Kansas Political Columnist Martin Hawver

Hawver: Parliamentary Break Dancing

Martin Hawver
Martin Hawver

Time was when, with a little parliamentary break dancing, 63 votes ran the 125-member Kansas House of Representatives.  Something about a “majority of a quorum,” and more broadly majority rule.

Well, not sure that works anymore, this majority rule business that you explain to your kids.

The House this year passed a rule that requires 70 votes to pull a bill out of a committee to the House floor for possible debate. Oh, and it takes another70 votes to override leadership of the chamber to set the bill for debate and eventually a final action vote that either passes the bill to the Senate or kills it.

Used to take a simple majority of 63 to get a bill on the calendar for debate, and then 63 again to pass it. It now takes 70 votes to get to the point where 63 passes a bill.

Now, if it’s a bill that is popular, or politically advantageous, there’s generally no problem to have hearings in a committee which can consider, possibly amend, and then forward the measure to the full House. Majority rule isn’t a big deal when a bill is either popular or relatively inconsequential in the operation of the state.

Another distinctive license plate for members of a group or club that members pay a premium for? As long as it isn’t a flashy distinctive license plate for parolees, or maybe actuaries, there’s generally no real problem.

But say…that members of the House have a bill that would–let’s just use as an example–expand Medicaid in the state to about 150,000 relatively low-income Kansans. The governor likes it, the folks running the House generally don’t.

That bill is in a House committee, and its future isn’t very solid, and it just might take an extraordinary action to pull the bill out of committee and forward it to the calendar and to a floor debate and vote.

Of course, there are some reasons that just pulling a bill out of committee complicates the mechanics of the House, getting the debate calendar updated, giving members of the House a chance to familiarize themselves with the issue and maybe to draw up amendments to it that they might want. Getting ready for, a debate even on a relatively simple bill can be time-consuming, and that’s why it might not look like it from the street, but legislating isn’t simple.

Now, we’re not going to hear much about that rule until it gets to an issue like debating Medicaid expansion. So far much of the discussion of the new House has been focused on making sure everyone with Internet access can scan through committee minutes to see who actually thought up a bill and who introduced it and how everyone on the committee voted on its amendments and passed the bill out of committee. It’s that transparency stuff that few folks have the time or maybe bandwidth to spend their time on.

Once a bill gets to the floor of either House or Senate, the votes are widely made public.  But it’s that in-committee stuff that has drawn a lot of attention while the decision to hold or pass a bill out of committee is still largely that of the chair. The chairman can just not ask for a vote to pass a bill to the full House, or if things don’t look good from the chair’s viewpoint, can adjourn the meeting with just a rap of the gavel.

This might be a year that rules determine what happens to major legislation.

By Martin Hawver

Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report—to learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit the website at www.hawvernews.com