TOPEKA — House Republican leaders moved to administratively improve transparency of bill introductions Monday by ordering committee chairs to record in meeting minutes who initiated legislation and to eventually feature that information on a public website.
Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, and Majority Leader Don Hineman, R-Dighton, said the changes require neither passage of legislation nor Gov. Sam Brownback to wade into the Legislature’s methods of operation. The alterations in the House were made unilaterally without concurrence of the Senate.
House and Senate Democrats are expected to unveil today a collection of government transparency reforms, including a proposal to require recorded committee votes on legislation and a ban on anonymous bills. Individual legislators also are working on bills designed to open up the political process.
Growth in so-called anonymous bills during the past several decades has enabled more legislators or lobbyists who introduced a measure to avoid public scrutiny. Some lawmakers have gone to great lengths to hide involvement in specific bills to circumvent potential voter backlash.
“We want to have the most open, fair process we can,” Ryckman said. “It’s important to leadership that we keep moving forward.”
He said House committee minutes would record the name of the person sponsoring a bill. In the past, such bills often were labeled as a “committee bill,” without a hint of the special-interest lobbyists or the legislators responsible for a piece of legislation.
Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat, said the Legislature ought to enshrine in state law a long list of reforms that open up Kansas government.
“I don’t want to discourage the speaker from taking immediate action. Is it good enough? Well, no, it needs to be in the law. Otherwise, it’s subject to change based on the whims of the leadership at any given time,” Carmichael said.
Hineman said the Legislature’s website eventually would shine a light on a procedure referred to as a “gut and go,” in which the bill number stays the same but contents of that measure are swapped out. The idea is to make clear, for example, when the House completely trashed contents of a legislator’s bill — not changing the bill number — to insert text on a different topic.
“An administrative solution is preferable to a legislative solution,” Hineman said. “To some extent, there’s a natural tension between transparency in the broad context and a system that actually functions the way it should. Gut and goes are an example. Some folks look at gut and goes as a distasteful practice that need to be abolished. If we do that, what do we replace that with?”
All committees of the Legislature are being live-streamed on the internet this session, while just three committee meeting rooms deployed that technology in the 2017 session. Proceedings on the Kansas House floor are now posted to YouTube, Ryckman said.