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Kansas House tangles on procedural rules before preserving late night debates, pooling bills

TOPEKA – Republicans in the Kansas House have voted against a proposed rule that prohibits the initiation of debate on a bill after midnight.

House Speaker Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, defended the practice of keeping Representatives in the House in the early morning hours to finish work on pending legislation. He said waiving the midnight rule when needed has served the House well because the process has not been abused in the past four years.

“How many people work past midnight in their job as a regulator? Many of us. Why are you doing it? You do it because you have a job to get done. The same thing happens here,” Hawkins said.

House Minority Leader Vic Miller, a Democrat from Topeka, recommended on Wednesday that the House strengthen the midnight rule to prohibit it from being waived by a vote of House members. He said the House leadership has used all-night sessions to pressure tired and anxious lawmakers to go home.

Miller also reminded House members of the May 2012 death of Representative Bob Bethell about an hour after the legislature adjourned the session. The car crash that claimed the life of the Republican on Interstate 70 west of Topeka followed two marathons of House debates.

“The proof was that it was the lack of rest that contributed. Think about it,” Miller told the 85 Republicans and his 39 fellow Democrats. “The public doesn’t appreciate us writing law under these circumstances.”

Paid rules.

The new rules for the 2023 and 2024 sessions removed an exemption from the “pay-go” rule, so any proposals made during the floor debate to increase spending had to be accompanied by a funding source to cover that additional expense . In the past, House members could offer spending amendments without a funding source if the expected final balance in the state treasury was more than 7.5 percent of the expenses.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, a Democrat from Overland Park, said pay-go has given enormous power to members of the House Appropriations Committee. The 23 members of the budget committee – 16 Republicans, seven Democrats – could propose amendments in committee meetings to increase state spending without stating how it was to be paid. The other 100+ representatives don’t have that option, she said.

“It’s a problem to give more and more power to members of the legislature who sit on the appropriations committee,” Clayton said.

Rep. Fred Patton, R-Topeka, said the new set of rules gave House members more time to submit written explanations of vote. The rules now prohibit the Speaker of the House and the Speaker of the House pro tempore from serving in those jobs for more than four years. This has become a problem because the previous Speaker of the House, Ron Ryckman of Johnson County, served six years in that position before leaving the House in January.

Additionally, a provision was added to the House Rules so that Republican and Democratic leadership would not violate the Kansas Open Meetings Act when communicating via group text with representatives at caucus, committee, or House meetings.

Kansas House members rejected a limit on the bundling of bills so that no more than all or part of seven bills could be bundled into one for consideration.

Rep. Boog Highberger D-Lawrence said he was frustrated with Republicans putting blocks of 29 tax bills into one bill in 2022 and all or part of the 16 education bills being bundled into one bill. measure. He suggested a limit of seven to give the House flexibility to work through compromises with the Kansas Senate.

“The more bills that get bundled … the harder it is to vote on your district’s interests on every issue,” Highberger said. “There will be things you love and things you hate in the same thing.”

Rep. Adam Smith, a Weskan Republican and chairman of the House Tax Committee, said the record package of 29 bills was a logistical necessity to save good tax policy from the scrap heap. He said the massive bill was “a gross abuse” of the House’s approach to grouping.

Calling a bluff?

The House handily rejected a rule amendment that created a formal guarantee that respective political parties had the authority to fill their own committee posts.

In December, Highberger created controversy over committee assignments by suggesting he might be proposed by Democrats as an alternative candidate for Speaker of the House. Traditionally, the ruling party selected one person to fill that top post, and that decision was simply affirmed by the Democrats.

Hawkins, who was the pick of his GOP allies, recoiled at the idea of ​​a House leadership insurrection and warned that he would respond by abandoning a 50-year unwritten agreement that allowed Democrats to place their own members on committees in the House. Room. Ultimately, Highberger abandoned the idea of ​​challenging Hawkins.

“I could have called his bluff on this and he could have followed through and not let us set committee appointments. We could have blown the whole session. I didn’t do it,” Highberger said.

The Republican-led house rejected the idea of ​​making it easier to force votes recorded during floor action.

Rep. Brett Fairchild, R-St. John, proposed reducing the number of votes needed to activate a recorded record of individual votes on a bill from 15 to 10. He said the goal of transparency required placing votes in the House register rather than operating with unregistered votes.

“I’d just like to record all the votes,” Fairchild said. “I know it would probably be more controversial and have no chance of passing.”

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