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Senate votes to invoke 'sovereignty' over state's prairie chickens

2/14/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Two Republicans broke ranks Wednesday, joining the eight Senate Democrats in opposing a bill declaring Kansas' "sovereignty" over the lesser prairie chicken.

The measure still passed the Senate by an overwhelming margin, 30-10. Sens. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, and Larry Powell, R-Garden City, voted in favor of the bill.

They both championed the bill during first-round consideration Tuesday.

The measure was crafted by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an outgrowth of offering help to a consortium of 32 counties that have banded together to oppose listing of the prairie chicken as threatened.

Essentially, the bill declares Kansas has the "sole regulatory authority" over both lesser and greater prairie chickens in Kansas, and would make it a felony for any federal employee or contractor to attempt to enforce federal law or regulations dealing with the birds.

Powell successfully urged senators to strip out a provision making it illegal for state employees to enforce federal law affecting the birds.

While the bill now goes across the aisle to the House, an identical bill already has been filed there.

Breaking ranks with their Republican counterparts were Sens. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, and Vicki Schmidt, R-Topeka.

In voting against the bill, McGinn said it simply would lead to expensive litigation even as the state's wildlife agency has worked with other states to develop a plan to prevent the bird from being listed.

"I heard in the debate we should determine these issues individually as a state," McGinn said. "If this is the case, why did we sue Colorado for water that belonged to us? Why are we suing Nebraska for not sending us the quality of water we deserve? We acknowledge that water is a shared resource that doesn't stop at state lines, but somehow this bill argues that the lesser prairie chicken does. You would think the bird wouldn't be losing so many numbers if it was smart enough to read the state lines on a map."

Democratic Sen. Marci Francisco also voted against the measure, saying "if the Senate believes it's necessary to block federal law, we could ask the attorney general to address our concerns in court."

That, she said, would be a more appropriate way to test the constitutionality of the federal action.

Gov. Sam Brownback already has suggested he's ready to go to court to challenge the listing of the lesser prairie chicken as threatened.

"Most importantly, Kansans have expressed interest in maintaining quality habitat for wildlife and this action may indicate we are not listening to that concern," Francisco said.