The Buzz

Johnson County gains and loses in shuffling of Kansas House committee assignments

Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick (left) shuffled committee assignments this week, giving Johnson County some gains and some losses.
Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick (left) shuffled committee assignments this week, giving Johnson County some gains and some losses. File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Johnson County gained some and lost some when House Speaker Ray Merrick reshuffled committee assignments this week.

Merrick picked two fellow conservative House members from Johnson County to chair influential committees that control state spending and tax policy. He also removed a moderate Republican from the education committee who aggressively worked against conservative school proposals.

Republican Rep. Marvin Kleeb of Overland Park will chair the House tax committee. Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr. of Olathe will continue his fast track in the Legislature as chair of the House appropriations committee.

Kleeb has been in the House since 2009 and supported the deep income tax cuts that have left massive deficits in the state budget.

Elected in 2012, Ryckman has supported tax reductions and will chair the committee that helps decide how to deal with more than $700 million in budget cuts brought about by falling state tax revenues.

Meanwhile, Merrick removed Republican Rep. Melissa Rooker of Fairway from the education committee, where she had vigorously questioned conservative policies that she thought would hurt public eduction. Her committee assignments now include transportation as well as children and families.

Rooker had been a public school advocate with the PTA for several years before entering the Legislature in 2013. In her first term, she aggressively fought efforts to ban Common Core education standards and to direct tax subsidies to private schools.

She opposed a school finance measure this year that put millions into schools but used tax incentives to encourage school choice and stripped teachers of a tenure-like job protection.

“I don’t think it’s a surprise,” Rooker said of being removed from the committee. “I was successful at protecting the interests of our students, teachers and public education from the reform agenda that seeks to put public money into private schools.”

Rooker said it was clear she needed to be moved out of the way so conservative legislative leaders could pursue an agenda that seeks to reduce state spending on public schools at a time when tax cuts are draining the state of revenues.

A special state committee has been looking at ways to improve school efficiencies, and the governor has suggested in broad terms that the school finance formula be rewritten to save the state money.

A spokeswoman for Merrick said Rooker’s opposition to conservative school policies was not why she was moved.

The spokeswoman declined to provide more specific reasons why Rooker was taken off the panel.

In a statement, Merrick said he tried to give each legislator at least one committee preference. He said most members received at least two of their committee preferences.

“I made these assignments using factors that included but did not prioritize seniority,” Merrick said in his statement. “My criteria centered on the circumstances of the state and who is best qualified and prepared to work within them.”

To reach Brad Cooper, call 816-234-7724 or send email to bcooper@kcstar.com.

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