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

Hawver: Politically Red-Hot Issue

 

Kansas Political Columnist Martin Hawver
Kansas Political Columnist Martin Hawver

Brand new Gov. Laura Kelly has gotten one of her most politically red-hot issues introduced into the Legislature, printed out, and ready for the scrap over financing K-12 public schools in Kansas.

 

Her bill, that she told (warned?) lawmakers about at her State of the State address pumps another $93 million into state aid for public schools, apparently the amount needed to get the Kansas Supreme Court grinning about adequate financing of public education.

And, now that those bills are printed up nicely, we’ll see just how long it takes either the House or the Senate to start considering them. So far, it appears that legislative leaders want to make sure that the ink is good and dry before they start handling the bills.

Key to that Kelly initiative is that about $93 million has been penciled out as the amount of new spending for schools that the Supreme Court has determined to be adequate. It has a lot to do with past years’ legislative action which didn’t significantly increase funding, which didn’t keep up with inflation. Inflation is a big deal when you’re spending more than $5 billion a year to help finance local public schools. A percent or two, and you’re talking real money.

Her bill puts in that $93 million in additional spending for schools this year, as the court wants. Don’t go reading through the bill for a $93 million-line item. It’s fairly obscure and deals with increasing the base state aid per pupil, and this year, as the court wants.

Now, the governor thinks paying the money, essentially settling more than two decades of school finance lawsuits, is smart. And it meshes with her aim to increase school funding.

The Legislature’s Republican leadership generally takes three tracks. One is that it’s the Legislature that decides how much money to spend, not the court; another is that legislators are spending a lot of their constituents’ money on schools now, and the third is, of course, that lawmakers have other places to spend the money.

Oh, and while it’s early in the session, Attorney General Derek Schmidt would like the Legislature to act quickly on the bill, because he’s got an April 25 date to show the Supreme Court that the state has remedied the shortcomings of the school finance issue, and a May 9 date for oral arguments before the court to deliver the answer.

And time in the generally slow legislative process is important to Schmidt.

If he shows up with a new law that ponies up the money, that makes things easier.  He could almost just ask for a receipt from the court and have time for a nice lunch on May 9. Maybe something that goes with wine…

Or, the Legislature could dunk Kelly’s bill, just not passing it, cutting the amount of the new spending, or coming up with some new idea that lawmakers hope the court will buy.

That is also something that Schmidt would like to know as quickly as possible.

Because he represents the state, not just the Legislature, he’s going to have to figure out how to explain what the Legislature did, why it did it, and why it will adequately finance schools. Oh, and there’s always the chance the Legislature will come up with a plan that the governor vetoes. That makes the water a little deeper…

So, while we’re watching taxes and voting rights and possibly expansion of Medicaid and all the other partisan scraps, you might want to spend a little time wondering about schools. You won’t be alone…

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

Hawver: Sounds Good

By Martin Hawver

Ever look at one of those new computer programs that sounds good? Like the ones to let you know whether the dog has jumped the fence? Or whether the cat is comfortable? Who doesn’t want that?

Well, after you hit the button and enter your credit card number, you get the chance to read a dozen pages of small type that are “terms and conditions.”

The Legislature doesn’t generally quickly hit the “agree” button, and this year, more than many years, there is a chance lawmakers aren’t going to hit that button on the governor’s budget.

Yes, the governor’s State of the State address sounded pretty good. More money for schools to finally get the state out of the lawsuit asserting that it isn’t “adequately” funding public schools, to protect the safety and security of children, and to swipe less money from the Kansas Department of Transportation so it can get back to building or at least improving the safety of roads and bridges.

That’s the program most of us want on our phones and computers, and generally in Kansas.

Those “terms and conditions” to get that program were explained in the budget that Gov. Laura Kelly presented on Thursday, and there are fingers on the “do not accept” button.

Key, of course, is her proposal to refinance the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System (KPERS), which those fun-loving actuaries say is “actuarially underfunded” by essentially stretching by 30 years the payments to make it “actuarially funded.”

That stretching of the state’s payments, as one does with a mortgage or car loan, will solve the problem, but at an interest cost that is large. That interest cost upsets conservatives, but the state doesn’t have the money to pay cash and stretching the payments by re-amortizing the fund eventually gets it to the place actuaries say it should be.

