Legislature’s wrap up session starts

TOPEKA – The Statehouse parking garage is full again, which means lawmakers are back in town.

The wrap up session starts today. Typically these mini sessions last only a handful of days. Legislators come back, tweak the budget and take a crack at overriding some vetoed bills.

This year is likely to be a little different. Facing a $328 million deficit, lawmakers are likely to use a combination of cuts to state programs and revenue enhancements to fill the gap.

That process is likely to be more contentious than adding money to key projects, which is typical in a good year.

Legislators are also likely to have at least two veto override attempts. One for a bill allowing the construction of two coal plants in Western Kansas and a second aimed at bolstering the state’s late-term abortion law.

Coal plant bill on its way to the governor’s desk, veto promised

TOPEKA – The Kansas House voted 74-48 a moment ago to resurrect two coal plants for Western Kansas.

Legislation designed to eliminate the authority a state regulator used to reject the plants now moves to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius, a Democrat, has promised to veto the measure.

The vote is significant in that it’s 10 less than the 84 votes needed to override a veto.

Supporters of the project say they’ll use the Legislature’s three week spring break (likely starting tonight) to win over more votes.

It appears supporters are actually losing votes, however. When the House originally passed the legislation in February, the vote was 79-44.

Getting a veto-proof majority in the Senate has never been a challenge. Thursday, the Senate voted tonight 31-7 to send the bill to Sebelius – a higher margin than the two-thirds majority needed to overrule a veto.

The bill would strip the discretion a state regulator used to reject the coal-fired power plants in 2007. He cited concerns about carbon emissions and climate change.

Since then, a majority in the Republican-led Legislature has fought for the project, saying its jobs and energy are badly needed. Three times they passed legislation last year, and three times failed to override Sebelius’ vetoes.

This year’s bill, like its predecessors, contains modest provisions to encourage renewable energy and energy conservation.

Lawmakers will soon depart Topeka for a three-week break before returning for a brief wrap-up session at the end of the month. That’s when an attempt to override a Sebelius veto would occur.

Sunflower Electric Power Corp. had hoped to build the plants near Holcomb, Kan. Most of the power generated would serve out-of-state customers.

– David Klepper

Coal debate planned Thursday in both chambers

TOPEKA – Kansas lawmakers plan to leave for their annual three-week spring break Friday.

First, however, they’ll mount one more attempt to resurrect two coal plants rejected by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

Both the House and Senate expect to take up the contentious issue Thursday.

The legislation would eliminate the discretionary power a state regulator used to reject the plants in 2007. State Health and Environment Secretary Rod Bremby cited carbon emissions in his refusal to grant a permit to Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build two coal-fired plants in Western Kansas.

Read More »

Tiahrt urges Lt. Gov. Parkinson to approve Holcomb coal plants

Congressman Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, sent a letter to Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, on Tuesday urging Parkinson to support a bill that would allow two coal-fired plants to be built in western Kansas.

With Gov. Kathleen Sebelius likely leaving in the near future to become the health and human services secretary, Parkinson could decide if HB 2014 is vetoed or signed.

Tiahrt is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., who is running for governor. Read More »

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

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.

Coal plant debate back in Topeka

TOPEKA – Two years after a state regulator rejected plans to build two coal plants in Western Kansas, supporters are back before lawmakers hoping to resurrect the project.

Sunflower Electric Power Corp. and a broad business coalition urged a panel of lawmakers to take away the regulator’s discretion to block environmental permits when they meet all federal requirements. They say the decision was arbitrary and will result in higher electric bills and fewer jobs in Western Kansas.

“We can’t regulate on a whim,” said Sunflower vice president Mark Calcara. “At what point do our freedoms end and tyranny begin?” Read More »