Legislators would be required to sign off on any plan for reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions under a measure Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed Thursday.
Brownback also signed a compromise on renewable energy incentives while the Senate approved a raft of tweaks to the state’s liquor laws.
The emissions bill is a response to a new rule from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency aimed at reducing power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change. States that don’t submit a plan to the EPA will have a federal one imposed upon them.
The measure authorizes the state’s health and environment secretary to draft a plan for reducing such emissions, and it could include voluntary agreements with utilities to reduce production at coal-fired power plants.
Jay Emler, a commissioner at the state’s utilities regulator, said at the signing ceremony that he believes the new federal regulations will be expensive and could have “horrendous ramifications” for ratepayers.
Here is a look at significant issues taken up by the Kansas Legislature Thursday.
An 11-member legislative committee would have to approve the emissions reduction plan developed by the utilities regulator and environment officials before the state could submit it to the EPA.
Zack Pistora, a lobbyist with environmental advocacy group the Kansas Sierra Club, said the Kansas bill was a positive step that would ensure the state would be able to comply with new federal regulations in a way best tailored to its economic needs.
But, several officials at the signing ceremony criticized the EPA over the new rules, and Brownback said he believes the federal agency made the changes with short deadlines because the Obama administration is “trying to rush a rule out” before the 2016 presidential elections.
The governor also signed a bill Thursday that would remove a requirement that renewable resources account for 20 percent of utilities’ capacity to generate electricity by 2020.
Republican Sen. Rob Olson from Olathe helped negotiate the deal and said it provides greater business certainty for both renewable energy producers and utilities companies.
Green energy companies agreed to let the mandate become a nonbinding goal in return for legislators dropping a proposal to impose a 4.33 percent tax on the electricity generated from renewable resources.
The agreement also would give all new green energy projects tax-free status for their first 10 years and require them to pay commercial property taxes thereafter. Renewable power plants are currently given a lifetime exemption from property taxes.
The Kansas Senate voted 30-6 Thursday to approve a measure that would allow alcohol at state events at the Capitol and adjusts a number of liquor permit processes. It now goes to the House for consideration.
Republican Rep. Vicki Schmidt of Topeka said she opposed the bill, because it vaguely defined when alcohol would be permitted in the Capitol.
The bill also would allow patrons of art galleries to bring their own bottles of wine to painting sessions. Alcoholic beverages could also be consumed at farmer’s markets, state fairs and catered events on public property, under the bill. It also would allow alcohol distributors to provide samples and let vineyards sell wine on their property.
APPROACHING 100 DAYS
Lawmakers convened Thursday for the 98th day of their session, eight more than their leaders traditionally schedule. Each extra day in session costs the state a total of more than $40,000.
Republicans in the GOP-dominated Legislature have yet to agree on proposals for raising taxes to close a projected $406 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Resolution of budget and tax issues isn’t expected until at least the session’s 100th day.
Only five sessions have lasted 100 days or more, according to legislative researchers. The longest in state history was in 2002, at 107 days.