TOPEKA — Republicans in the Kansas Senate proposed Wednesday to give the chamber’s top leader greater influence over shaping legislation as part of major changes following the first comprehensive review of operating rules in nearly 40 years.
One proposed change would transfer a leadership panel’s power to make committee assignments to the Senate president. Some Republicans view the current practice that has been in place since the 1950s as unwieldy.
The recommendation is significant because committees do much of the drafting of legislation.
Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, is the current Senate president.
Another proposed change would create a five-member panel to resolve disputes over the rules during debates instead of having the presiding senator settle such issues.
Both proposals mirror long-standing practices in the House, and 14 of the 16 new senators elected last year previously served in the other chamber.
But incoming Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, and a member of the GOP leadership panel drafting the proposals, said it’s also the first time since 1974 that new leaders have examined the Senate rules line by line.
The proposals will be formally presented to the Senate when legislators open their annual session Monday, and senators are expected to vote on them Tuesday.
They should make the Senate “smoother” and “more transparent,” said King, who helped draft the measures.
Republicans hold a 32-8 Senate majority, and the proposed changes were drafted by its Organization, Calendar and Rules Committee. Only Republicans serve on the nine-member panel, including the president, vice president and majority leader.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, is supporting the proposed changes because the new rules panel would include a Democrat. Also, another proposed change would require a two-thirds majority to make rules changes after the first few days of each legislative session.
“That’s beneficial to the rights of the minority,” Hensley said.
King said the Organization, Calendar and Rules Committee was willing to transfer its power over committee assignments to the president because such a practice is common in other states. Also, in the Kansas House, the speaker has the power to make all committee assignments.