Stymied for two years by a stubborn Senate, Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback should get some open-field running room this year.
Or will he?
When Brownback steps to the lectern Tuesday night for his State of the State message, he will be addressing a Legislature that will be controlled by his conservative allies, including one of the biggest freshman classes in history. The session opens today.
With his moderate opponents in the Senate vanquished in the last election, Brownback is expected to be able to flex his political muscles this year, especially when it comes to tax reform and remaking how the state picks judges.
While questions remain about whether Brownback will get his way on everything, it's a legislative session that promises to feature debates about guns in public buildings, collective bargaining for teachers, and whether liquor should be sold in grocery and convenience stores.
Lawmakers are also expected to take aim at the federal government, with bills intended to limit the power of airport security and stopping the Affordable Health Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
Among the issues looming this session:
Education: While some legislators want to revisit Brownback's proposal to rewrite the school finance formula, it's unclear whether that will happen. The Legislature took a stab at it last year, and it died in a committee. A district court ruling on Friday ordering the state to pump millions into schools by fiscal year 2014 could shake that all up.
In the meantime, a bill has already been introduced that would block third-graders from advancing if they lack sufficient reading skills.
Property taxes: The governor backs a plan that would stop local governments from collecting a windfall of taxes because of increasing property values. Local governments would have to lower property tax rates to account for higher property values unless the issue is voted on.
Drug testing: A proposal that would require drug tests for welfare and unemployment benefits is expected to gain traction this session and possibly even become law.
Labor: The Legislature is expected to make another run at a bill that would ban unions from using money deducted from members' paychecks for political activities.
Elections : A proposal to move local elections to the fall is expected to be debated this year. General elections for cities and school boards are usually the first Tuesday in April in odd-numbered years. Primaries are in late February or early March. Critics of the current election scheduling say it draws very few voters.
Immigration: Lawmakers are expected to take up a series of bills aimed at curtailing illegal immigration, including a proposal that would repeal a 2004 law that provides in-state college tuition for young undocumented immigrants under certain circumstances A similar bill passed the House in 2011 but died in the Senate.
A seminal moment in the session will come early, when Brownback gives his annual address to the Legislature Tuesday night and presents his budget a day later.
That's when he's expected to reveal how he wants to make up for more than $700 million lost largely to income tax cuts that he jammed through last session.
There have been signals that the governor will call on the Legislature to renew a controversial penny sales tax increase approved in 2010 used to help the state through the recession.
Six-tenths of that tax is scheduled to expire this summer, but now the governor may need that entire penny to help offset the drop in revenues created by the income tax cuts.
While Brownback has not committed to renewing the entire tax, he has said he wants the Legislature to reconsider ideas he put forward to pay for the income tax cuts, including proposals to eliminate deductions for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions, as well as extending the sales tax.
At a meeting in December in Overland Park, Brownback told an audience that the sales tax was the least offensive when compared with income and property taxes. He pointed out that a majority of sales tax issues on the ballot in Kansas last fall passed.
The sales tax figures to be the most nettlesome for a Legislature dominated by conservative Republicans, many who pounded their opponents over the tax increase during the 2010 elections.
"If the governor plans on keeping that extra cent sales tax, he's got to come up with a really, really good reason as to why the people of Kansas would want it," said state Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican and vice chairman of the House tax committee.
"I was against the sales tax. I can't now say, 'Let's keep it,' " Schwab said. "Most of those Republicans got elected on saying it was a bad vote. You can't go around that and say, 'But we want to keep it.' "
There might be a carrot to keep the sales tax, however.
Brownback's budget director told a group of conservative lawmakers last month that the governor wanted to keep the sales tax with an eye on lowering income taxes even more.
"The governor wants to apply that revenue to continue to buy down the individual income tax rate," Steve Anderson told the group last month. "There is a path to zero, a path that you can see."
Senate Vice President Jeff King, an Independence Republican, said he thought a case could be made for renewing the sales tax if it helps the state get past a short-term dip in revenues to further the long-term goal of cutting taxes.
"There is an argument to be made for keeping the sales tax," King said, "if long term the overall tax burden on Kansans is reduced."
Another issue that might prove difficult for the governor is changing how appellate judges are picked in Kansas.
The governor's administration has pushed for a federal model where the chief executive, or in this case the governor, would appoint appeals court judges who would be confirmed by the Senate.
The Legislature can change the appeals court selection process with a law. But many think the governor will try to gain control of Supreme Court appointments, which would require approval of two-thirds of the Legislature and a public vote. Some Capitol observers think he will try to change the selection for both courts with a constitutional amendment.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, predicted an uphill battle to get a constitutional amendment passed because getting a two-thirds vote in both chambers is a high threshold.
"He may be able to get that in the Senate," Davis said. "I think it may be tough in the House."
With so many new lawmakers -- 49 in the Kansas House alone -- the session could be unsettled at the start and complicate debate over the governor's policies, said Kansas State University political scientist Joe Aistrup.
"There will be some growing pains that take place," Aistrup said.
However, Aistrup said any tension at the outset will probably ease as leadership exerts more control and the new legislators adjust. By the end of the session, he said, the Legislature will pass policies backed by the governor.
"The governor will end up getting his wish," Aistrup said, "and that's pretty solid control of the state Legislature."
While conservatives will control the Legislature, Brownback has urged lawmakers to temper their approach this session.
"One of the key things to do is not overplay your hand," Brownback told a group of conservative Republicans last month.
"One of the things that I have learned in politics is you do sensible things, you do them over a period of time," Brownback said. "You don't say, 'Wow, we've got the majority ... we're going to do this.' "