That refinancing of KPERS? It frees up millions of dollars now that can be used to settle the K-12 school finance problem that the Kansas Supreme Court seems very serious about and may reduce by about $100 million the money that is swept from the Kansas Department of Transportation budget so it can improve our transportation system.

Oh, and it also frees up money for Kelly’s insistence (that got her elected governor rather than conservative Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach?) that the state expand Medicaid (KanCare) health services to about 150,000 more poor Kansans and their children.

Republicans, who by numbers control the Legislature, don’t want that. They say it will cost the state too much money and it is a child of the “ObamaCare” Affordable Care Act that they oppose.

But, looking at Kelly’s one-year budget (rather than two-year, or biennial, budget that was thought up by former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback), it’s the KPERS refinancing that makes it work.

So, we’ll get conservatives who don’t want to refinance KPERS working to rile the 100,000 KPERS pension recipients and the 152,000 Kansans who are paying into the system to battle the governor and her supporters.

And, we’ll see whether parents of schoolchildren who want schools to stay open side with the governor since the KPERS savings will be used to meet Supreme Court orders on school finance. We’ll also maybe see roadbuilders who get more work by cutting the swiping of highway money decide that 30 years is about right for KPERS financing.

This might be interesting this year. Now, where’s the dog, and is the cat happy?

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

At the Rail – Martin Hawver

By Martin Hawver

By this time the new legislators have adjusted their chairs on the House and Senate floors and are

Martin Hawver, Columnist
Martin Hawver

presumably ready for business.

Which means, well, we’ll see when business starts. Could be a couple weeks, by which time lawmakers have met each other, learned about their families and pets, or whether the dramatically fast—Thursday—release of Gov. Laura Kelly’s budget for the upcoming year or two lights the fuse.

The weeks since Kelly has been governor-elect have yielded what most would consider relatively pro forma assertions that Kelly is going to “repair” the policies of the past eight years led by Gov. Sam Brownback and then Gov. Jeff Colyer. And mostly conservative Republican leadership responses have been that nearly everything Kelly wants to do costs money and threatens the budget—and possibilities of tax cuts.

***

Luckily for the governor and Legislature, there appears to be no dramatic catastrophe that requires first-week action by the state government, no bridge collapse, no wildfire, no flooding.  But the less-headlined issues ranging from care for children to school funding and health care for the poor are looming and will require administration/legislative action this session. Defining the problems will be the key to solutions, and those definitions and their costs are going to be the major issues for the session.

By week’s end, the dissection of Kelly’s budget will have started in both chambers, with her new Cabinet expected to have its input and changes to recommend. And, some issues, such as care for jeopardized children, don’t appear to have simple solutions because of the complexity of the agencies designed to protect them.

***

Much of what happens in this first dance will be under-the-covers, not generally reported and practically more complicated than most Kansans who have jobs to perform and families and children to provide for will notice. But those complex internal issues will impact just how the state provides for us.

For example, the House will this week adopt rules for the upcoming two years.

Rules? That’s a big deal? Sure, there’s no smoking or drinking in the House chamber, and you must be polite and not interfere with democracy. Behave.

But there are provisions—like whether sponsors of bills have to be named, or whether bills can be introduced by a committee, or whether committees will keep track of votes on amendments and such—that aren’t in writing and may or may not be.

Then there’s the big rule dealing with bills that make appropriations, and how they can be amended during floor debate. Now, if a House member wants to spend more money on something than the House Appropriations Committee approved, that member must propose cuts somewhere in the bill to keep its price tag at committee-approved levels…if the state’s general fund ending balance for the year is less than 7.5%.

We’ll see how that works out, and while it is not likely to spark dinner-table discussions in most homes in Kansas—we hope—it is a major decision that will influence deciding how to spend your tax money, and on what.

***

So, we probably have a couple or three weeks of debate ahead, generally not committed to legislation, about just where the state is going to head for the first year or two of the Kelly/Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers administration, and just how cooperative or combative the Legislature is going to be.

A couple House floor votes on Kelly-sought bills and we will have an idea about how state government is going to work for us.

Because, recall, state government works for us…

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

Hawver: At the Rail – Week of December 24

OK, it’s the holidays, which means cheer, gifts, family gatherings…and starting to figure out what scraps the Kansas Legislature is going to have in its upcoming session, who is on which committees, how the tilt looks on those committees, and what issues we’re likely to see starting at noon on Jan. 14.

