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House votes to cut KBA role in funding of bio lab

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Thursday, May 12, 2011, at 12:06 a.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012, at 3:11 p.m.

TOPEKA — A bill cutting the Kansas Bioscience Authority out of handling more than $100 million in bonds for a major bioterrorism lab under development at Kansas State University won approval in the state House on Wednesday.

Under House Substitute for Senate Bill 154, the state Department of Administration, which falls under the governor's control, would replace the KBA in issuing $105 million in bonds to develop the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.

The nine-member State Finance Council, made up of the governor and leaders from the House and Senate, would have final control over the bond process.

The Senate voted not to concur with the House's action, sending the bill to a House-Senate conference committee. Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, said she wanted to discuss the changes the House made before recommending whether to approve them.

The federal laboratory will be the nation's premier facility for research into countering possible bioterrorism attacks and threats to the nation's food supply.

Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Bel Aire, said the House wants to shift the bond duties to send a signal to the federal government that the state will meet all its commitments to build the $650 million facility.

He said representatives want to make sure that ongoing investigations of the KBA don't open the door for other states to try to steal the laboratory from Kansas.

"We didn't want any kind of hint of a problem," Brunk said.

The Bioscience Authority is under investigation by the Johnson County District Attorney's Office. Prosecutors have not released details.

Members of the Senate Commerce Committee have questioned KBA leaders on its salary and bonus structure, travel and entertainment spending, investment policies and participation in out-of-state venture capital funds.

The agency's chief executive, Tom Thornton, recently resigned under fire and has moved to a job at the Cleveland Clinic.

Bioscience Authority officials have defended the agency's business and personnel practices, which they say are consistent with similar agencies in other states and allowed by legislation enabling the authority to act more like a private business.

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