Kansas House members moved Tuesday to eliminate post-midnight meetings and make it harder to bundle multiple measures into a single bill, two longstanding practices critics see as causing sloppy lawmaking.
The House gave first-round approval to proposed rules for the chamber that say it can’t meet from midnight to 8 a.m. unless two-thirds of its members allow it. Such meetings most often occur at the end of the Legislature’s annual 90-day session and are often used to wear down recalcitrant legislators on big issues.
House members also advanced proposed rules for interaction between that chamber and the Senate. The joint rules would prohibit House and Senate negotiators from bundling more than two measures on a broad topic, such as taxes or changes in criminal laws, into a single bill for a final up-or-down vote in each chamber.
But House members rejected a proposal to require recorded votes on every proposed amendment to a bill during debate and every time they consider giving a bill first-round approval. The vote was 67-51 to retain the practice of having a recorded vote if 15 of the 125 members ask for one.
The House is scheduled to take action Wednesday on both sets of rules. The chamber’s rules would take effect immediately if approved and remain in place through 2016. The Senate would have to consider the proposed joint rules, however.
“The best way to fashion policy is not to be working all night long,” said Rep. John Rubin, R-Shawnee. “We ought to have an opportunity to fully vet as much of the legislation as we can.”
House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, said after the House debate that the rules changes could lengthen the annual session. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Barker, R-Abilene, argued that lawmakers shouldn’t hamstring themselves in drafting legislation or holding a few around-the-clock sessions to finish their year’s work.
“This is like baseball,” Barker said. “We play until somebody wins.”
But supporters of the time limit mentioned the Rep. Bob Bethell’s death in a car crash in May 2012. The Alden Republican was driving home after lawmakers concluded an early morning session and met again the same afternoon.
House members voted 69-49 in favor of banning post-midnight sessions.
“I don’t want to lose another colleague,” said Rep. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills and a retired anesthesiologist. “Safety should be first.”
House members added the anti-bundling provision to the joint rules on an 82-35 vote, showing that irritation with the practice cut across ideological lines.
The practice occurs because the same senators and House members often negotiate over the final versions of multiple bills dealing with the same broad topic, such as insurance or agriculture. It’s common for them to bundle two or three measures in a single bill, and sometimes the number is as high as a dozen.
Under the Legislature’s rules, the package then goes before each chamber for a single up-or-down vote, with no amendments allowed.