Check this spot on Sundays for a few quick hits about what’s driving the debate in the Legislature.
“Why are the think tanks telling me what to think?”
– Rep. Scott Schwab, R-Olathe, explaining that he’s more interested in what Kansas business owners think about renewable energy than think tanks. He joined the majority of the House in voting down a bill that would repeal the state’s renewable energy standards.
“I always say that when I die I hope it’s in the Capitol, because nothing is ever truly dead here.”
– Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, claiming that there were renewed efforts to revive a tabled bill, which he opposes, that would give tax exemptions to private health clubs.
That’s the percentage that renewable energy standards have increased electric rates in Kansas, according to the Kansas Corporation Commission. During Senate and House debates on repealing the standards, wildly different numbers emerged.
Western Kansas was at the center of debate as the Legislature weighed repealing the state’s renewable energy standards. Opponents said repeal would hurt development of the increasingly profitable wind energy industry, which has been a boon to western Kansas. Most repeal supporters said they were not trying to hurt the wind industry and contended a 20 percent renewable energy mandate for utility companies by 2020 undermined the free market.
But some repeal supporters showed contempt for the wind industry. Sen. Larry Powell, R-Garden City, cited cases of eagles being caught in wind turbines, and Sen. Robert Olson, R-Olathe, complained that wind farms ruin the beauty of the western Kansas landscape. “Do they think everybody in western Kansas likes them wind turbines?” he asked.
The following day, a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, including many from western Kansas, voted down the repeal 77-44, saying wind energy had created jobs and saved struggling family farms.
Then on Thursday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would add the lesser prairie chicken to its threatened species list – about half of the bird’s population is in western Kansas.
The Legislature will adjourn its regular session Friday, meaning this week is the last chance for many bills to pass. Some bills killed earlier in the year might resurface as amendments as lawmakers rush to finish remaining business. The House and Senate also will hold hearings this week on bills intended to address inequities in school funding identified by the Supreme Court. But passage of any school finance bill is likely to wait until lawmakers return at the end of April for a wrapup session.
For more legislative news, go to www.kansas.com/politics and follow @BryanLowry3 on Twitter.