Monthly Archives: February 2009

Under the dome next week

Here’s a sampling of what will be going on under the dome next week.

The House and Senate each publish daily calendars listing the hearings scheduled for the week and what bills might be debated in the chambers. The calendars are posted daily on the Kansas Legislature website.

For March 2-6

Monday

House Education Sub-Committee, 9 a.m., Docking Room 711: hearing on HB 2199, concerning school districts and students with dyslexia.

Tuesday

Senate Commerce, 8:30 a.m., Room 545-N: hearing on SB 258, which would increase the cap set for worker compensation settlements and have the amount increase annually based on the Midwest cost of living index.

House Energy and Utilities, 9 a.m., Docking Room 783: hearing on HB 2328 which would make the first Thursday through Sunday in August a sales tax holidays for most clothing, equipment, school supplies and personal computers.

Senate Federal and State Affairs, 10:30 a.m., Room 136-N: continued hearing on SB 179 which redefines racial profiling and require law enforcement agencies to submit an annual report to the state Attorney General’s office on the number of complaints received.

Wednesday

House Education, 9 a.m., Docking Room 711: hearing on SB 84, which would incorporate personal financial literacy into state tests.

Thursday

Senate Transportation, 8:30 a.m., Room 136-N: a hearing and possible vote on multiple specialty license plates including support for Kansas arts, disabled veterans and a bill exempting “In God We Trust” plates from a startup fee.

House Commerce and Labor, 9 a.m., Docking Room 784: hearing on SB 160, which would increase the state minimum wage to the federal level.

Senate Federal and State Affairs, 10:30 a.m., Room 136-N: possible vote on SB 212, which would allow people to shipments from wineries at their homes and SB 213 which would allow liquor to be served at special events.

Coal bill clears the House

TOPEKA – The Kansas House this morning passed legislation that, among other things, seeks to resurrect plans for two western Kansas coal plants.

The vote was 79-44 – short of the 84 votes needed to override a promised veto by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

But the Republicans pushing the legislation – HB 2014 – say not to read too much into that. They’ve got weeks, probably, to shore up votes, and there are a lot of variables in play. Here are two:

1) Will Sebelius even be around to veto the bill? If she departs for Washington, will her successor, Mark Parkinson, be able to hold plant opponents together?

2) Will the bill get caught up with other measures, like it did last year, with lawmakers offering support for the coal plants in exchange for help on other bills?

The Senate, meanwhile, has similar legislation. Passage in the Senate is all but assured, and it’s likely the voters are there for an override attempt (they were last year anyway).

The debate, recall, centers on whether the state’s top regulator had the authority to block Sunflower Electric Power Corp.’s plans for two coal-fired power plants when the plants meet all existing environmental rules. The legislation would strip the discretion KDHE Secretary Rod Bremby used when he rejected the plants. He cited the plants’ carbon emissions as the reason.

The bill also contains provisions designed to make it easier for citizens to use their own solar panels and wind turbines to generate power, mandates renewable energy percentages for utilities, and calls for stricter state building energy codes.

Stay tuned. The debate over these coal plants dominated last year’s session, and it’s not going away this year.

– David Klepper, The Kansas City Star

Don’t put a price on justice, death penalty supporters say

The death penalty should not be evaluated based on its cost, opponents to a bill that would abolish the punishment in Kansas argued on Friday.

“You can’t put a price on justice,” assistant solicitor general Kristafer Ailslieger told the Senate Judiciary Committee during a second day of hearings.

Ailslieger, speaking for the Kansas Attorney General’s office, also said that the savings supporters of Senate Bill 208tout are based on estimates not hard numbers.

The bill would abolish the death penalty as of July 1, although people sentenced before that date could still be sent to death row.

The proposal is the brain child of Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, who has said that with the state in a budget crunch all cost saving measures must be considered.

Kansas reinstated the death penalty in 1994, since then 12 men have been sentenced to death. Currently, 10 men are on death row and no one has been executed in the state since 1965.

Supporters of the bill argued on Thursday, that the death penalty did not deter crime and was costly. The money could be better spent preventing crimes or improving public safety, they argued.

Committee Chairman Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, said he planned for the committee to vote Wednesday if it would send the bill to the full Senate for consideration.

Senate committee to resume death penalty discussion, vote possible

A Senate committee is scheduled to resume hearing testimony on a bill that would abolish Kansas’ death penalty.

The measure, Senate Bill 208, is an effort by Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, to do away with the sentence. She and other supporters of the bill say the death penalty is expensive to defend and prosecute, and point out no one has been executed since the law was reinstated in 1994.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will likely hear from opponents to the measure today. Those include Kansas Attorney General Stephen Six and Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston.

The committee could vote Friday on whether or not to send the bill to the full Senate.

McGinn’s death penalty opposition garners national attention

TOPEKA – Sen. Carolyn McGinn’s effort to abolish the death penalty to save money for cash-strapped Kansas is garnering national attention.

The Sedgwick Republican was interviewed Thursday for a segment that is scheduled to run 5:30 p.m. Friday on the World News with Charlie Gibson, she said.

