Topeka Disagreements about abortion and an ongoing Statehouse renovation pitted the House against the Senate and prevented their negotiators Monday from finishing work on the year's last spending bill.
Three senators and three House members were trying to resolve several dozen differences in their chambers' versions of the $300 million-plus measure. The bill would complete a $12.5 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
The House's version of the bill contained provisions preventing three agencies from spending any money during the next fiscal year unless they provided more information about doctors performing abortions and late-term procedures. The Senate's version didn't deal with the issue.
The Senate's version also is silent on the Statehouse renovation, while the House is pressing for additional oversight. Some legislators are grumbling because the state has committed to spending more than $172 million on the project, now in its seventh year, and expects costs to be even higher.
A budget compromise - and its approval by both chambers - would permit legislators to end their annual session, which began Jan. 8. But talks broke up Monday night without any agreement, forcing the negotiators to meet again today.
The abortion provisions would affect the Department of Health and Environment, the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services and the State Board of Healing Arts, which licenses doctors.
"We shouldn't be setting policy in a budget bill," said Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, one of the negotiators. "What we need to be doing is focusing on how we're going to fund programs."
The health agency would have to compile more information about late-term abortions. The licensing board would be required to certify that any doctor who reviews an abortion provider's diagnosis that a patient needs a late-term abortion does not have financial ties to the abortion provider.
SRS would be required to make sure that employees report suspected sexual abuse of a child to authorities. Abortion opponents have long suspected that some doctors who perform abortions for young girls don't report their pregnancies as evidence of sexual abuse.
Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, the author of the provisions, said the budget and policy can't be divorced because setting spending priorities sets policy. He said it's common to add language to the budget giving agencies more direction.
"I've seen this process used in this way on many occasions," he said. "It's not out of the ordinary in any sense."
Kinzer contends his provisions will give legislators and the public better information about abortion, while critics say they represent an attack on abortion rights.
Meanwhile, the Statehouse renovation is a sore point for some legislators because when lawmakers approved the project in 2000, they had a report suggesting it would cost between $90 million and $120 million, though no architectural plans had been prepared. The $172 million figure covers only three of four phases and no anticipated work on the building's exterior limestone.
A special restoration commission and legislative leaders already oversee the project, but the House wants to add oversight by the University Research Development and Enhancement Corp., set up in 2002 to supervise construction of three research centers.
"I'm hearing from a lot of constituents that something's got to give," said House Majority Leader Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell. "They love the building, but they don't love the process."
Statehouse Architect Barry Greis noted that in 2001, legislative leaders expanded the renovation project to add a parking garage and 118,000 square feet of new space, including a basement-level visitors center.
And Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley questioned whether the development corporation would have the necessary expertise, having overseen new construction but not a massive historical restoration and renovation.
"Just layering another group on top of that process is just absolutely unnecessary," said Hensley, D-Topeka. "They've got plenty to do with what they already work on."