Watkins stepping down from the Legislature

watkins,jason TOPEKA – Rep. Jason Watkins is stepping down from his seat in the state House of Representatives, he said Thursday.

The 37-year-old Wichita Republican has held the position since 2004 and his resignation will be effective Dec. 13.

In a statement Watkins, who is a contractor and owns the brokerage Watkins and Associates, cited the growing time demands of the elected position.

“Over the last few months it has become a challenge to fulfill the duties of my office and provide for my family,” he said in a written statement. “The citizens of Kansas deserve a Representative who can devote the necessary time to the job and my family deserves a husband and father who can be a full-time provider.”

During his time in office, Watkins has risen quickly through the ranks and last year became the vice-chair of the House Appropriations Committee. He also sits on the House Judiciary Committee, chairs the General Budget Committee, and is on the joint committees on Legislative Budget and State Building Construction.

For more, check back later or read Friday’s Wichita Eagle.

ADDITIONAL: FYI – Lawmakers are paid $88.66 each day they serve in their elected capacity. They also receive a $109 per diem to cover expenses. So during a typical 90-day session a lawmaker will pull in $17,789.40.

Due to his position on the House Appropriations Committee, which has met several times since the session ended in May, Watkins’ annual take home will be higher, but it would be at the same rate.

Tevis is back with a new campaign comic

Sean Tevis comicTOPEKA – Sean Tevis is back with a new comic, and plans to run again in 2010.

Tevis, a Democrat, garnered national attention in the 2008 election after a fund raiser web comic helped him raise about $96,000.

He missed unseating incumbent Olathe Republican Rep. Arlen Siegfreid, earning, 4,959 votes, or 48 percent to Siegfreid’s 5,367, or 52 percent. Siegfreid has held the seat since 2003.

Already his efforts are gaining national attention.

On Wednesday, Tevis tweeted “DailyKos calls me the Coolest Candidate Running for state legislature. Wow! http://www.dailykos.com/” at his account @stevis.

The left-leaning political blog wrote “The coolest candidate running for state legislature anywhere. And he’s in Kansas.”

The November 2010 election is still more than a year off so in the mean time, Tevis is visiting politicians advocating for open government. At each meeting he wears a shirt displaying the name of 100 people and Twitter-styled messages of 140 characters or fewer. The politician gets a copy of the shirt as a keepsake.

Supporters can get their name on a shirt by donating $13.37 to his campaign. He has donation options ranging from $6.14 up to $500 – the donation limit for a Legislative candidate.

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

House approves increase to the state minimum wage

TOPEKA – The Sunflower state’s minimum wage will increase for the first time in about two decades to $7.25 in a bill passed by the House.

The issue has been a perennial goal for Democrats for several years but never gained traction. This year could change that.

The negotiated compromise for Senate Bill 160 passed 110-15 and now goes to the Senate where it is likely to pass and be sent to the governor’s desk.

Currently, Kansas’ minimum wage is $2.65. The state estimated about 19,000 Kansans would see their wages increase if the bill passes.

The increase would take effect Jan. 1, 2010.

House sends late-term abortion bill to the Senate

TOPEKA – The House sent to the Senate a proposal that would require more detailed explanations justifying late-term abortions, but it didn’t get the votes needed to override a likely veto.

The measure now goes over to the Senate, which can accept the changes the House made to the bill or send it to a negotiating committee. Lawmakers are trying to wrap up their work in Topeka today and leave for first adjournment.

The bill passed 82-43. The House needs two-thirds majority to over ride a governor’s veto, or 84 votes.

In addition to requiring doctors to performing abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy to provide more detailed explanations for why the procedures were necessary on forms that are sent to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Senate Bill 218 also tweaks the state’s definition of a partial birth abortion so it reflects language used at the federal level.

The proposal would also would require that the written information a woman is supposed to receive at least 24 hours before an abortion include the phrase “the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being.”

It would allow a woman or certain members of her family to file civil lawsuits against an abortion provider they suspected had violated the state’s abortion law. The law would apply to the woman’s husband or to her parents if she is under 18 when the suspected violations occurred.

