We've reached the "Turnaround" Deadline
Last week was the ‘turnaround’ deadline in the Kansas Legislature, when the House and Senate must, each respectively, advance the legislation introduced in their chamber to the opposite chamber or that legislation is, effectively, dead.
This deadline requires each chamber to work a bunch of bills that originated from their own chambers. The legislation that pass get sent to the opposite chamber for debate and consideration. The natural consequence of Turnaround is that the entire House was convened on the floor for very long days rather than the normal schedule of working in smaller committee groups and hearing testimony from conferees.
The Committee Process
A constant theme during the Turnaround is whether a bill or idea went through the ‘committee process’. The committee process entails having a bill introduced with some idea, then having a hearing with conferees, usually from stakeholders outside the Legislature, presenting testimony in support and opposition of the legislation. The bill then may, if the chairman allows it, get ‘worked,’ which is the debate and committee vote.
The committee process utilized in the Legislature is good, but not without its flaws. Committees do permit smaller groups to focus on an issue, but can be bad due to the extraordinary power of the Committee chair to block discussion on good (and bad) ideas. Often, Committee chairs just out-right refuse to allow bills even be heard, let alone worked, without providing any reasoning. This lack of transparency and this is never more apparent than in the turnaround week.
Questions of "Germaneness"
Often, the only time certain ideas get to see the light of day is when bills are considered by the entire House of Representatives, where amendments cannot be blocked by committee chairs. However, Article 2, Section 16 of the Kansas Constitution requires each bill, other than appropriations bills, address only one subject. This Constitutional provision often results in challenges to amendments regarding "germaneness." These challenges argue, in sum, that the amendment is not sufficiently related to the underlying bill to satisfy the constitutional limitation to one subject per bill. The art of amending legislation is finding a point of contact with the underlying material because only then can the new idea be considered. If the amendment is not related, or "germane," the House Rules Committee will declare the amendment not germane and debate will not proceed.
Many good bills we worked through in the past year have been blocked in the years prior to me joining the Legislature because those underlying bills offered an opportunity to be amended. The fact that we have been able to work so many subjects shows a positive trend towards some true bipartisanship.
Action On the House Floor
Because of Turnaround, we did a lot of work on the House floor to deliberate and pass legislation.
Here's some of the key highlights from the Turnaround debate.
This bill will require prior legislative authorization before any state agency may to enter into any agreement or take any action to outsource or privatize security operations of any correctional or juvenile correctional facility operated by a state agency. In sum, House Bill 2551 will prevent any further privatization of corrections in Kansas, including the privatization of correctional officers.
House Bill 2448 would place corrections workers in Kansas in KPERS Police & Fire (KP&F) Pension Fund(the Kansas police and firemen’s retirement system) instead of KPERS, the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System. KP&F is more stable and secure than KPERS, which means that, were this bill to pass the Kansas Senate and be signed by the Governor, corrections employees in and around Leavenworth would see more security in their pension and an increase in retirement benefits. I supported this measure.
The legislation also establishes a searchable tracking system that ensures citizens can see what the status is of their seized assets. This is step one of a process that needs to continue to improve, but nonetheless an important first step because attempts at reform have been repeatedly blocked over the years. I supported the legislation.
I opposed House Bill 2457. The bill imposes special requirements on dying veterans, firefighters, and workers and their families, making it harder to advance their claims.
Notable Amendments that were Attempted on House Floor
In addition to legislation that was passed last week, there were some notable amendments attempted on the House floor. Though not comprehensive, here's the highlights:
Improving Workers' Compensation Laws
The Curtis Amendment would have improved the work environment for working Kansans in that it would would have allowed anyone hurt at work to choose their own doctor or care provider, rather than one that an employer or insurance company mandates. I voted yes on this, but failed to the Republican majority, as did another amendment that would have returned workers comp rules to the 4th Edition of the AMA rather than the current 6th Edition when assessing the extent of the injury. The current edition doesn’t accurately reflect the true extent of an employee’s injury and has been shown to be an issue in other states.
