After The Star’s 2017 series on the unhealthy and unusual secretiveness of state government in Kansas, lawmakers promised to make the legislative system more open and transparent.
But as the new session opens this week, Republican House leaders insist that even some of the “easy” fixes may be too difficult for them to make.
They sound skeptical about requiring lawmakers to put their names on the bills they write. And skeptical, too, about banning a maneuver called “gut and go.” Which could just as easily be called “bait and switch,” because it can completely change the substance of a piece of legislation at the last minute.
“The way it was explained to me when I first got here,” said Rep. Tom Phillips, the House assistant majority leader, “is that you didn’t want to put your name on a bill because of ‘gut and go.’”
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That makes sense up to a point. You wouldn’t want to put your name on a bill pushing a policy you love, only to watch it turned into one you don’t support.
But isn’t the answer to do away with “gut and go”?
Maybe, Phillips said, “but the reality is that sometimes at the end of a session, we need to get a bill through’’ that’s already passed in the Senate, “so you take a shell, take out the contents,” and replace them. “It’s a tool.’’
One that itself needs to be replaced, however.
In a meeting with The Star’s editorial board, House Speaker Ron Ryckman said there would be “unintended consequences” if members started putting their names on bills.
He too meant that no one wants to be stuck with his or her name on something very different than intended.
Getting rid of “gut and go,” would cut both ways, Ryckman warned, noting that there was only a real debate on Medicaid expansion last year because lawmakers used that move to replace another piece of legislation with language from a Medicaid expansion bill that hadn’t gotten out of committee.
Other states manage to function without such last-minute switches.
House Majority Leader Don Hineman said in an email that, “Regarding member’s names on bills, I favor the approach that Speaker Ryckman initiated when he was Chair of Appropriations Committee. He required…that all bill introduction requests be recorded in the meeting minutes.” That’s better than no footprints in the snow, but still doesn’t give Kansans easy access to that information.
Hineman also said that if “gut and go” were “unilaterally eliminated it could lead to legislative stalemate, without any way to finish out a session. If we consider alternatives, we must be certain that the process they create will allow the Legislature to continue to perform and finish its work.”
If? Democratic Rep. Cindy Holscher, of Overland Park says, “We’re legislators; we could find a solution.”
“We’re going to keep pushing,” she said, but the system’s current opacity “starts at the top, with the governor.” As long as that’s Sam Brownback, there’s no reason to think that’s going to change.
And last week, Brownback made clear that he’ll be governor until the phone rings. On Monday, Brownback was renominated to become ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, and now the process that has already dragged on since July starts all over again.