by the three senators and three House members would keep spending on the state's higher education system flat during the next fiscal year, avoiding reductions even as lawmakers consider tax increases to close a projected budget shortfall.

But the agreement calls for preventing the state Board of Regents from increasing tuition at state universities more than 2 percentage points above inflation as measured by the consumer price index. The figure would have been 2.8 percent for 2014.


STOPPING THE CLOCK

The Legislature's decision to take an extended weekend for Memorial Day will both save money and stop the clock on its annual session. Lawmakers will not receive their $218 daily salary and expense payments from Friday through Monday, so the days won't officially count.

Thursday was the 95th day, and when lawmakers return Tuesday to the Statehouse, it will be their 96th day in session, six more than their leaders traditionally schedule.

According to legislative researchers, only nine of the past 40 sessions have lasted longer, with the record of 107 days set in 2002.


AP political writer John Hanna contributed to this report.


Online:

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

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