Winter Storm Q was a welcome event in our home with little boys wanting some serious sledding time, and they have been enjoying the snow and trying to make the best of their opportunity. I hope everyone in your family kept safe and warm on Thursday and Friday and is now successfully digging out of the snow. Do be sure to be safe in your travels on Monday and Tuesday when the next round is expected.
The inclement weather was bad enough that it not only closed schools and businesses but closed the legislature, a rare occurrence. As a result, committee hearings and debates on bills got pushed back which will make this upcoming week even busier than it was going to be. We also have the possibility existing this week that we also may lose time with the upcoming storm.
Friday is still “Turnaround”. Turnaround is the halfway point of the session in which most bills need to be passed out of the originating house. As a result of the compact schedule, I wouldn’t be surprised if we have some longer sessions into the evening later in the week.
Earlier in the week, we did take a few non-controversial votes, which I list later in this newsletter. However, as a result of the shortened week, I thought I would use this newsletter to describe the legislative process a bit more in detail, as many might not understand the long road a bill must take in order to become law.
Before I do that, however, I do want to take a moment to remember House Sergeant-At-Arms Wayne Owen. At the end of last week, long time House Sergeant-At-Arms Wayne Owen passed away after 11 years of service to the House. Frequent statehouse visitors remember Wayne as the always smiling gentleman greeting them as they entered the House chamber. Wayne’s many duties included protecting the members of the House and ensuring that guests complied with House rules. The House met early on Tuesday to allow members to attend his funeral and comfort his family. The Sergeant-At-Arms position is appointed by the Speaker of the House.
During our service in Topeka, we meet a lot of wonderful people during the course of our jobs, and it is one of the most rewarding parts of serving. We will all miss Wayne.
**SPRING PRIMARY REMINDER**
Tuesday is the primary for Spring elections. With the anticipated storm, you can vote early at the election office Monday until noon. For more information, you can go to the Johnson County Election Office website for more information.
THE LEGISLATIVE PROCESS
Many times, constituents will ask me why it takes so long to get good legislation passed, or why a bill can get stuck at some point during the process. There are many political reasons why a bill moves along or doesn’t move along. One reason is that the process is simply a long one, and at any point along the path a bill can get log-jammed. At this point, it takes a good amount of inertia to get it freed again.
Below, I will describe the step-by-step process for a bill to become law. For purposes of this example, let’s assume the bill was introduced in the House.
Drafting a bill begins with a visit to the Revisor’s office. Even when a Legislator has a bill written, it must first makes its way through the Revisor’s to ensure that all statutes are addressed and the product is in the form needed. The Revisor of Statutes’s office helps us out considerably in this process, but with 165 legislators, many of whom have multiple bills, this is a time consuming process. You can find out more about the Revisor’s of Statutes here.
- The bill is introduced in the House and is given a number which corresponds to the type of bill and the house of origin. (HB2013, for example, would be a normal house bill.)
- The Speaker of the House then refers the bill to a committee or in some cases, more than one committee. (A double referral is a tactic sometimes used to slow down or kill a bill.)
- The committee that receives the bill then can have a hearing on the bill at the discretion of the chair of that committee. Many bills don’t ever even receive a hearing for a combination of reasons including time, prerogative of the chair, the level of support the bill is expected to have, etc. It is at this step that many bills die.
- After a bill has a hearing, the committee can then “work the bill” which means debating it, amending it, and voting on it to refer it out of committee for consideration for the the full body. Not all bills that receive hearings are “worked”. At some point, the committee then can reject the bill, approve the bill as is, or approve it as amended – the latter two steps forwards it to the floor of the House. One exception to this is a procedure to pull a bill “stuck in committee” to the floor, but the procedure has a very high bar to clear and is rarely used.
- Once the bill reaches the floor, it then is debated in what is called the “Committee of the Whole”. Basically, think of it as the whole house, but in a format where it is debated and amended before being recommended for passage. At this point, many different things can happen from forwarding the bill on as is, to amendments, to being sent back to committee, and other motions as well. For example, a large bill can be split into several parts. This floor process can often last a long time particularly on legislation that is controversial or complicated in nature such as the budget.
- Once the bill emerges from the “Committee of the Whole”, the bill is then voted on by the House in what is termed “Final Action”. If the bill is rejected, it dies. If the bill passes, it is forwarded on to the Senate.
Senate / Conference Committee / Final Passage Phase
- At this point in the process, the bill must repeat steps House steps #1-6 (though it retains the same number). Due to the fact the makeup of committees in the Senate and the body as a whole can be and often is substantially different than the House, a bill can have a completely different fate in the other chamber. For this reason, often bills that pass one house never even get a hearing in the other much less a floor vote.
- Once the bill reaches the floor of the Senate, it can take one of three paths:
- If the Senate passes the bill exactly as the House passed it, it immediately goes to the Governor.
- If the Senate passes the bill in a different format, it then goes back to the House. The House can concur (agree) to those amendments at which point it goes to the Governor – this happened last year with the tax bill.
