GOP leadership’s tactical kit features a more robust ‘pay-go’ budget provision
TOPEKA — Republicans in the Kansas House voted down a proposed rule forbidding the launch of House floor debate on a bill after midnight.
House Speaker Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, defended the practice of holding representatives in the House into the early morning hours to complete work on pending legislation. He said waiving the midnight rule when necessary served the House well because the process hadn’t been abused in the past four years.
“How many people work past midnight in their regulator job? Lot of us. Why do you do that? You do that because you have a job to get done. The same thing happens here,” Hawkins said.
House Minority Leader Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat, recommended Wednesday the House reinforce the midnight rule to forbid it from being waived by a vote of House members. He said House leadership used late-night sessions to pressure weary lawmakers anxious to go home.
Miller also recalled for House members the May 2012 death of Rep. Bob Bethell about one hour after the Legislature adjourned the session. The traffic accident that took the Republican’s life on Interstate 70 west of Topeka followed two marathon days of debate in the House.
“Evidence was it was lack of rest that was a contributing factor. Think about that,” Miller told the 85 Republicans and his 39 Democratic colleagues. “The public does not appreciate us writing law in these circumstances.”
The new rules for the 2023 and 2024 sessions removed an exemption to the “pay-go” rule so all proposals made during House floor debate for increased spending had to accompanied by a source of funding to cover that added expenditure. In the past, House members could offer spending amendments without a funding source if the projected ending balance in the state treasury was more than 7.5% of expenditures.
Rep. Stephanie Clayton, a Democrat from Overland Park, said pay-go granted enormous power to members of the House Appropriations Committee. The 23 members of the budget committee — 16 Republicans, seven Democrats — could propose amendments during committee meetings to raise state spending without declaring how it was to be paid. The other 100-plus representatives don’t have that option, she said.
“It is a problem to put more and more power on the members of the Legislature who are on the appropriations committee,” Clayton said.
Rep. Fred Patton, R-Topeka, said the new set of rules granted House members more time to submit written explanations of votes. The rules now prohibit the House speaker and House speaker pro tem from serving in those jobs more than four years. This became an issue because the previous House speaker, Ron Ryckman of Johnson County, served six years in that position before leaving the House in January.
In addition, a provision was added to House rules so Republican and Democratic leadership wouldn’t be in violation of the Kansas Open Meetings Act when communicating by group text with representatives during caucus, committee or House gatherings.
Members of the Kansas House rejected a limit on bundling bills so no more than all or part of seven bills could be rolled into one for consideration.
Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence, said he was frustrated Republicans in 2022 placed chunks of 29 tax bills into a single bill and that all or part of 16 education bills were bundled together into one measure. He suggested a limit of seven to give the House flexibility to work on compromises with the Kansas Senate.
“The more bills that are bundled … the harder it is to vote 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, the Weskan Republican and chair of the House Tax Committee, said the record 29-bill bundle was a logistical necessity to save good tax policy from the scrap heap. He did say the massive bill was “an egregious abuse” of the House’s approach to bundling.
Calling a bluff?
The House easily defeated an amendment to the rules creating a formal guarantee the respective political parties had authority to make their own committee assignments.
In December, Highberger created controversy regarding committee assignments by suggested he might be be put forward by Democrats as an alternative candidate for House speaker. Traditionally, the majority party selected a person to hold that top job and that decision was simply affirmed by Democrats.
Hawkins, who was the choice of his GOP allies, recoiled at the idea of a House leadership insurrection and warned he would respond by abandoning a 50-year-old unwritten agreement allowing Democrats to place their members on House committees. In the end, Highberger dropped the idea of challenging Hawkins.
“I could have called his bluff on that and he could have followed through and not let us make committee appointments. We could have blown up the whole session. I didn’t do it,” Highberger said.
The Republican-led chamber rejected the idea of making it easier to force recorded votes during House floor action.
Rep. Brett Fairchild, R-St. John, proposed reducing from 15 to 10 the number of votes needed to trigger a recorded record of individual votes on a bill. He said the objective of transparency necessitated placement of votes in the House record rather than operate with unrecorded votes.
“I would just like to record all votes,” Fairchild said. “I know that would probably be more controversial and wouldn’t have any chance of passing.”
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