Gambling bill dispute predicted – KC Star

Posted on Mon, Apr. 09, 2007

Gambling bill dispute predicted
By DAVID KLEPPER and JIM SULLINGER
The Star’s Topeka correspondents

TOPEKA | Even before lawmakers passed landmark gambling legislation this session, critics and supporters alike predicted lawsuits.

The bill, which should be signed into law soon by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, would authorize a casino in Kansas City , Kan. , in Dodge City , near Wichita and in southeast Kansas . It would also allow slot machines at some racetracks, including The Woodlands in Kansas City , Kan.

The legal question? Whether state-owned but privately-run gambling operations would violate the state constitution.

Voters approved a state-owned lottery in 1986 that is used to justify state-owned gambling operations. But critics of this year’s gambling proposal say voters had no idea they would be authorizing casinos and slot machines when they approved the lottery.

It’s predicted that the lawsuit will come from either opponents of gambling or gambling groups left out of the bill — like the Indian tribes that operate Kansas ’ only existing casinos.

What’s their chance of success? House Speaker Melvin Neufeld , an opponent of the legislation, said: “I believe it’s unconstitutional.”

But Senate President Steve Morris, a supporter of the plan, said the bill is legally sound. He said lawsuits from opponents are inevitable. “I’m not overly concerned,” said Morris, a Hugoton Republican. “It’s a good bill. But we anticipate legal challenges.”

How long the court fight could delay the opening of a casino is anybody’s guess.

• • •

Barbara Allen, a state senator from Overland Park , packed several boxes and a big dog named Bailey in the back of her car Wednesday and left Topeka smiling.

She had just completed the most successful three months of her 20-year legislative career.

Although she is chairwoman of the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee, this moderate Republican usually prefers to work behind the scenes and isn’t known for throwing her political weight around. That reputation went out the window this year.

Allen led the Senate effort to restrain the large tax reduction bills sought by conservatives in the House and maneuvered two Johnson County sales tax bills through the Legislature in the face of attempts by House leaders to derail them.

She used the large appetite for tax cuts by House leaders to push through a bill she sponsored to create a special license plate to support breast cancer research. It passed just before the Legislature adjourned early Wednesday.

Allen, a breast cancer survivor, held up Senate consideration of several major tax bills on that last day until House leaders promised to act on her breast cancer bill. In the wee hours of Wednesday, they gave in.

• • •

But first, Allen had to endure harsh criticism from her fellow Johnson County lawmaker, House Majority Leader Ray Merrick. Merrick didn’t like the sales tax bill for a Johnson County research triangle. He went down to the House microphone to blast Allen, criticizing her leadership of the Senate tax committee, and saying she was only using her position to help her friends.

“We sent tax cuts over there, and the Senate dragged its feet,” Merrick said.

But when Johnson County civic leaders wanted the research triangle proposal, “now all of a sudden she’s (Allen) been motivated to get things done,” Merrick said. “Now, when she wants something done for her friends, she’s all for it.”

Allen, who watched the fray from the House gallery, wouldn’t comment on Merrick ’s remarks. But other lawmakers apparently didn’t put much stock in them. The research triangle sales tax bill passed 75-44.

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