Coal, spending on line as Kansas lawmakers try for adjournment – KC Star, 2008

Coal, spending on line as Kansas lawmakers try for adjournment
Kansas City Star, The (MO)-May 6, 2008
Author: DAVID KLEPPER and JIM SULLINGER, The Star’s Topeka correspondents

TOPEKA | After working behind closed doors much of today, House and Senate leaders said no deal had been reached by mid-afternoon that would bring the current legislative session to a close.

They are trying to resolve a budget fight, resurrect two rejected coal plants and go home.

The House of Representatives met briefly at 11 a.m. and again at 2:30 p.m. but did little. The Senate met at 2 p.m., approved a bill requiring voters to show an ID at the polls and recessed until 4 p.m.

“We are continuing our discussions with the leadership across the rotunda trying to reach agreement on how to end this session,” Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, an Independence Republican, told the Senate.

Lawmakers have a lot of work to do before they can adjourn, but don’t look for much progress this afternoon. Some members are now worried that the session will go into Wednesday.

Either today or Wednesday, lawmakers hope to mount a final effort to overrule a state regulator and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and clear the way for the coal-burning power plants. Sunflower Electric Power Corp.’s project for Holcomb, Kan., was rejected last fall because of concerns about climate change.

Lawmakers have repeatedly tried to strip the discretion that the regulator used to reject the plants and let Sunflower try again. Two attempts have already been vetoed by Sebelius, and while the Senate has enough votes to overrule the veto, the House does not.

Now, near the end of the session, plant supporters are just playing for more time. Should the Legislature pass yet another coal plant bill — it requires only a simple majority — it faces yet another veto.

Lawmakers would then return May 29 for the formal, and typically ceremonial, last day of the session to try another veto override attempt. Overruling a gubernatorial veto requires a two-thirds majority. The Senate has voted to override Sebelius twice on the issue, but the House has so far failed to muster the votes.

Also holding up adjournment is a quarrel between the House and Senate over two items in the catch-all spending bill, the last budget measure of the session.

House members are upset with the Senate leadership’s insistence that the bill include $750,000 to improve the entrance road to a former Army ammunition plant in Parsons.

And they are unhappy over another provision that continues bonding authority for a proposed corrections facility that could be located in Yates Center. The facility would provide substance abuse treatment to low-level drug offenders and thieves.

Opponents say it would be cheaper to add such a unit onto an existing prison rather than build a new facility.

Both the treatment facility and the road are in districts represented by two Republican senate leaders_ Schmidt and Sen. Dwayne Umbarger of Thayer, chairman of the Senate’s budget panel.

Frustration over the inaction of the last two days was beginning to build in the House.

House Majority Leader Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, held an impromptu press conference late this morning in the House chamber, suggesting the Senate wasn’t coming to the negotiating table.

“We’re all here ready to go to work and the Senate needs to release their (budget) conferees and get something done instead of this start and stop, start and stop,” he said.

Umbarger said Senate leaders thought they had negotiated a deal with the House on several occasions but the House later reneged on their commitment.

“I think Mr. Merrick is an emperor with no clothes,” he said. “Isn’t he a member of leadership?”

And lawmakers aren’t the only ones expressing their discontent. House members were confronted by scores of angry citizens, many in wheelchairs, who were protesting the Legislature’s decision not to spend $6.1 million to reduce and eliminate waiting lists for home and community based services for people with disabilities. The protests are becoming an annual event in the final days of the session.

“Kansans are watching. Shame on you,” the protesters cried. Police were on hand to keep order.

Inside the chamber, the House chaplain herself acknowledged the Legislature’s difficulties in her morning prayer.

“Dear Lord, we need your help,” she prayed. “… it really is time to wrap everything up.”

House members applauded the prayer.

Hours later, Rep. Ben Hodge, an Overland Park Republican, said he fears the patience and stamina of some lawmakers is nearing an end.

“It seems like the main motivator is the desire to go home,” he said.

Return to throughout the day for updates.

Edition: 1

Provided By: Knight-Ridder Digital
Index Terms: Sunflower Electric Power Corp.’s
Location(s): TOPEKA
Personal Name(s): Derek Schmidt; Kathleen Sebelius; Dwayne Umbarger; Ray Merrick; Ben Hodge Record Number: 200805061206KNRIDDERMOKCITYS_web_kleg_050708
Copyright (c) 2008 The Kansas City Star