A House investigative panel Thursday dismissed a complaint filed by 26 Republican representatives against Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita.
The bipartisan panel’s unanimous decision ends a weeks-long debate about whether Ward misled the House when he offered an amendment to a property tax bill that deleted the underlying Republican-backed idea with a Democrat-backed plan to send $90 million to local governments for property tax relief.
Republicans said Ward didn’t explain that his amendment deleted the underlying bill and that he lied about it when asked about it. Ward said he didn’t lie and did nothing wrong, and that Republicans simply didn’t read the two-page amendment and voted without knowing what the bill said.
Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, said House members had reasonable ways to learn what Ward’s amendment did, although he said they need to be candid and as clear as possible when they explain bills and amendments. He said the issues don’t rise to the level of censure.
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Kinzer and others also said they don’t want open investigations every time someone thinks a legislator didn’t properly explain a bill or amendment.
“We don’t want to turn disciplinary proceedings into a gotcha-type of game where innocent mistakes or frankly just incompetency in some instances becomes a matter for an investigative committee, because people do make mistakes,” he said.
Twenty-six House Republicans signed the complaint requesting that the House consider censuring or expelling Ward. But none testified in front of the committee.
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, submitted written comments and missed most of the meeting because she was leading a Health and Human Services Committee hearing.
She said Ward’s failure to respond accurately to questions about his amendment and failure to clarify it warrants a censure and may be needed “to prevent the Kansas House of Representatives from enduring future debates based on deceit.”
Ward told the committee that the House can’t be misled when there are five ways to review bills and amendments, including a transcript that, in this case, was available online for about 40 minutes while the bill and amendment were debated.
“It never crossed my mind during the debate that some members of the GOP had not read the amendment,” he said. “It is now clear they were confused and should have read it."
Landwehr said it was well documented that Ward lied. But she acknowledged that everyone in the House should have read the amendment.
She said she isn’t disappointed in the committee’s ruling.
“Sometimes you do things hoping that people will learn,” she said. “So I hope that Jim as well as other legislators learn that, you know, don’t lie and don’t mislead at the mike. You can call it being coy or whatever you want to. If that’s what this process is all about, I think people would be pretty disappointed.”