Legislature possibly finishes up today

TOPEKA – Lawmakers could be finishing up their business in Topeka today and heading home for first adjournment.

A budget bill for 2010 is already on its way to the governor’s desk, which was the major item the Legislature needed to take care of.

Other big issues still floating about are a debate in the House on a bill that would allow to coal-fired power plants in Western Kansas, a final vote on a late-term abortion bill in the House then possible debate in the Senate.

A proposal to increase Kansas’ minimum wage from $2.65 to the federal level. The state’s minimum wage has not risen in about two decades.

Other than that, both chambers are simply handling committee reports and cramming through a wide variety of bills.

Even if something does not clear the Legislature by the end of today, lawmakers could have a second crack at it when they return for a wrap -up session at the end of April.

During the wrap-up session, lawmakers will have the opportunity to try and over ride any bills the governor vetoed.

They will also likely be making changes to the 2010 budget.

Most years, those change are additional spending for programs. This year it is like to mean cuts. In mid-April, the state will hear from the consensus revenue estimating committee which twice a year estimates the money Kansas will have for.

Late-term abortion bill gets preliminary OK from the House for a second time

TOPEKA – The House gave its initial approval to a bill aimed at strengthening the state’s late-term abortion reporting rules.

The proposal requires doctors performing late-term abortions to provide more detailed explanations for why the procedures were necessary on forms that are sent to Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Abortion opponents have said that doctors currently state the pregnancy could cause “sustainable and irreversible harm” to a woman’s major bodily function. Doctors are simply repeating the law and not explaining why the procedure was necessary.

“The primary point of this bill is to deal with lack of information in KDHE reports that justify late-term abortions,” said Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, the bill’s sponsor.

House substitute for Senate Bill 218 also would allow a woman or certain members of her family to file civil lawsuits against an abortion provider they suspected had violated the law. The law would apply to the father if he is married to the woman and to her parents if she is under 18 when the suspected violations occurred.

Additionally, the measure would change the state’s language on partial birth abortions to reflect language used at the federal level.

The bill passed on a voice vote. It is the second time this year the House has approved such a proposal. The prior bill cleared the chamber with a strong majority but did not progress in the Senate.

By placing the language in a Senate bill, supporters ensure it does not have to have a committee hearing. Once it goes to the Senate, the measure is likely to go to a conference committee, where six lawmakers from the House and Senate will negotiate a compromise.

“KFL applauds this bill which will end late-term phony reporting and partial birth abortions done for “mental health” reasons,” said Kathy Ostrowski State Legislative Director for Kansans for Life. “The Senate needs to act quickly to ensure this bill becomes law.”

Late last week, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed another bill, dubbed the Woman’s Right to Know and See Act, into law. The proposal required that women receiving an abortion be allowed to hear the fetal heart beat or see images from an ultrasound.

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.

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Legislative public forum set for April 25 in Wichita

The final public forum for the south central delegation is set for April 25, shortly before lawmakers return to Topeka for a wrap-up session.

The meeting, which is free and open to the public, will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. at the City of Wichita Water Center, 101 E. Pawnee. Lawmakers from the area will be on hand to discuss the session, which is scheduled for first adjournment by Saturday.

Legislators will return to the Capitol on April 29 for a veto session.

Second round of smoking ban debate likely Tuesday in the Senate

TOPEKA – There is a joke around the statehouse that nothing ever dies under the dome.

That seems to be true for efforts to pass a statewide smoking ban which could be debated for a second time in the Senate on Tuesday.

A few weeks ago the issue seemed finished after Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, decided not to vote on the original bill after several days of hearings.

Following the typical progression of a bill, the matter was dead.

But there are ways around almost any obstacle – such as inserting the smoking ban into House Bill 2221. Originally, the measure dealt with child care.

Now the measure would bar smoking in most public places.

By putting the language in to a measure that has already passed the House, Senators are able to bypass the committees.

If it does go to the House floor, the measure is likely to be sent to a negotiating committee were six lawmakers – three from each chamber – will work out a compromise.