- Or, if the senate passes the bill in a different format, it then goes back to the House, and the House can move NOT to concur. In this case, the bill goes to a conference committee, composed of three members from each House (usually the committee chair, vice-chair, and ranking minority from the referring committee). If this happens, both chambers would have to adopt (or pass) the conference committee report. At that point, the bill finally goes to the Governor. A chamber can choose not to adopt the conference committee report which sends the bill back to the conference committee. Bills die here as well if an acceptable agreement can not be reached.
That long process is full of speed bumps and pitfalls that can slow down or kill a bill. For instance:
- Once the bill reaches the Governor, he can sign the bill, veto the bill, or simply allow it to become law without his signature.
- If he vetoes the bill, the bill then returns to the legislature which can override the veto with a 2/3 majority in both houses.
Of course, this long pathway doesn’t prevent legislation from being passed. Many bills, both good and bad, make it each year, however they are just a small percentage of what is introduced. In my opinion, there are several keys to getting a bill to advance:
- In the amendment process, a bill can be so adorned with amendments that the original author becomes frustrated as their purpose has been ruined or substantially altered.
- In the same amendment process, a bill can be completely gutted and replaced with a subject matter that had nothing to do with the original bill.
- It can languish without a vote even when it reaches the floor, because leadership or the authors don’t believe it has the votes to pass. In fact, very rarely do bills actually fail once they receive a vote on Final Action. Their demise usually takes place somewhere in the process prior to a final vote.
I hope that provides a good illustration of the long and winding road legislation must take in order to become part of Kansas law. Though this is sometimes frustrating, it is actually a good thing. It provides several “checkpoints” along the way thereby ensuring those in dissent have ample opportunity to have their voice heard.
- A committee chair, where a bill is referred, is in favor of it and thus can guide it through their particular committee.
- A bill is supported by a powerful interest group or coalition of groups or individuals thus providing it with the life support it needs even at points where other bills would have died.
- A bill is urgent to fix a problem that a consensus of legislators have agreed need to be fixed particularly if it’s to avoid a crisis of some kind. Bills of this nature can make it through the process very quickly.
At the end of the day, however, it really comes down to three numbers for most bills: 63, 21, and 1. 63 is a majority of the House, 21 is a majority of the Senate, and 1 is the Governor. In the case of a Constitutional amendment, it takes 84 and 27, and, while it doesn’t require the Governor’s signature, it then must pass by a vote of the people.
Once a bill reaches those thresholds, a bill will pass and become law. However, achieving those numbers AND the energy needed to drive it is very difficult. That difficulty is the essence of the legislative process.
Below is a list of the bills we passed this week:
HB 2035: This bill would update the requirements for becoming a licensed trade professional. Currently there are certain school hours requirements. To update the requirements for current market conditions, the measure changes from school hours to program hours to allow for hands on training to count.
On February 18th, the House passed HB 2035 by a vote of 117 to 2. I voted YES.
HB 2154: This bill would update license requirements for salons and barber shops regulated by the state. It would also remove the requirement from out of state licensees to have a high school diploma if they have a relevant license to work from another state.
On February 18th, the House passed HB 2154 by a vote of 119 to 0. I voted YES.
HB 2155: At the request of the Kansas Board of Cosmetology, the legislature passed a measure allowing for temporary licenses for tattoo artists and changes the length a license is valid from one year to two.
On February 18th, the House passed HB 2155 by a vote of 119 to 0. I voted YES.
HB 2130: To update elections law to ensure constitutionality, a petition circulator will no longer be required to be a qualified elector of the state.
On February 18th, the House passed HB 2130 by a vote of 118 to 1. I voted YES.
HB 2202: This bill would streamline emergency management in Kansas to relieve certain motor carrier restrictions automatically when the Governor issues an emergency declaration.
On February 20th, the House passed HB 2202 by a vote of 122 to 0. I voted YES.
HB 2122: Representatives from the Kansas Real Estate Commission and Realtors Association approached the legislature with this bill to update the authority of the commission to approve certain online education courses for the real estate license.
On February 20th, the House passed HB 2122 by a vote of 121 to 1. I voted YES.
HB 2125: Representatives from the Kansas Real Estate Commission and Relators Association testified in support of this bill which would raise the fees set for the real estate license which supports the commission’s functions. The fee would be increased by $50.
On February 20th, the House passed HB 2125 by a vote of 71 to 50. I voted NO. I oppose the raising of fees on the cost to do business.
HB 2140: This bill repeals outdated statues relating to the Midwestern Higher Education Compact.
On February 20th, the House passed HB 2140 by a vote of 122 to 0. I voted YES.
HB 2142: This bill would repeal outdated statutes regarding Unified School District land transfers.
On February 20th, the House passed HB 2142 by a vote of 122 to 0. I voted YES.
HB 2148: This bill would repeal outdated postsecondary scholarship programs which are no longer funded.
On February 20th, the House passed HB 2148 by a vote of 106 to 16. I voted YES.
HB 2149: This bill would repeal outdated statues regarding higher education loan programs.
On February 20th, the House passed HB 2149 by a vote of 108 to 14. I voted YES.
HB 2156: This bill would repeal outdated statutes regarding vocational school funding programs which no longer exist.
On February 20th, the House passed HB 2156 by a vote of 122 to 0. I voted YES.