Editorials

Editorial: Kansas House gets carried away, cuts Democrats out of the process

Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman recently felt the need to put a hold on Democrats “carrying” bills on the House floor.
Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman recently felt the need to put a hold on Democrats “carrying” bills on the House floor. jsleezer@kcstar.com

The Kansas House is usually a place that prizes good behavior. Debates can get raucous, of course, and sometimes feelings are hurt. All legislatures are like that.

On most days in Topeka, though, Republicans and Democrats work together as much as possible to maintain a minimum level of civility in the room.

So it came as a disappointment to hear that House Speaker Ron Ryckman recently felt the need to put a hold on Democrats “carrying” bills on the House floor.

Carrying a bill is relatively easy and is an essential part of the legislative process. When a bill is offered for the consideration of the body, a member — usually from the committee that considered the legislation — will stand in the well of the chamber and explain it.

The lawmaker will take questions, too. It’s a way for the entire House to get a sense of a measure from someone who spent some time studying it.

This year, Democrats and Republicans have carried bills, even though the House is controlled by the GOP. It’s an honor for a freshman legislator to carry a bill.

But the process ran into a political buzz saw in recent weeks, a collision that discredits both parties and hurts Kansans.

The Hutchinson News recently reported that Ryckman would no longer allow Democrats to carry bills. That made Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward of Wichita angry.

“The speaker’s throwing a temper tantrum,” Ward told the newspaper.

House Republicans tell a slightly different story. They say Democrats had turned a ceremonial duty into something more political, sometimes contradicting committee decisions while carrying bills on the floor. The GOP found that unacceptable.

Ryckman apparently is still willing to consider Democrats as bill-carriers, but he wants to make decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Cutting out Democrats is churlish and unnecessary. House Republicans should ensure both parties are involved in carrying legislation.

Ryckman has a unique responsibility to de-escalate whatever tension exists in Topeka. He’s the speaker of the entire House, not just one party. He should involve minority Democrats as much as possible.

That will be especially important this week. The House is expected to take up an override of Gov. Sam Brownback’s shameful veto of Medicaid expansion in Kansas, perhaps as early as Monday. Ryckman should do everything he can to ensure that debate is open and fair.

Kansas lawmakers are still staring down a long list of significant, difficult decisions. The Legislature should not waste time on petty partisan disputes over which party carries legislation on the floor.

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