Government & Politics

One-third of Kansas House signs on to proposal that would end anonymous bills

Dozens of Kansas legislators from both political parties are calling for a state law wiping out the century-old practice of allowing anonymous bills.

After recent loud demands for more transparency in Topeka, 40 lawmakers — nearly one-third of the entire Kansas House — signed on as co-sponsors of Rep. Stephanie Clayton’s bill. The Overland Park Republican introduced the bill Thursday morning.

House Bill 2548 would require that measures introduced by a committee include the name of the person, lobbyist or organization requesting them. The name would not only be included in the committee minutes, but also would follow the bill through the legislative process and remain attached to it.

When Clayton received the final draft of her bill last week, she sent it to every member of the House with an invitation to sign on as a co-sponsor. She said she was getting calls of interest even before she sent that notice, but didn’t know until Thursday how many people wanted to join in.

“All week it was, ‘When can I sponsor? When can I sponsor? ’ ” Clayton said. “Most of our bills don’t have one name on them, let alone 41. So I think this is wonderful news.”

The issue of anonymous bills was one of many examples The Star highlighted in a recent series revealing that Kansas has one of the darkest state governments in the nation. The series found that more than 90 percent of the laws passed in the last decade stemmed from bills whose authors were anonymous. That means Kansans don’t know who pushed the measures and why, or who stood to gain from the legislation.

Last year alone, 98 of the 104 bills that became law were committee bills with no named sponsors. Legislators can introduce bills through committees to avoid revealing their names.

The series also revealed the common use of a tactic called “gut-and-go” in which lawmakers strip the language from a bill that’s already passed one chamber and replace it with a totally unrelated measure, then quickly advance it with little or no debate.

Clayton’s bill would automatically remove sponsors’ names if their proposals are altered by a gut-and-go maneuver. On Tuesday, Democrats announced a package of transparency proposals, including one that would address that concern by prohibiting gut-and-go.

Many citizens who signed up for a town hall last week sponsored by The Star said the issue of anonymous bills was one of their greatest concerns about government secrecy.

Most states prohibit or limit the practice and require that bills contain the names of the lawmakers sponsoring them. And while Kansas legislators on both sides of the aisle acknowledge that anonymous bills have been part of the legislative process for decades, they say it’s now used way too often.

A lack of transparency makes sense only inside the Capitol building, said Rep. Brett Parker, an Overland Park Democrat and a co-sponsor of Clayton’s bill.

“As a new legislator you would expect people would put their names on the bills they support,” Parker said. “But in fact, you are coached if you want your bill to pass you wouldn’t put your name on it but allow it to be an anonymous committee bill. That’s just the culture that exists here.”

Earlier this week, House Speaker Ron Ryckman ordered all committee chairs to stop allowing the introduction of anonymous bills in his chamber. The action by the Olathe Republican is a policy change that could be reversed under a new House speaker.

Clayton’s bill, however, is a statutory change that would require legislative action to undo.

“I think some people might think (anonymous bills) have already been taken care of,” Clayton said. “But most legislators are savvy enough to know the difference between temporary and permanent.”

Parker said he hopes the new proposal and other transparency bills discussed this session will bring more openness to the Capitol.

“I think it might make veteran lawmakers uncomfortable at first, but we would adapt and be just fine,” Parker said. “It won’t shut down the building to have to put your name on bills.”

Sponsors of the bill:

Republicans: Stephanie Clayton, Overland Park; Shelee Brim, Shawnee; Tom Cox, Shawnee; Diana Dierks, Salina; Keith Esau, Olathe; Linda Gallagher, Lenexa; Mary Martha Good, El Dorado; Steve Huebert, Valley Center; Kevin Jones, Wellsville; Jim Karleskint, Tonganoxie; Jan Kessinger, Overland Park; Joy Koesten, Leawood; Brenda Landwehr, Wichita; Patty Markley, Overland Park; Abraham Rafie, Overland Park; Melissa Rooker, Fairway; and Adam Smith, Weskan.

Democrats: Elizabeth Bishop, Wichita; Tom Burroughs, Kansas City, Kan.; Sydney Carlin, Manhattan; John Carmichael, Wichita; Steven Crum, Haysville; Pam Curtis, Kansas City, Kan.; Gail Finney, Wichita; Jim Gartner, Topeka; Cindy Holscher, Olathe; Eileen Horn, Lawrence; Annie Kuether, Topeka; Nancy Lusk, Overland Park; Vic Miller, Topeka; Monica Murnan, Pittsburg; Cindy Neighbor, Shawnee; Jarrod Ousley, Merriam; Brett Parker, Overland Park; Jeff Pittman, Leavenworth; Jason Probst, Hutchinson; Jerry Stogsdill, Prairie Village; Ed Trimmer, Winfield; Jim Ward, Wichita; Brandon Whipple, Wichita; and Kathy Wolfe Moore, Kansas City, Kan.