Governor meets unexpected resistance to schools plan
TOPEKA — Kansas' new Democratic governor is meeting unexpected resistance to her plan for boosting public education funding from local school districts that believe her proposal wouldn't supply enough new money.
Gov. Laura Kelly touts her proposed increase of roughly $90 million a year as a simple way to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court mandate for an increase in education funding. She initially won over Schools for Fair Funding, a coalition of 48 school districts backing an ongoing lawsuit against the state, including the four districts that sued in 2010.
But the group withdrew its support before Kelly's plan cleared its first legislative hurdle. An attorney for the school districts said a further review of Kelly's proposal showed it would fall tens of millions of dollars short each year of satisfying the Supreme Court.
The change of heart is complicating Kelly's efforts to push a funding increase through the Republican-controlled Legislature and could prolong the lawsuit just when an end seemed in sight.
The Kansas Supreme Court has issued six rulings in the past five years mandating increases in education funding, citing a duty under the state constitution for lawmakers to provide a suitable education for every child.
Some Republicans doubt the state could sustain even Kelly's smaller plan without raising taxes within a few years. She pledged during last year's campaign not to pursue tax hikes, with GOP lawmakers already adamantly opposed.
Measure passed on medical pot for probationers
HELENA — The Montana House has passed a bill to allow people on probation or parole to use medical marijuana if they suffer from a debilitating medical condition.
Bill sponsor Democratic Rep. Jade Bahr argued that Montana residents have voted in favor of allowing the use of medical marijuana and that people on probation or parole wouldn't be denied access to other prescribed treatments such as chemotherapy, insulin or dialysis.
Voters authorized medical marijuana use in Montana in 2004 and the industry exploded, leading to federal raids in 2011 and legislative efforts to tighten up regulations, including prohibiting people on parole or probation from holding medical marijuana cards.
Bahr argued during a committee hearing that the more than 10,000 people on parole or probation in Montana "suffer from higher rates of almost every condition for which medical marijuana is routinely prescribed under state law."
Montana allows doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for people with cancer, glaucoma, HIV or AIDS; those who are admitted to hospice care or whose symptoms include severe and chronic pain that significantly interferes with daily activities; intractable nausea; an intractable seizure disorder; a central nervous disorder that causes chronic muscle spasms; post-traumatic stress disorder or painful peripheral neuropathy.
Lawmaker’s posts in conversion-therapy debate draw ire
SALT LAKE CITY — A nationwide push to ban LGBTQ conversion therapy for minors looked like it could succeed in conservative Utah after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said it wouldn't stand in the way, but the effort has ground to a halt.
Conversion therapy has a long history in Utah, and the legislation drew fierce opposition from people who said barring therapists from talking about changing someone's sexual orientation would violate free-speech rights.
In what was seen as a milestone, the state's predominant faith has condemned conversion therapy and taken a more welcoming stance to the LGBTQ community but remains opposed to gay marriage and sex.
But eight Republican lawmakers approved changes advocates said effectively gutted the ban by allowed damaging practices aimed at changing kids' gender identity.
Republican Rep. Karianne Lisonbee insisted she was looking for a compromise that would still protect LGBTQ kids. But activists say some of her Facebook comments revealed by The Associated Press indicate that she supports the debunked practice.
In 2013 comments, Lisonbee wondered whether it was "possible that living a homosexual lifestyle may cause individuals to choose to commit suicide?"
She also wrote that a 1970s-era experiment in Utah using electric shocks to change sexual orientation was horrifying but shouldn't be considered torture on subjects who volunteered.
Lisonbee said people have "successfully overcome" what she called "unwanted same-sex attraction" and that such therapy should be available to others who want it.
Lisonbee didn't disavow the comments but said they came in an occasionally heated debate between members of her family over a story about same-sex marriage and the Mormon church.
State police may get tests to tell hemp and pot apart
BOISE — Idaho State Police may get the funding to purchase equipment that would allow investigators to distinguish hemp from marijuana after a high-profile case in the state grabbed headlines and prompted a federal lawsuit.
The state legislature's Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee recently approved about $240,000 for testing devices for three crime labs. The funding must be approved by the House and Senate.
In late January, state police seized a semitrailer filled with 6,700 pounds of a green, leafy substance that a trooper believed was marijuana. The driver of the truck, and the owner of the cargo, insisted that it was industrial hemp. Hemp, a cousin of marijuana, has a very low concentration of the psychoactive substance called THC that gives marijuana its high-inducing properties
Police sent samples out of state for testing to determine what it was, but have declined to release the results due to the ongoing investigation.
The company has said the plants are legal under the new federal farm bill, which legalized hemp production, and they are currently deteriorating and losing value.
Minimum wage debate rages after 10-year freeze
SANTA FE — The state Senate on March 8 endorsed an increase to the statewide minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $11 over the next three years without additional raises.
The bill advanced on a 27-15 vote to the House for consideration and a possible showdown. It would be the first increase in roughly a decade.
Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf warned that the proposal would likely would be amended in the House. He said future cost-of-living increases to the state's minimum wage are essential and should be competitive with neighboring Arizona’s current $11.50 minimum wage, set to rise to $12 in 2020 with automated future increases.
The Senate bill also would establish a separate minimum wage for high school students of $8.50 an hour. The wage for tipped employees would increase from $2.13 per hour to $2.50 by April 2020.
Senate Republicans said the proposed increases are out of touch with the economy of rural New Mexico and would result in bankrupted small businesses.
Major cities and counties in New Mexico have instituted their own minimum wages, topping out at $11.40 an hour in Santa Fe.