Kansas Political Columnist Martin Hawver
Kansas Political Columnist Martin Hawver

Yes, there are gifts to be opened, dinners to cook, pets to keep away from the Christmas tree, and all that…plus preparing for New Year’s Eve celebrations.

But for a group of Kansans, the holidays mean time to figure out just what is possible from this session’s Legislature.

It’s going to be tricky. There are brand new members who are going to learn that life in the Statehouse probably isn’t what they thought it was when they were sweating on the doorsteps of voters in August.

And there are returning members who are going to be sizing up those new members to see whether they can scooch them from one position to another on issues and convince them that it’s possible—often good politics—to trade votes on issues so both have something to carry home to their constituents.

Atop all that legislative shuffling with new committees and new members, there’s Democrat Gov. Laura Kelly. She’s still putting together her cadre of Cabinet secretaries, making sure that they will be supportive of her positions on issues, and can find a way to carry them out.

Oh, and then there are those new Cabinet secretaries who are going to have to hire their top-level staffers—and make those very important decisions on which staffers they inherit, who though not part of the campaign, have the technical and management skills to make sure that the agencies operate fairly and efficiently.

Over the holidays, Kelly is going to have to make a major decision on the upcoming budget.

Should a Democrat governor with a House and Senate run by Republicans offer up the former Gov. Sam Brownback-era two-year (biennial) budget, or should she propose a conventional one-year budget, which might politically give her a little more focused negotiation on just how the state is going to spend taxpayers’ money?

And there’s that new House committee that was established for the upcoming session, the Rural Revitalization Committee. It’s going to study specific rural development issues as the state’s rural population shrinks. There are issues out there that probably aren’t as thoroughly considered as they might be, but there’s also the background issue—reapportionment in 2022.

Beef up the rural areas, make it easier for those western Kansans and their children to stay at home, for businesses to have broadband access and find a way to keep schools open, and that remap of House and Senate districts ahead might just have a different outcome.

There’s lots of work to be done in the next three weeks, while most of us wonder when they’ll be able to use that new Christmas snow thrower on the driveway, or whether you can convince yourself that you can actually cook with one of those new air fryers that let you see through the plastic while the chicken browns.

So, while most Kansans have a holiday week ahead, there is intense work being done by those folks you elected back in November. They’ve fought for the right to represent you and start trying to figure out how to do to that.

Might just keep that in mind as you run into legislators at events over the next week or so…

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

Hawver: At the Rail: Christmas Season

The Christmas season is here, and just as it is every year when a new, different-party governor takes office, state employees will wonder whether they’ll have jobs after the holidays—or Inauguration Day on Jan. 14, to be more precise.

OK, we can figure that by the time she takes the oath of office, and no longer has that “Gov.-elect” before her name, Laura Kelly will have replaced probably all or most of the 11 Cabinet secretaries appointed by either Gov. Sam Brownback or his successor, Gov. Jeff Colyer. That’s simple.

Oh, there may be some delays, but practically, if you are a Brownback/Colyer-knighted secretary, you might not want to go car-shopping this holiday season or might want to consider whether you’ll be able to afford move-ups from synthetic-to-wool or wool-to-(enter the percentage)-cashmere sweaters for the spouse.

So far (up to this past weekend), Kelly has been quiet about the new Cabinet members she will appoint. She’s got a chief of staff to keep the names straight and sent a group of transition advisers to meet with those current secretaries to see just what they do, but there are no names written down that a reporter wouldn’t have to kick in a door or bust a window to see.

Oh, and those new Cabinet secretaries are going to get to hire their own chiefs of staff and assistants and public relations offices, which ought to take care of appreciation of campaign leaders and contributors as in all change-over election cycles.

But the real issue for the thousands of state employees who do the real work for the state and generally don’t have business cards and stationery is going to be what Kelly does in the way of Civil Service for state employees. Those Civil Service jobs are generally done behind counters where they hand out driver’s licenses or help the public with tax returns or in a frequently windowless back office make sure that Kansans get the services they pay taxes for.

