FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - House lawmakers adjourned without taking any action during a special legislative session on Thursday, saying Gov. Ernie Fletcher's decision to call them back to Frankfort was ill conceived.
"Our moral obligation is to do what is best for the citizens of Kentucky," said House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, who objected to the $60,000-a-day cost of the session. "We have a duty to protect the constitution from being manipulated for the sake of political expendiency."
Fletcher, a first-term Republican who is running for re-election this fall, had included potentially volatile issues on the agenda, including a measure that could prohibit public universities from providing health insurance benefits to domestic partners.
Richards urged lawmakers to adjourn without taking action on any of the issues, including a proposal to offer tax incentives to lure a $3 billion coal gasification plant to Kentucky that could have created some 800 jobs.
Richards questioned the need for the session, saying the costs outweighed the benefits and that any legislation could wait until the General Assembly reconvenes in January. Fletcher charged that
House Democrats put partisan politics ahead of doing what's best for Kentucky.
"This is something we cannot afford not to do," Fletcher said speaking to reporters in his Capitol office.
The Senate continued in session, assigning five initiatives included on the agenda to legislative committees for hearings. And, Fletcher said, he hopes House lawmakers return and do likewise.
The governor contends that House lawmakers are required under the state constitution to return in three days if the Senate remains in session. He declined to say what action he might take if they do not.
"We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," Fletcher said.
The issue could spill into the courts, but Richards said he believes the House was on sound constitutional grounds by adjourning without taking action. "Anyone that wants to go to court over it, have at it," Richards said.
After heated debate, the House adjourned just over an hour after the session was called to order. House lawmakers also agreed to forfeit their salaries and expenses for the special session.
Senate President David Williams said he would not be part of any move to go to court to force House lawmakers to return. If they haven't agreed to return by Monday, Williams said Senate leaders would then meet to decide whether to continue in session.
"Until then, this body came to town to work, and work ... we will," he said.
Williams, in a floor speech, also urged Fletcher to call House leaders and encourage them to return to session.
Richards said it could have taken up to eight weeks to get through Fletcher's 67-item agenda, costing taxpayers some $2.5 million had lawmakers not adjourned.
"To lend any further credibility to this charade would be a dangerous precedent which I feel sure we would all live to regret," he said.
Richards also asked House lawmakers to forfeit any salaries or expenses for the session.
Fletcher said he called lawmakers to the Capitol primarily to pass a package of incentives for companies looking to build high-tech fuel plants in Kentucky. So far, Peabody Energy Corp. is the only company to have publicly expressed an interest.
"This session was about billions in investments and thousands of jobs," Fletcher said Thursday evening.
Peabody executive Rick Bowen has said the company is considering building a $3 billion plant to transform coal into a cleaner burning fuel in either Illinois, Indiana or Kentucky. Bowen said Kentucky needs to offer incentives to stay in the running.
Fletcher released a list on Thursday of 19 potential sites spread across the state for such high-tech projects.
Fletcher signed an executive order on Monday calling lawmakers back to Frankfort at 4 p.m. EDT Thursday. The agenda was extensive, including a proposal to authorize $427.6 million in construction projects and another to give active duty military reserve families an income tax break.
The domestic partner initiative is aimed primarily at the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. Both universities have already opted to provide health insurance to domestic partners.
Fletcher has called the General Assembly into special session twice previously since he took office - once in October 2004 to improve health insurance benefits for teachers and state employees and again in June 2006 to provide tax relief for small businesses.
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