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SPOTLIGHT
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Policymaking crosses paths with busywork

Published on -5/14/2013, 10:01 AM

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We are now at the point of the 2013 Kansas legislative session where the street of Responsible Public Policymaking intersects with another street, this one named Crowd Management.

And, we're at the point where we really don't know which of those streets has the right of way.

Responsible Public Policymaking involves putting together a budget, and possibly a tax plan that will allow the state to take care of its people, to provide education, public services, social welfare and such.

The street named Crowd Management? That's basically keeping legislators -- most of the 165 lawmakers aren't involved in the actual assembly of budgets and taxes -- busy, or, at least out of trouble.

As simple as that sounds, by this time of the session, we're down to the leadership and the six members of the two key conference committees -- Tax and Budget -- who are producing the product to keep the rest of the members occupied.

It's the three House and three Senate members on the conference committees -- a dozen legislators -- who are working or not working on reports that will be sent to the House and Senate for yes or no votes. There's no amending a conference committee report under legislative rules. So, it's up or down.

Reject a report, and it goes back to the conference committee for adjustments that will pick up the votes to approve it. It's bargaining and negotiating by each chamber's conferees -- what each team believes its chamber will approve. It takes time, lots of staff work, and meanwhile, lawmakers not involved in the deal-making are ... well, at loose ends.

They're generally not learning crafts, say embroidery or small engine repair. They're sitting around, either on the House and Senate floors or in their offices and hallways until they've told everyone the same joke at least twice.

This is part of the job that most legislators earned by sending out mail, going to coffees and public meetings and sweating on your doorstep last fall to win. Not exactly what you tend to think about when you vote for a senator or representative, is it?

But that's how it happens, and while legislators are waiting for a chance to vote on those reports that will wrap up the session, and hopefully make public policy that works for the state and for their constituents, there are critics out there who don't know how the Legislature actually works, griping about dragging out the session and getting paid while there's not a lot of result to show every day.

Not a real pretty picture of democracy in action. But that's how it plays out in the last few days of the Legislature. There's waiting, and then there's balancing the boredom of waiting for getting the state's business done, even when you can hear the sound of a lawmaker jangling his/her car keys in their pockets.

That's how it goes.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report. To learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit www.hawvernews.com.

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