The Kansas House finished organizational business Tuesday by overwhelmingly voting to adopt procedural rules raising questions about the chamber's dedication to improving transparency.
The vote in the Republican-led House was a foregone conclusion, but more about one-third of Democrats opposed the set of rules applicable to the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions. The vote was 104-15 in favor of imposing the new rules.
"We have seen significant progress in transparency issues," said Rep. Blaine Finch, an Ottawa Republican. "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good."
The revised rules required so-called "gut-and-go" amendments, which allow lawmakers to replace all content of a bill and give it a whole new meaning, must be recorded in House committee minutes. The amended rules in the 125-member House also raised to 70 the number of votes required to force floor debate on a bill.
In addition, the tweaked rules reduced the ability of legislators or lobbyists to conceal their introduction of bills. The chamber included an amendment allowing women to breast feed their children on the House floor.
Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said he voted against the package because it didn't honor the desire of Kansans for meaningful steps toward a transparent legislative process. He said, for example, a rule should require votes in House committees to be recorded in the minutes. Instead, House committee chairs retained authority to decide how to document votes.
"With these rules," Ward said, "the Kansas House remains one of the least transparent democratically elected chambers in the country."
Some members of the House and Senate have resisted movement away from unrecorded voice votes because they didn't want to create a deeper personal legislative history that might haunt them when seeking re-election.
Decisions made by representatives on each committee should be formally recorded, the information retained and made readily available to the public, said Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat who voted against the amended rules.
"It's time we moved into the 21st century and tell our constituents how we voted on issues of the day," Carmichael said.