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Kan. lawmakers planning extra-long spring break

By JOHN HANNA

Associated Press

TOPEKA -- Kansas legislators are planning to take an unusually long spring break this year, part of efforts by Republican leaders to shorten the time lawmakers spend in session, House Speaker Ray Merrick said Monday.

Legislators plan to work through April 5, the 74th day in session, then reconvene May 8 to wrap up business for the year. If they had followed a traditional schedule, they would reconvene April 24.

Merrick faced questions about whether the extended break is designed to allow legislators to attend an early May meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national group for lawmakers that promotes conservative model legislation on a wide range of issues. Merrick, a conservative Stilwell Republican, and Senate President Susan Wagle, a conservative Wichita Republican, are members of the group's national board.

"It's a coincidence," Merrick told the Associated Press.

Instead, Merrick said, the goal is to limit legislators' work after the spring break to reviewing vetoes by Gov. Sam Brownback. Extending the spring break ensures any deadlines for the conservative Republican governor to act on any bills approved by the GOP-dominated Legislature will have passed.

"We might be out of here in a day," Merrick said.

GOP leaders in the Senate deferred to Merrick to explain the schedule change, saying they weren't fully aware of the reasons for it. Democratic leaders also said they couldn't explain it.

"I've just seen the calendar," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat.

ALEC's spring meeting is May 2 to 3 in Oklahoma City, and the National Conference of State Legislatures also is having a spring meeting May 2 to 4 in Denver. Merrick sent fellow House members a letter Monday, urging them to join ALEC and noting its May meeting.

Republican leaders repeatedly have said they'd like to shave 10 or more days off the annual session's normal schedule of 90 days.

The Kansas Constitution specifies 90 days, but lawmakers often have met longer during the past two decades. The record was 107 days in 2002. Last year, legislators were in session 99 days, including 26 days after their spring break.

Lawmakers began scheduling the spring break in 1969, when Republicans had large majorities in both chambers and Democrat Robert Docking was governor.

The first few wrap-ups lasted one or two days, in line with descriptions of them as "veto" sessions. However, by the late 1980s, legislators were waiting until after their spring break to resolve most issues.

"We have pushed far too many issues off into the veto session in previous years," Davis said. "It's a practice we should end."