Gun control another issue of 2013 legislative session

Before the 2013 session of the Kansas Legislature opened, freshman Sen. Mitch Holmes (R-St. John) said he "would have to be convinced" that not sunsetting 0.6 percent of a 1 percent sales tax increase to balance the budget in 2010 was a good idea.

In a compromise measure, legislators dropped the sales tax from 6.3 to 6.15 percent. The tax had been expected to fall to 5.7 percent in July. The changes in tax rates are expected to generate about $777 million in revenue over the next five years, the Associated Press reported on June 20.

Holmes voted for the compromise.

"The offset was income tax reduction," he said. "I would not have supported it otherwise."

"There is ample evidence that lowering income tax does stimulate the economy," he said, explaining that lower taxes would entice people to move to Kansas and establish businesses.

The tax plan also has provisions for limiting annual increases in state spending and ensuring that Kansas cuts income taxes each year, until those taxes eventually disappear. Good financial times won't loosen the restraints on spending, but instead accelerate what Gov. Brownback and his allies call "the glide path to zero" on personal income taxes, the AP reported.

Holmes supports the plan, but said he is not totally convinced it will happen.

Once the state phases out personal income taxes, the law will require it to start phasing out corporate income taxes.

"It could be one of the most significant factors of the legislation we passed this year in controlling the expenditure of government and reducing the tax burden over time," House Taxation Committee Chairman Richard Carlson (R-St. Marys) said.

"It's a self-inflicted budget crisis of huge proportion," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (D- Topeka). "There's no question that we're going to be in dire straits, and it will be of our own making."

Instead of the anticipated 80-day session, the legislative session drew out to 99 days, with formal adjournment on June 20. In addition to tax issues, legislators also made several changes to the state's concealed carry law as it relates to publicly owned buildings. Senate Substitute for HB 2052, which became law on July 1, allows citizens licensed to carry concealed weapons to provide for their own protection where security is not in place.

The City of Pratt, Pratt County Commission and Pratt Community College have all requested an initial six-month exemption, followed by a four-year exemption as they decide how to fund an expensive security system or allow concealed weapons in courtrooms, city offices and at the college.

In a news release, Sen. Forrest Knox (R-Altoona) attempted to clarify the new law. Judges across the state are trying to require that the entire building that houses their courtroom be posted and require security, when the presence of armed law enforcement in the room satisfies the law. Public primary and secondary schools are specifically exempted from the law.

Certain publicly owned institutions are given authority to allow licensed employees to carry within their buildings, even if the buildings are posted. These institutions can set their own policies. Included in this provision are unified school districts, medical care facilities, adult care homes, community mental health centers, indigent health care clinics and postsecondary educational institutions.

Knox noted that posting buildings as "no concealed carry" without securing them poses liability risks, and cited the 2007 Virginia Tech as an example of such an event. A jury found the school liable in a civil lawsuit and awarded family members of victims large cash settlements.

He also noted that the legislation passed both houses of the Legislature in "a strong, 80 percent favorable, bipartisan show of support and reflects the profound support of the citizens of Kansas for the individual right to keep and bear arms."

Holmes predicts that the law will be "tweaked" in the next session, but the law that is in effect when exemptions expire may or may not be the same as what will currently be in effect. What will be different, he believes, is that "people's paranoia might be calmed down."

What's lost in the debate, he maintains, is that people who are licensed for concealed carry have been through background checks, fingerprinting, and training and are responsible citizens. Allowing them to carry weapons in public buildings does not pose a danger. When the state first allowed people to carry concealed weapons, opponents predicted a return to the wild, wild west, Holmes said, and that hasn't happened.

Another gun-control law says that the federal government has no authority to regulate guns made, sold and kept in Kansas and makes it a felony for a federal agent to enforce a law covering those guns. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says the law is unconstitutional.

Another law prevents the use of state tax dollars to promote or oppose gun control policies.

A new state abortion law requires doctors to inform women seeking abortion that life begins at fertilization, and that providers' websites include a link to Kansas Department of Health and Environment site on abortion and fetal development. The law has been challenged in court by Planned Parenthood.

The Legislature adopted a measure to test welfare and unemployment recipients suspected of using illegal drugs. People who fail the test will lose their benefits.

Roofing contractors are required to register annually with the attorney general's office before they can be paid for their work.

Associated Press stories were used in the preparation of this report.