I supported an attempt amendment to return these officials to the list of elected officials in each county to create uniformity and accountability in our election system, but the amendment failed on a close vote. House Bill 2509, the underlying bill, passed without my support. House Bill 2509 makes the budget of Election Commissioner’s subject to approval by County Commissioners for the respective county.
The first attempted amendment, which was ultimately successful, was an effort to make each agency accountable for any public disclosure of partial social security numbers. The second attempted amendment to the bill dealt with charging other states a small fee for the free voter CrossCheck work the Secretary of State’s office does. Kansas deals with over 96 Million personal records from 28 states and we have a growing liability on the cybersecurity front. This amendment was ruled non-germane by the House Rules Committee and was, therefore, killed and not debated.
Because so many folks under the age of 18 (and even individuals from out-of-state) have decided to run for Governor, House Bill 2539 was brought to the floor to clarify who can run for statewide offices.
An amendment was considered, and defeated, that would have made the minimum age 30 years old to be a constitutional officer of the state. I opposed the amendment. Another amendment I supported the removed a four year residency requirement. I felt strongly that the residency requirement would have limited members of the military, Veterans and military family members of our community from continuing public service. The bill also would require a candidate for the office of the Attorney General to be licensed to practice law in Kansas, which makes sense if they are required to direct prosecutions statewide.
House Bill 2477 would amend what is known as the Pet Animal Act. The legislation would authorize for increases in fees to pay for a third state inspector. The amendment, supported by the Leavenworth Humane Society, allows inspectors to perform inspections during business hours to inspect a pet breeder’s facility, but without announcing the inspection. I supported this amendment and it passed.
Mandatory Reporters are individuals that, due to their profession, may be in situations to identify signs of child abuse. These Mandatory Reporters are required, as a matter of law, to report signs of child abuse.
The Chair of the House Corrections Committee decided to amend the bill to remove Animal Control officers. I spoke against the removal mainly because more eyes means we have more chance of reducing child abuse. Also, there is a strong statistical correlation between animal abusers and child abusers being one in the same.
Ultimately, the majority party voted together to remove Animal Control officers from the list of mandatory abuse reporters. Despite the amendment, I nonetheless supported the legislation.
Notably, a number of bills were passed over by the leadership. Some were on the list to be discussed and last-minute decisions were made to remove them, and some bills just never were recommended to be debated by the House Committee of the Whole.
Good ideas get blocked all the time that either are controversial, do not align with the majority leadership’s agenda, or offend some special interest.
Contract Cancelation for Deployed Service-Members
An example of a good bill killed by the House Leadership is House Bill 2464, which would permit active duty military as well as their spouses to cancel contracts like gym memberships and phone services when they are deployed out of state. House Leadership blocked this legislation from coming to the floor, due to the possibility of amendments. Specifically an amendment I would have supported would limit the interest rates charged by payday lenders to Veterans. Right now these interest rates are predatory and can be in the 400% APR range.
House Bill 2578 was legislation concerning anti-bullying policies in schools, requiring school districts to establish standardized protocols for dealing with and preventing bullying. Additionally, an amendment added onto this bill would create procedures to give teachers due process through the process of contract termination, which is ultimately why the legislation was blocked by House Leadership.
Expert Testimony on School Finance
In the Gannon case on school finance in Kansas, Republican leadership hired an expert witness, who testifies in court based on their extensive knowledge in a particular area. That witness, Lori Taylor, presented to both the House K-12 Budget and Senate Committees on Friday. Taylor is conducting a study over the Kansas school finance case and will present her findings the legislature on March 15th.
I’ll discuss more about thoughts on the education modeling next week.
It is great to see Coach Larry Hogan still going strong!
My Honor to Serve You
It is a special honor to serve as your state representative. I value and need your input on the various issues facing state government. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions.
My office address is Room 559-S, 300 SW 10th, Topeka, KS 66612. You can reach me at (785) 296-7522 or call the legislative hotline at +1 (800) 432-3924 to leave a message for me. Additionally, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow the legislative session online at www.kslegislature.org.