Archive for Thursday, May 6, 2004

Schools, lobbyists and liquor still divide lawmakers

May 6, 2004


— Lawmakers appeared headed for a showdown today over school finance, lobbyist expenses and several other issues.

On Wednesday, the Kansas Senate worked late into the night but remained at odds over funding to public schools.

Just before adjourning for the night, the Senate rejected a bill that would have allowed Sunday sales of beer in convenience and grocery stores.

Earlier, Republican legislative leaders pushed for a $66 million increase for schools that would be paid for by delaying a payment to school teachers' pensions and dipping into the state's cash reserves.

But as the day wore on, the plan gained opposition from all sides.

Democrats blasted the proposal as too little and recklessly funded.

"The latest proposal by legislative Republican leaders is insufficient, irresponsible and will likely invite the court to aggressively enter our school debate," said Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Sebelius along with fellow Democrats and moderate Republicans have called for tax increases to help schools.

State Sen. Mark Buhler, R-Lawrence, said he didn't like the bill and hoped a compromise could be reached. "We're going to run out of things to argue about pretty soon," he said.

Funding the $2.6 billion public school system has been hotly debated all session.

The debate comes on the heels of a state court ruling declaring the method of funding Kansas schools unconstitutional because it shortchanges students, especially minorities.

Lobbyist expenses

Lawmakers also were wrestling with a proposal to reduce the reporting that lobbyists would be required to make on whom they wine and dine.

House leaders want to reduce the amount of itemized records required for the period between July 1, 2000, and Jan. 23, 2004, which is the time period between when the state's current lobby law took effect and when the State Ethics Commission issued rules and regulations that specified detailed itemized records.

But legislators seemed far apart on the issue.

State Sen. Donald Betts, D-Wichita, said the changes looked suspicious to him and the public.

"What lobbyists are we attempting to protect?" he asked.

State Rep. Don Myers, R-Derby, said there was no particular lobbyist needing protection but that several lobbyists had told lawmakers they failed to keep the proper itemized records and needed a break.

"Some apparently didn't understand they needed all these items," Myers said.

Sunday sales

Lawmakers also were battling over legislation allowing liquor stores to open on Sunday.

Legislators started work on the state's liquor laws after the Kansas Supreme Court last year upheld Wyandotte County's adoption of a local ordinance allowing Sunday sales.

The court said that because some parts of the state's Liquor Control Act applied only to selected cities and counties, the law was not "uniform" and communities could exempt themselves from it by using their home rule authority.

Since then, 14 cities, mostly in eastern Kansas and including Lawrence, have adopted Sunday sales laws.

The House passed legislation permitting liquor stores to open on Sundays and allow convenience and grocery stores to sell beer on Sundays. But the Senate rejected the measure in a 20-20 vote.

If legislators adjourn this year without making the Liquor Control Act uniform, communities could continue allowing Sunday sales and others could follow suit. But Sunday sales of beer in grocery and convenience stores would still be banned because it is controlled by another law.

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