Subverting Democracy at the Kansas Legislature

Last week saw some incredible acts in the Kansas Legislature, some expected of a partisan legislative leadership, some shocking in their brazen flouting of the democratic process. Read on for the details.

This Tuesday in the Kansas Legislature marks the date when any bill created in one chamber must clear that chamber and go to the other. Bills originating in the House, must clear the House and go to the Senate, and vice versa. Halfway point, sort of. As a result, today and tomorrow will be marathon days in the Legislature, as they try to pass bills willy nilly to get them on the books.

Turnaround, as this is called, is just one of the many byzantine processes and regulations that govern how the Legislature works. Some of them are just procedural, a way to make a complex process more manageable. But other methods, (see bundling, and gut and go) and the way they are implemented, can be egregious, and in some cases, involve a despicable subversion of the democratic process.

Last week saw two such instances perpetrated by the Legislature on the Kansas people.

House Education gut and go on unpopular bill

In the House Committee on Education, the subterfuge was breathtaking. On a day when the only item on the agenda (see Wed the 17th) was a dry talk on the History of Education, the Committee Leadership (Rep. Ron Highland (R) and Rep. Jerry Lunn (R)) planned a brazen move to cut out any debate on one of their pet bills. For three or four years, extremists have been railing against the Common Core education standards. Whatever you've heard, these are strong, ambitious academic standards created, not by the Federal Government as some black helicopter/personal data-stealing/dumbing down of America scheme, but created by a consortium of states, including Kansas, to take us to a high level of achievement that No Child Left Behind could not reach. They tried last year, in HB 2292, but it drew strong opposition in hearings and never was passed.

Well, on Wednesday last week, after the "dry talk" turned out to be a firebrand screed against Common Core, the leadership brought up this year's anti-Common Core bill, HB 2676. It is more extreme than last year's bill, and had not been scheduled for a hearing, surely because they expected it to fail as all the others have. Here's what they did. In a move called a "Gut and go," the leadership took last year's bill, HB 2292, gutted it by removing all the language from it, and inserted this year's bill language instead. The result, last year's bill number with this year's unheard content. Announcing over opposition from moderates on the committee that this bill did not need a hearing, because it had "been heard last year," Chair Highland moved to pass the new bill out of Committee. To make matters even shadier, two members of the committee had been "temporarily" replaced for the day, with other members who would, one presumes, be more likely to vote to forward the bill. It passed out on a voice vote and now will be considered on the House floor. 

To be clear. Afraid of what a public hearing, which is required by law, would do to their pet bill, they subverted the democratic process, denied the people of Kansas a public hearing, and passed the bill out without ever having heard proponents or opponents. Here is a letter from the Kansas PTA about their plans, now impeded, to testify against this bill.

This was just one of the dubious actions taken last week by these reactionaries on the Committee on Education. They also edited the language of an upstanding bill supporting ethnic studies and turned it into an isolationist, racist bill. And they pushed forward a bill mandating sex education be "opt in" at every Kansas school, virtually ensuring that few Kansas children will receive critical, unbiased health information.

Senate Judiciary amends bill with another bill

In the Kansas Senate, in the Committee on the Judiciary pulled a similar trick, taking a bill about various procedural issues in the Kansas Courts, SB 440, and amending ti to add the language of another bill, SB 439, which created new reasons to impeach Supreme Court Justices that include lines like "attempting to subvert fundamental laws and introduce arbitrary power;" and "attempting to usurp the power of the legislative or executive branch of government;" but staying just short of, "because the governor doesn't like how they rule in cases."

Again, an unheard bill tacked on to an existing bill, this time as an "amendment," in order to hoodwink the Kansas people and get an unvetted bill onto the books.

Kansas deserves better

Too many voters, too many Kansans, don't understand what is going on in Topeka. But that isn't an excuse. They deserve better. They deserve representation that looks out for them, not for lobbyists or think tanks. They deserve leadership that protects them, not leadership that bows to the Governor's beliefs.

This is pandering and fear. The Governor and his allies in the Kansas Legislature are indulging their fundamentalist fantasies of a state where the poor have no voice, where the sick go away, and the elderly shuffle off. They appeal to the basest fears, fear of people who are different, fear of people who know to much, fear of the unknown.

Kansas deserves better. We deserve courage and leadership, not this underhanded, craven form of government.

This upcoming election will be a referendum on these ideas. From the Presidential race, highlighted by a trumped up reality star appealing to America's insecurities, to our critical state races, where we expect these extremist legislators to tell half truths and spin voters right around to show them scary pictures of what might be.

Join us this year. Pledge to vote, and then pledge to do more than vote.

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