TOPEKA — Kansas House and Senate Democrats made the latest in a series of calls for transparency Tuesday with a list of policy proposals aimed at shining a light on Kansas government practices.
At a news conference, leaders introduced more than a dozen bills that would ban anonymous voting, open state records, tighten lobbying rules and ban “gut and go,” a practice that allows legislators to strike a bill that passed committee and replace it with another one during debate on the House or Senate floor.
“One of the cornerstones of democracy is the people’s right to observe their government in action, to watch their leaders make the laws that affect their lives, to judge and evaluate the work of those leaders, and that can only be done in the light of day,” House Minority Leader Jim Ward said.
Democrats’ proposals come as legislators in both parties push to make Kansas government more open and do away with long-criticized practices. Senators will consider a bipartisan bill aimed at shining a light on those lobbying the executive branch, and House Republicans proposed rule changes to make their chamber more transparent.
Ward pushed for legislators to write transparency rules into Kansas law rather than rely on leaders to impose rules. House Speaker Ron Ryckman, Olathe, and Majority Leader Don Hineman, Dighton, proposed transparency changes as modifications to the chamber’s rules.
“What the speaker can give in the back room of his office, he can take away just as easily,” Ward said. “When we put it in the law books, it’s much harder to change it when we change speakers or when it becomes tough because bills are on the floor you’re not in favor of.”
Ward said he and other Democrats had called for several policy proposals before. Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, Topeka, said Senate Democrats had demonstrated a priority on transparency by holding open caucus meetings.
Pushes for transparency have become widespread since the Kansas City Star published a series on secrecy in government, and Democrats cited the stories in their announcement.
Under the Democrats’ proposals, legislators' votes would be recorded on every issue brought before a committee or the House or Senate. Committee votes often are taken by voice, and individual legislators’ votes are not recorded.
Democratic Rep. Brett Parker, Overland Park, will carry the bill prohibiting anonymous votes.
“With recorded votes in committee and on the floor, concerned constituents will know which legislators to contact with their concerns,” Parker said. “If we are serious about transparency in this building, we need to end secret votes.”
‘Gut and go’
Democrats also proposed doing away with an often-criticized but commonly used procedure called “gut and go.” The practice allows a legislator to strip the contents of one bill on the floor of the House or Senate, replacing it with another.
In some cases, legislators can use the method to bring up bills that might not otherwise get a floor debate. Hineman questioned the wisdom of outlawing the gut and go.
“It does not conform to the spirit of the open legislative process, and when we start calling bills ‘vehicles’ and parking them so they can be used later as a gut and go bill, I think we have a problem,” said Rep. Jason Probst, Hutchinson.
Ward said he, too, had used “the tools in the toolbox” to bring up issues on the House floor.
“The overall goal of transparency demands that we have an accountability for where laws come from and ideas,” Ward said.
As an alternative, Democrats also proposed better tracking for where bills end up, which would reflect changes like a gut and go.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Democrat, proposed Friday a policy requiring anyone looking to influence the executive branch on a contract to register as a lobbyist. Now, individuals only have to register to push for action from legislators.
Hensley will co-sponsor the measure.
Democrats also suggested anyone stepping down from a state elected office be prohibited from lobbying for at least one year. Legislators in both parties have taken on lobbying jobs after leaving state office.
Lobbyists also will be prohibited from giving legislators tickets to events and buying them meals unless they are providing a meal to the entire Legislature.
Restrictions on agencies
Two bills Democrats’ proposed apparently were aimed at Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. One would prohibit the secretary of state from having a political action committee aimed at supporting a candidate. It also would prohibit the office holder from making donations to candidates.
Another bill would prohibit state office holders from holding another job. Kobach also works as a columnist for Breitbart News, a right-wing website, and as a private attorney.