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Letter to the Times: Another proposed amendment, another attempted power grab

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns and letters to the Times written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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After Kansas voters defeated an attempt to give the Republican-controlled Legislature more power on Aug. 2, Republican lawmakers are trying to take power once again in November. 

A constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot would hand the state Legislature sweeping and final control over rules and regulations issued by state executive administrative agencies and give the Legislature veto power over executive rules and regulations issued by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration, if she’s reelected.

Unfortunately, proponents of the measure have included confusing and misleading language to put forth to voters. The proposed constitutional amendment would read: 

“§ 17. Legislative oversight of administrative rules and regulations. Whenever the legislature by law has authorized any officer or agency within the executive branch of government to adopt rules and regulations that have the force and effect of law, the legislature may provide by law for the revocation or suspension of any such rule and regulation, or any portion thereof, upon a vote of a majority of the members then elected or appointed and qualified in each house.”

The measure was originally proposed by Kelly’s Republican Gubernatorial opponent, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt. 

One stated purpose of the proposed constitutional amendment is to prohibit state executive agencies from adopting rules and regulations “without any opportunity for the legislature to directly revoke or suspend such rules and regulations.” However, lawmakers already have an “opportunity,” or a mechanism, by which to revoke or suspend state executive agency rules and regulations — the Legislature can pass laws making executive rules or regulations illegal. Insinuating that the Legislature has no “opportunity” to review state executive rules and regulations is disingenuous. 

But as with any other law, passing a law striking down a state executive rule or regulation requires a majority of the Kansas House and Senate, as well as a signature from the governor or a veto-proof majority. That means currently, the Legislature has the power to strike down state rules and regulations if there are enough votes to sustain a veto by the governor. 

Passing the amendment would take the governor completely out of the equation and allow lawmakers to strike down agency rules and regulations — rules and regulations on which these agencies likely have more expertise than lawmakers — with a simple 51% majority vote. So, under the proposed constitutional amendment, striking down executive agency rules and regulations would not be reviewed or need any approval by the executive branch at all, and thus no super-majority vote to override a veto would ever be required. 

And no need for a crystal ball in this scenario — a simple majority of current lawmakers would likely revoke many agency rules and regulations. Such regulations could include basic health and safety regulations, and regulations designed to protect the environment, just to name a few. 

Passing the amendment would put an awful lot of power into the hands of 51% of our Republican-led state Legislature. A “yes” vote will allow the state Legislature to pass laws — by a simple majority vote — to revoke state agency rules and regulations, with no veto power from the governor. A “no” vote maintains that the Legislature must pass laws, just like other laws — subject to the governor’s veto — to revoke state agency rules and regulations.

— Amii N. Castle (she/her), Lawrence

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