Kansas House takes brief hiatus after approving more than two dozen bills

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TOPEKA — The Kansas House concluded business before a short break in the session Wednesday by passing more than two dozen bills, including proposals to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products, final approval of an education mega bill and passage of both legislative maps.

Representatives will break until Monday but made sure to first clean up and send bills to the Senate left over from a lengthy debate Tuesday that included a conversation on Kansas policy toward undocumented immigrants. When it returns, the House will reconcile differences with the Senate on key policies and bills.

But before the break, representatives shared a rare moment of shock from both sides of the aisle over an amendment proposed by Rep. Bill Rhiley that would raise the minimum age to purchase cigarettes and other tobacco products to the age of 70. The Wellington Republican said raising the age from 18 to 21 would not do enough to curb people’s smoking habits, from which the state collects millions in tax revenue.

Asked why he chose 70, Rhiley said there was not a specific reason he had in mind when he wrote the amendment.

“I’m just a little over 70,” he joked. “So, it would give me a choice.”

Representatives ultimately rejected the amendment 20 to 89 but approved the underlying bill 79 to 43. The bill applies to electronic cigarettes and vaping products, and it would create a misdemeanor penalty with a potential fine of $200 for violating the law.

The measure brings Kansas in line with a 2019 federal law change to prohibit those under 21 from legally purchasing tobacco products. About one-third of states already had laws enforcing tobacco sales to people 21 or older, and at least 11 states have followed the federal government’s lead.

Rep. John Eplee, an Atchison Republican and a physician, touted the measure’s potential to ensure Kansans are healthy while balancing individual freedoms. 

“This is when it starts. The brain of the young person from age 18 to 25 is not fully developed and we make really bad decisions,” Eplee said. “Unfortunately, these decisions become a tobacco addiction, which leads to incredible health events later, which physicians and health care providers throughout the state get to inherit.”

The bill now heads to the Senate for further debate. 

Other bills of note to pass was a bill restricting advertisements by lawyers that opponents argued was unconstitutional and could trigger lawsuits and court rulings.

Also approved Wednesday was a bill packaging proposals from the House and Senate to redraw their respective districts. 

District borders must be amended every 10 years to reflect population changes. The process has the potential to hit snags if either chamber disagrees with one another’s maps. 

In 2012 the Legislature failed to agree on maps, and districts were instead drawn by a panel of federal judges. 

A new state Board of Education map has yet to be adopted by either chamber, and the U.S. House map approved by the Legislature is currently mired in lawsuits.

“I’m going to rise in support of the map because traditionally in the House and Senate, we don’t mess with each other’s maps,” Sawyer said. “There was an exception 10 years ago, and it didn’t work out very well.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

Want more state news? See our Kansas News page at this link. You can read Associated Press coverage of Kansas stories and more online here.

The Lawrence Times reposts many, but not all, stories from the Kansas Reflector. Read more of their coverage here. We also frequently repost stories from the Kansas News Service. Read more of their coverage here.

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