Kansas leads the nation in governmental opacity. We should insist this be changed so we will know what is going on and who is doing it. Only by changing our laws and ways of operating will we get a truly representative government.
Our current system of legislation includes many bizarre and some normal ways to derail democratic, representative government. Some representatives on both sides of the aisle want our procedures changed to increase their ability to represent us.
One procedure that has annoyed me ever since a speaker of the House told me about it is the “pocket veto.” Committee chairs can prevent bills from being voted on within their committees. The speaker can stop bills from coming to the floor. Even if a majority of the committee favors a bill, even if most of the chamber is in favor, standard practices can block legislation.
The result is that my legislators’ initiatives are never voted on, according to state Rep. Melissa Rooker, my representative.
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What’s the reason for blocking legislation from a vote? I asked the speaker two years ago. He said that if every bill could be voted on, there would be too much work.
I asked another representative, state Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, who made a sarcastic comment to the effect that it would be a shame if the legislators worked hard. Stogsdill is championing one of the bills for increased transparency.
Currently in Kansas, much legislation occurs under the cover of secrecy. Bills do not have to have their sponsors recorded. Consequently, lobbyists introduce some legislation. Votes do not have to be recorded. Furthermore, bills that have been introduced can be completely changed using “gut-and-go.”
The result is that our legislature ends up being less democratic and less representative of us. On too many issues, our representatives cannot be heard on the floor and their bills are blocked in committee.
When I talked with my Kansas representative and senator, that is what they said: Their legislative initiatives could not be heard or voted on. The pocket vetoes and gut-and-go should be stopped, and bill sponsors and legislators’ votes should be recorded. Only by making these changes will Kansas government become responsible to and representative of the people.
Unfortunately, these practices will not change unless one of two things happen. One is that we call or write our legislators and committee chairs and insist on transparent practices. The other is that we vote out many of our state representatives and vote in new ones who promise change.
Both are feasible. Both require that we speak up.
Kansas needs to eliminate pocket vetoes, gut-and-go legislation and secret sponsorship and votes. When we do, our legislators may start representing us. We should insist on it.
Chris Roesel designed, wrote grant proposals, managed and evaluated international development projects for nonprofits in Asia, Africa and throughout the Americas. He lives in Roeland Park.