By JOE BIESK
Associated Press Writer
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Senate lawmakers passed a bill on Monday that would provide financial incentives to companies that convert coal to cleaner burning fuels, even though the measure appears to have no chance of becoming law.
House lawmakers have refused to take part in a special legislative session where the issue is being discussed. To become law, the energy bill and other initiatives on the agenda would have to be approved by both the Senate and House and signed by Gov. Ernie Fletcher.
The energy bill passed 34-1.
Democratic lawmakers say Fletcher's decision to call them back to Frankfort was unnecessary and too costly to be justified. They adjourned without taking any action shortly after the session began Thursday.
House Speaker Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, contends Fletcher called the special session in hopes of improving his chances of being re-elected in November.
"There was no foundation laid for this session, and it was bound to fail from the get-go," Richards said.
Fletcher compared House lawmakers to labor union employees out on strike. Gubernatorial election-year politics, not differences over policy, were to blame for the impasse, Fletcher said.
"They simply have gone on strike and won't do their job," Fletcher said.
State Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, D-Lexington, the only lawmaker to vote against the energy bill, said Fletcher is wasting time and money on the special session. Scorsone said Fletcher abused his power as governor by calling the session.
The Senate also passed bills that would eliminate state income taxes on active-duty military personnel and that would appropriate more than $400 million for construction projects across the state. Both passed without any dissenting votes.
The governor said the primary purpose of the special session was to pass the energy bill championed by Democratic lawmakers earlier this year. It initially passed in the House, but died in the Republican-controlled Senate in a legislative session that began in January.
The bill would provide some $300 million worth of financial incentives and tax breaks to energy companies that build plants in Kentucky.
Peabody Energy Corp. has expressed an interested in building a $3 billion plant to convert coal to synthetic natural gas.
Fletcher, a first-term Republican who faces Democratic challenger Steve Beshear in the Nov. 6 election, included a measure on the special session agenda that would have prohibited public universities from providing health insurance benefits to domestic partners of their employees.
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.
Senate President David Williams said last week that he expects the measure to pass the Senate on Monday.
Williams also said if Fletcher was unable to persuade House lawmakers to return to Frankfort, that the Senate may adjourn on Monday.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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