Hensley says Republican leaders delayed wrap-up session to attend summit

? The influence held by the American Legislative Exchange Council over bills considered by the Kansas Legislature has been a contentious subject in recent years.

But Democrats said Monday that ALEC is now determining when the Kansas Legislature actually meets. Republican legislative leaders denied that was the case.

According to Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka, the break between the 2013 legislative session’s first adjournment, which was Friday, and the wrap-up session, which starts May 8, is unusually long to allow Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, to attend the ALEC Spring Task Force Summit.

The summit is being held May 2-3 in Oklahoma City.

“I think that was intentionally set up that way so that they could participate in their leadership roles in the ALEC organization, which to my way of thinking is inappropriate that we would schedule the Kansas Legislature, legislative business around when ALEC meets,” Hensley said. “But it is what it is, and we go back in May 8, a month from today,” he said.

Wagle and Merrick’s office denied that they delayed the wrap-up to attend ALEC.

Usually the break between first adjournment and the wrap-up session, also called the veto session, is about three weeks.

But Wagle said, “In the recent past, veto session has turned into a lengthy mini-session. In contrast, we dealt with most of the big issues before we left town and plan on spending a limited amount of time in Topeka for veto because there are so few items left to consider.”

While the Legislature did churn out dozens of bills before first adjournment, it hasn’t reached agreement on the state budget and tax proposals, which are usually the most difficult to resolve. Still, Wagle and Merrick have insisted that the session end no later than May 13.

Wagle added that both ALEC and the National Conference of State Legislatures are meeting the first weekend of May. NCSL is having its spring forum in Denver.

“Legislators have always used these resources, and we will have a number of legislators attending both. However, the date we return for veto session does not affect the limited amount of business we need to attend to upon our return.”

Merrick’s spokeswoman Rachel Whitten also said Hensley was off the mark. “That is just the way the schedule worked out,” Whitten said.

Both Wagle and Merrick serve on the national board of ALEC.

Wagle served as ALEC’s national chairwoman in 2006, and Merrick was named the group’s legislator of the year in 2010.

ALEC describes its mission as promoting free markets, limited government, federalism and individual freedom “through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector, the federal government and general public.”

ALEC’s critics said the organization’s goal is to get legislatures to adopt bills for corporate interests, including Kansas-based Koch Industries, which helps fund ALEC.