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The laborious work of a chairman

Friday was the halfway mark in this year's legislative session. The first two days of the week were filled with very long committee meetings trying to get all the bills worked before the deadlines. The last three days were extended days of floor debate on all the House bills that had passed out of committees.

The bills that pass out of the House will be sent to the Senate for consideration, and the Senate bills will now come to the House.

After "turnaround," the process begins anew. Many bills that stirred the most controversy will not be discussed again this year. The bills that passed the House or Senate now, however, have more statewide attention because they are still alive. Bills will be assigned to committees; if they pass out of committee, the bills will be worked on the floor. When a bill is passed by both houses, it still has to be signed by the governor.

I have been asked, "What is the importance of being a chairman?" Bills are assigned to my Education Budget Committee by the speaker of the House. Normally, they are related to education. I have had bills about school transportation, pharmacy loan forgiveness, the school finance formula, military pupil count and many others.

The chairman has the power to decide whether or not they will hear a bill. "Hearing a bill" means that the bill will be read in committee and any proponent or opponent may testify for or against it. The testimony has to be written, and copies are provided to each member of the committee.

"Working the bill" is the next step in the process. A committee chairman has the right to decide whether or not a bill will be worked. If I decide I want to work a bill, only the committee can now comment on their desire to pass it to the floor for a vote of the full house, or to vote it down. Committee members also can make amendments to the bill to make it a stronger piece of legislation. After all committee members have had a chance to fully vet the bill, then I can bring it to a vote. The chairman only votes when there is a tie. My vote is the tiebreaker -- yes, the bill goes on, or no, the bill dies.

In my Education Budget Committee, we were assigned 17 budgets to "Hear" and then to "Work." For each budget, there is an agency request and a recommendation from the governor for what he plans to fund in his budget. Our committee listens to the agency one day and the next day makes recommendations or amendments. After we pass them out, the budgets go to the full Appropriations Committee.

The most time-consuming and arduous task I have in the Legislature is presenting these budgets to Appropriations. The K-12 budget is more than $3 billion, and I am expected to know where all that money goes. I do have the help of a legislative aide who does any research I request and who knows the budget inside out. I can refer to her whenever a question comes up that I am unsure of.

Two weeks ago, the six Regents universities presented their budgets in my committee. It is so interesting to hear these college presidents discuss their budgets and their innovative programs.

Being a committee chair is a lot more work, but it gives me a better opportunity to discuss the issues important to northwest Kansas.

Ward Cassidy, R-St. Francis, represents the 120th District in the Kansas House of Representatives. ward.cassidy@house.ks.gov