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Archive for Friday, May 31, 2002

Legislators end longest session in Kansas history

May 31, 2002

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— The longest legislative session in Kansas history finally ended Friday.

Legislators had returned to the Statehouse for their adjournment ceremony after spending 106 days in session. But they found work waiting for them.

The wrong version of a bill on natural gas exploration had gone to Gov. Bill Graves who signed it. The House and Senate quickly passed the correct version with little debate and sent it to him.

The bill would permit the use of a process to pull natural gas out of coal beds. Lawmakers wanted to pass it because industry officials believe there are promising gas reserves in southeast Kansas.

"They can't proceed without this bill," said Sen. Stan Clark, R-Oakley.

But Graves received and signed the version introduced in the House, not the version finally approved by lawmakers earlier this month. The only way to correct the mistake was to pass another bill with the correct language.

That bill passed 33-0 in the Senate and 99-1 in the House.

Senate Democrats then mounted an unsuccessful effort to override Graves' veto of a provision of the state budget that would have prevented spending money to reinforce the Statehouse dome to support a statue of a Kansa Indian.

Reinforcing the dome would be necessary to add a statue of a Kansa Indian. The 20-foot bronze statue is "Ad Astra," by Salina sculptor Richard Bergen. But the project would cost $750,000.

"It's a frivolous waste of taxpayer dollars," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka. "In a tight budget year, we need to save money anywhere we can find it."

Some Republicans noted the Department of Administration hasn't identified money for reinforcing the dome. Others saw the override effort as an attempt to embarrass Graves, a Republican who has never had a veto reversed.

The vote was 20-13 seven short of the two-thirds majority needed to override.

"I think it was an unnecessary gesture of ill will toward the governor," said Senate Majority Leader Lana Oleen, R-Manhattan.

The Senate's action prevented the House from voting, a disappointment to some of its members.

When House members began debate the natural gas legislation, Rep. Ted Powers, R-Mulvane, asked, "Is this the put-the-Injun-on-the-roof bill?" He was told it wasn't.

The sculpture was chosen in a design contest sponsored by the Kansas Arts Commission in 1988. Its name comes from the state motto, "Ad astra per aspera" "To the stars through difficulties." A replica now stands in the first floor rotunda of the Statehouse.

A dedication of the statue originally was set for July 4, 1990. However, opposition from legislators and others and the cost of reinforcing the dome has prevented the statue from going up.

A 1,000-watt light bulb now adorns the top of the Statehouse. A 1901 plan called for a statue of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, but over the decades, legislators have objected, questioning both her morals and saying the state doesn't want to honor a pagan deity.

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