In my duties as mayor in Gardner, Kan., I know a little something about conducting special meetings. That being said, now that a special session of the Kansas Legislature has been called by Gov. Sam Brownback, I have a piece of unsolicited advice for the legislators as they convene to take up important business of the state: Look to the cities in Kansas on how best to proceed.
When a city council in Kansas holds a “special meeting” the “object and purpose” of the meeting must be specified, and then read at the meeting and entered at length into the record. This according to Kansas statute 14-111. This statute has been the law of the land in Kansas for over 144 years. The cities stay focused on the issue at hand, and in Gardner, in the special meetings in which I have participated, we have done that. We stick to the object and purpose of the meeting, and we do the business of the people quickly, efficiently and with a minimum amount of distractions.
As it turns out, the state legislature is under no such constraints. The Kansas Constitution allows the governor to call a “special session,” and the governor is required to “communicate in writing information in reference to the condition of the state, and recommend such measures as he deems expedient.” That does not, however, obligate the legislature to confine their discussions and actions to the reason the special session was called.
To review, special meetings in Kansas municipalities must be focused on the subject at hand; legislative special sessions, not at all.
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In Gov. Brownback’s media release he stated he was calling “a special session to keep Kansas schools open.” The governor also said, “I will do everything I can to keep this session focused on education.”
If only that were true. The day after he called for the special session the governor tweeted:
That’s an exceptionally broad statement, and it allows for the kind of Washington, D.C.,-style of politics in which anything can be added to get legislation passed.
A most troubling development in the days since the special session was called is the course of action proposed by Senate Vice President Jeff King. Two days after the announcement of special session, King stated that he is drafting a constitutional amendment that would prohibit courts from closing public schools due to education funding lawsuit rulings.
The issue of keeping the schools open past the June 30 court deadline should be the specific objective and sole purpose of this special session, and that requires passing a public school funding fix that will satisfy the Kansas Supreme Court. A constitutional amendment would — even at its most expedient — not become effective until after the November elections. It requires approval by the Kansas House and Senate, and then by Kansas voters, all by a two-thirds majority. That is a tall order at any time, and it is certainly not a remedy to keeping schools open after July 1.
I hope in the upcoming special session that our state legislators take a page from the cities of Kansas and stay laser-focused on the task at hand, keeping our public schools open past June 30.
Chris Morrow is the mayor of Gardner.