Kansas has gone through the Republican-managed years with steady reductions in the number of Civil Service workers. That Civil Service is a protection for workers and most importantly protects their jobs as long as they are doing their assigned jobs. Do the job right, and under Civil Service, you can’t be fired because you have a bumper sticker on your car that is different than the stickers on the car of your politically appointed boss. Do the job right without Civil Service and you can be fired or not promoted with little or no performance issue.

The Brownback years offered pay raises for Civil Service workers who gave up those protections, including hearings during which a firing or being bypassed for an advancement can be challenged.

During the now-ending Republican administration, thousands of state workers who hadn’t seen raises in several years traded that job protection for raises of 2.5% for workers who changed from Civil Service to at-will employees. Not a bad deal if you were liked by your supervisor, but for those who wanted the basic protection of fair practices in employment matters, it essentially became an insurance premium in the form of a lower wage to hold on to those protections.

Don’t look for those abandon-Civil-Service raises to continue. And, we’ll watch how the Kelly administration deals with basic job protections for workers who took the 2.5% raise-bait to see their job security based on whom they worked for, not the job they did.

We’re still waiting to see who become Cabinet secretaries under Kelly’s administration, but we’re also waiting to see what happens to the thousands of workers who park at the back of the lots farthest from the building…

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

Hawver: And They’re Off

By Martin Hawver

Well, they’re now officially off to the campaign.

That’s basically what happened this weekend, with the annual summer Democratic convention getting the message that Sen. Laura Kelly, of Topeka, is going to be a candidate without the adrenalin of Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach and without the attacks on incumbents of independent candidate Greg Orman.

That’s the general message that Democratic insiders—those who are willing to spend two days on internal party activities—got this weekend in Wichita.

It’s a rather low-key, businesslike campaign Kelly promised, with emphasis on telling Kansans the policy choices she thinks they are likely to want, such as continued adequate financing of public schools, expanding access to health care to the poor through Medicaid (KanCare) expansion, and less cumbersome access to ballots.

A lot didn’t happen at Demofest in Wichita. There was no public endorsement of Kelly by the two most prominent candidates who fought her for the gubernatorial nomination. Former Wichita (that’s hometown) Mayor Carl Brewer and former Rep./Kansas Secretary Agriculture Josh Svaty didn’t show up for that classic “we lost, and we support Kelly” photograph that would have sealed the party support for Kelly. Might have been that she won so dramatically, with Kelly’s 52% of the Democratic primary vote to Brewer’s 20 percent and Svaty’s 18 percent.

But the clear message that Kelly sent—in her effort to create that “Blue Tide” for Democrats to boost their number on the public payroll—is that she’s going to talk about running Kansas government. She’s talking basic duties of government, not flashy issues like immigration or driving around in Jeeps with machine guns on them, as does Kobach, or just tossing out experienced public workers and administrators, as is Orman.

That might make the fall interesting because Kansans tend to be—and like to remind others—that they are businesslike. Take care of the basic state government obligations to its citizens. That’s the job of the governor.

But, does that sell, err, get votes?

The gubernatorial campaign took an expected but so far relatively un-definable step last week when Orman was granted a slot on the November ballot. He’s talked about the “insiders” of the two major political parties running the government, leaving the unaffiliated, or maybe just not very interested, at their will. It’s been mostly Republicans in recent years with that control, but he’s not assessed very publicly just what a governor without the backing of either of the largest groups of voters can accomplish.

And Kobach has continually talked about the Supreme Court—not elected legislators—determining just what is “adequate” in state aid for K-12 schools from border to border, high property valuation, and low property valuation districts.

Kobach’s incessant campaign slamming what he calls loose immigration policy hasn’t really been defined for those who in urban areas need roofs reshingled, or in rural areas fences built, and in the livestock industry cattle reduced to pan-sized cuts of meat. Yes, those are industries in which immigration is economically necessary.

So, does Kelly turn the basic business of government into a key issue that will see Kansans look for a journeyman governor who knows from the inside—and the budget—just how state government works? It’s going to put a new, very basic, not-flashy platform before voters. And the real issue is, will it sell?

Now there are other Democrats on the ballot seeking statewide positions—insurance commissioner, treasurer, secretary of state—but those aren’t jobs that tend to galvanize voters. Anyone leave your car out in the heat to vote for state treasurer?

This may become a relatively dull, technical campaign. Or…not…

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