News

Out West Roundup: After tax cuts many saw as a failure, Kansas may cut again

Author: Associated Press - May 4, 2018 - Updated: May 31, 2018

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Kansas state Sens. Richard Hilderbrand, left, R-Galena, and Mike Petersen, right, R-Wichita, follow a discussion among fellow GOP senators during a meeting, Thursday, April 26, 2018, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Legislators are thinking about cutting income taxes again after raising them in 2017 to address persistent budget woes. (AP Photo/John Hanna)Kansas state Sens. Richard Hilderbrand, left, R-Galena, and Mike Petersen, right, R-Wichita, follow a discussion among fellow GOP senators during a meeting, Thursday, April 26, 2018, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Legislators are thinking about cutting income taxes again after raising them in 2017 to address persistent budget woes. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

Kansas

After tax cuts many saw as a failure, Kansas may cut again

TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansas has some financial breathing room less than a year after legislators reversed past income tax cuts to deal with persistent budget woes that followed what many voters saw as a failed fiscal experiment. Now some Republicans want to go back to slashing taxes.

The state Senate’s GOP leaders are pushing the idea. Their chances of success are good enough that critics are questioning whether lessons from the state’s recent fiscal miseries sunk in after former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s policies made Kansas a national example of how not to do trickle-down economics.

But top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature feel compelled to act in an election year — like lawmakers in many other states — because of changes in federal income tax laws engineered by President Donald Trump. Those changes have some Kansas residents facing higher state income taxes after state lawmakers boosted their burden last year.

“It’s going to be a double whammy to all the taxpayers,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, a conservative Wichita Republican who’s leading the charge.

After years of budget pain and disappointing tax collections, Kansas officials are feeling more optimistic. Last year’s tax increase is filling the state treasury and the economy is stronger, with revenues exceeding expectations.

Wagle and other GOP lawmakers argue that they’re not attempting to cut taxes so much as “return the windfall.” A bill approved by the Senate earlier this month went further, increasing the state’s standard income tax deduction and several other deductions, and some lawmakers have other tax-cutting priorities, such as lowering the state’s sales tax on groceries.

Reducing taxes also would undercut the Legislature’s efforts to meet a Kansas Supreme Court mandate to increasing funding for public schools. Lawmakers approved a plan meant to phase in a $534 million increase over five years, but projections from their research staff this week suggested that the higher spending can’t be sustained over time if lawmakers also reduce revenues.

The state hasn’t fully recovered from the financial problems that followed the Brownback tax-cutting experiment. It’s still siphoning funds from highway projects for general government programs and hasn’t fully caught up on its annual contributions to public pensions.

“I don’t think it makes any sense for us to go down this path again,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat. “I think people will say that there is no way that they learned their lesson.”

But Scott Drenkard, director of state projects for the conservative, nonpartisan Tax Foundation, sees the criticism as overstated. His group strongly criticized Brownback policies and saw Kansas’ experience as a cautionary tale but is not criticizing this year’s push.

Wyoming

CBD oils legally ambiguous in Wyoming

CHEYENNE – The Wyoming Legislature recently debated whether to strengthen laws pertaining to edible or concentrated marijuana, once again failing to reach agreement on the issue. But some, particularly those suffering from chronic illness, are demanding clarity on an element of cannabis that lacks psychoactive properties – cannabidiol, most notably found in CBD oil.

Cannabidiol is one of the two main molecules in marijuana, the other being tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which is known to have mind-altering effects.

Recent studies suggest that CBD oil may treat epilepsy, anxiety, schizophrenia, heart disease and cancer. The molecule attaches itself to certain receptors in the body to act as a pain reliever, using methods similar to those of THC without the associated high.

Wyoming is one of a number of states that have not legalized marijuana, but have laws directly related to CBD and other hemp extracts.

During the 2015 legislative session, Wyoming’s “hemp extract bill” legalized the use of these products for registered epileptic patients. The extracts must be extremely low in THC and high in CBD – those containing less than 0.3 percent THC and more than 5 percent CBD by weight are legal with a registration card.

The law requires neurologists to provide a statement to the Wyoming Department of Health detailing how a patient would benefit from hemp extracts, after which they may qualify for registration.

Since 2015, there have been a total of 34 applications made, with 26 unique cards issued, which must be renewed annually, according to health department spokeswoman Kim Deti.

Right now, there are approximately nine individuals with active, approved cards in Wyoming.

The Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation says CBD oils are being distributed at multiple locations throughout Wyoming, including in pet stores, convenience stores and grocery stores.

In Wyoming, it is illegal to possess, use or distribute any substance containing THC without this hemp extract registration card.

“The CBD oils are legal to possess as long as they do not have THC in them,” DCI Commander Matt Waldock said. “But, if the CBD oils contain even a trace of THC, the only way to legally possess it is with a card.”

If someone is caught with THC-laced CBD oil, the DCI has the legal authority to charge them with possession of a controlled substance, but Waldock said the department is looking to set the record straight first.

Waldock also said it can be difficult to determine if a product is laced with THC, due to limited personal-use testing facilities in the state.

“Just use your best judgment,” he said.

New Mexico

New Mexico school district eyes mandated drug testing

LAS VEGAS, New Mexico — A northern New Mexico school district may require all teachers, staff and student athletes to undergo drug testing amid an opioid crisis that has severely hurt parts of the region.

West Las Vegas Schools is considering a proposal that would mandate drug testing aimed as monitoring staff as a precaution.

“In light of the recent events of what’s happened at schools, I think that anybody, or any teacher, any administrator who may be using a prescription medication or may be using narcotics, poses a safety threat to the school,” said West Las Vegas Schools board member Ambrosio Castellano, who introduced the proposal last month.

Castellano said those using narcotics or medications may not be fully aware or fully coherent during an emergency.

He cited a poll conducted among teachers which found that 35 percent of them said that their stress level was very high, and they were coping by taking antidepressants or other medications.

The district’s superintendent said he would look into the issue and conduct a survey to get feedback from teachers.

It’s unclear if the proposal would require testing of drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and opioids, or just opioids.

Nebraska

Monthly rural bankers survey drops slightly in April

OMAHA — A monthly survey of bankers shows that concerns over a trade war have hurt confidence in the economy in rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states.

Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says weak farm income continues to weigh on the rural economy, but that the survey in recent months shows the economy is trending upward.

The overall Rural Mainstreet index slipped slightly to 53.5 in April from 54.7 in March. Any score above 50 suggests a growing economy in the months ahead, while a score below 50 indicates a shrinking economy.

Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.

Utah

Teen delivers baby after learning about childbirth in school

EDEN, Utah — A northern Utah high school student delivered her aunt’s baby last week, days after learning about childbirth in her child development class.

Morlie Hayes, 16, was at home in Eden over the weekend while her mom was out running errands and a surprise visitor showed up: her pregnant aunt Laura Creager, who was going into early labor.

“My mom’s outside. She’s going to have her baby!” Creager’s 7-year-old daughter said through tears, the teenager told the Deseret News. The baby wasn’t due until May 19.

Creager thought she had another hour before she would make it to the hospital, but her baby was already coming.

Remembering what she had learned in class, Hayes told her aunt to lie down on pillows and towels in the bathroom. When Creager had another strong contraction, she pushed hard and out came a new baby girl.

An ambulance arrived later, but by that point Hayes was already cleaning the baby. Paramedics cut the umbilical cord, but the family said the birth could not have been smoother.

Associated Press

Associated Press