McGinn’s Senate Bill 208 would abolish the death penalty for cases sentenced after July 1.

Kansas is one of eight states considering such a measure. While the state reinstituted the death penalty in 1994, no one has been executed since 1965.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held its first day of hearings on the measure Thursday and will hear more testimony Friday and could vote on sending the bill to the full Senate for debate.

Supporters of the bill say evidence shows death penalty cases are costly to prosecute and do not deter crime. Opponents say the state should retain the option of a death penalty case for the most heinous crimes.

With 42 states facing deficits in their upcoming budgets, more lawmakers are looking for ways to save money. Kansas could be $1 billion in the red for the 2010 budget year which starts July 1.

“People are starting to dig deep into the budget to see what laws we have on the book and are they doing what we set out to do,” McGinn said.

Muni bonds a bright spot for some investors

CoinIn mid-January, we reported that Wichita locked in some low interest rates on about $112 million in bonds, which means less taxpayer cash is paying interest. That came despite the nasty trends in the stock market.

It looks like the trend is holding, according to an article in The New York Times. Here’s a slice of the story:

Investors should stick with high-quality munis, including bonds issued by state governments, well-run cities and agencies that provide essential services like water, power and mass transit, said Aaron Gurwitz, the chief investment officer of Barclays Wealth Americas. And they should avoid muni bonds issued by the kind of smaller entities with low credit ratings — or in some cases, no credit ratings — that dominate most high-yield municipal bond funds, he said.

Wichita lets bonds twice a year. Last fall, finance officials were fretting that poor rates could mean killing off some city projects. But they said no one could be sure until the bond sale in January. When the date came, they ended up with more favorable rates than in past years. For more, read The Eagle’s story about the bond sale… Read More »

Sebelius says coal bill is “DOA”

TOPEKA – A coal bill that the House of Representatives could debate Thursday doesn’t stand a chance with the governor.

“The coal bill is DOA with me,” Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, told reporters Wednesday.

The proposal House Bill 2014, would allow the construction of two coal-fired power plants in Holcomb and block the state’s top regulator, Health and Environment Secretary Rod Bremby, of the authority to regulate carbon dioxide.

In 2007, Bremby blocked permits the 1,400 megawatts expansions by Sunflower Electric Power Corp. citing concerns over the carbon dioxide the plants would release.

“We don’t want to go back to the want, we want to be leaders in the future,” she said.

Sebelius vetoed three similar bills in the 2008 session. She said the current effort would be a “step backwards” especially with the federal stimulus package which includes $30 billion for green initiatives and energy efficiency.

Brewer optimistic about Layton

Robert LaytonMayor Carl Brewer said he’s spending at least an hour a day with Robert Layton, the new city manager. Trips to Topeka, hallway chatter and hour-long update meetings — the two seem to be getting along well.

Brewer, who strongly backed Sedgwick County Manager William Buchanan as the next manager, complimented Layton for being “very candid” about city issues and that the two seem to agree on things 90 percent of the time (Brewer didn’t say what the other 10 percent involves). But, as he chatted with a reporter Tuesday, Brewer said he’s still watching carefully to ensure Layton’s transition is smooth, especially considering ongoing budget problems, state cuts and the influx of federal stimulus money.

Layton will get another little test Thursday when he speaks to the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce. Though most businesspeople stayed clear of the manager search, there was a strong battle among others — mostly in strong support or opposition of Buchanan. It will be interesting to see in the next few months what impressions the biz community forms of Layton, a man who got nearly flawless reviews from business people in his former city, Urbandale, Iowa.

Media focus on Sebelius isn’t all about politics

Amid all the political stories swirling in the national media, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius pops up in the New York Post’s Page Six, where her photo is featured along with those of Pamela Anderson and Beyonce.

Here’s what Page Six has to say about Sebelius and her clothes:

“KANSAS Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who’s said to be President Obama‘s top pick for health and human services secretary, is the most jok ed-about customer at Dillard’s, the top upscale department store in the state’s capital city, To peka. “She comes in here all the time,” says our spy at the store. “She buys a dress, wears it once, returns it. She buys a pair of shoes, wears them once, returns them. The joke around the store is that she must have one of those price-tag guns at home to retag the merchandise after she wears it.” With that kind of thriftiness, maybe Obama should just tap her as his budget director. Se belius’ spokeswoman, Beth Martino, told Page Six: “That allegation is absolutely false.”"

Buzz about Sebelius continues to mount

News organizations around the country are talking about Sebelius and the likelihood she will be nominated as health and human services secretary.

Check out this story from CQ Politics, which says Sebelius’ handling of Kansas’ recent budget showdown “could prove a telling test” if she is appointed by President Obama.

The story says: “Facing a shortfall to the state’s $6.4 billion budget, Sebelius signed a bill on Tuesday cutting about $300 million from the budget, but in doing so largely spared health programs like the state’s Medicaid services.”

Learn more about Sebelius and see the latest headlines about her by going to kansas.com/sebelius.