Gov. Kathleen Sebelius talks about session
Topeka It was supposed to be the last day of the wrap-up session.
But another coal plant measure emerged Saturday, the Senate adjourned in a huff and said it may not come back, and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius gave the session a general thumbs down.
Bottom line: The 2008 legislative session will drag on, mainly because of the fight over the two proposed 700-megawatt coal-fired power plants.
In a first, Sebelius came down to the press offices in the Capitol to speak with reporters about the lack of progress on several issues, which she blamed on the fixation by legislative leaders on the power plant project.
"We missed a bunch of opportunities ... so much time and energy has been spent on one issue to the detriment of lots of discussions that should have taken place this session," Sebelius said.
Citing environmental concerns, Sebelius has vetoed two bills authorizing the coal-fired plants in southwestern Kansas, and the Legislature has failed to override her.
Hail Mary on coal
But in a flurry of parliamentary moves Saturday, supporters of the plants placed a bill for the project into legislation that included several economic development proposals that have already gained widespread support in the Legislature.
One of those was a proposal for the state to back $41 million in bonds for the intermodal freight hub - a giant shipment and distribution center - planned near Gardner. Another provision would give tax breaks to Hill's Pet Nutrition Inc. in Shawnee County to encourage expansion.
The new bill was quickly dubbed a "Hail Mary" for the plant supporters, but Sebelius said, " I say Hail Mary's all the time, and I can guarantee you this is not a Hail Mary."
Sebelius said the bill was probably unconstitutional because of a requirement that all bills, except for appropriation bills, deal with a single subject.
But state Rep. Carl Holmes, R-Liberal, and one of the main supporters of the coal-burning plants, said all the provisions within the new bill related to economic development.
"This is definitely economic stimulus for our part of the state," Holmes said of the coal-plants measure.
The bill also strips the secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment of key authority in issuing air permits.
The problem for supporters of the coal plants is that they have been unable to get the two-thirds' majority in the House needed to override Sebelius' vetoes. On Thursday, the House voted 80-45 to override, which was four votes short of a two-thirds' majority in the 125-member House.
Sebelius criticizes Neufeld
The long-running battle has also intensified criticism of Sebelius by House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls.
Neufeld accused Sebelius of trying to persuade legislators to vote against the coal-burning plants by taking them on the state airplane to Kansas University basketball games during the NCAA Tournament.
Sebelius said she was offended by the accusation and that she brought legislators along as a favor, and didn't discuss the power plant issue with them. Some of the legislators have consistently voted for the project, and none of them have changed their position.
"The speaker always chooses to come after me in a sort of a mean-spirited way," she said.
Asked about that, Neufeld, said, "I hadn't thought of it that way."
Neufeld also got the Senate angry.
When the House adjourned until Monday, Senate leaders said they had not been told in advance. They said they had thought the two chambers would continue working through the evening.
Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, then adjourned the Senate, and told the senators not to come back Monday. He also said senators on conference committees - most notably the final budget conference committee - would stop meeting with their House counterparts.
"We don't know quite how the session will end," Schmidt said.
He said it was possible that the Senate had finished its business and that the Legislature would fail to pass a final budget.
Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said House leaders failed to communicate with the Senate that they were adjourning.
"This is an unprecedented situation. I believe the situation we are in right now is a disgrace to the process of a bicameral legislature," he said.
Neufeld said he adjourned the House because several of the conference committees had gotten bogged down and probably wouldn't have finished their work until 4 a.m.
Making all House members wait to vote on those conference committee reports would have been unfair, he said.
"You have a near revolt on your hands if that happens," he said.