Orders deserve debate

Gov. Sam Brownback has a lot of tools at his disposal, first and foremost a Legislature that is led and dominated by Republicans. Yet he’s been in office less than a month and already issued three executive reorganization orders — something done only eight times over the tenures of the past three governors. Is he exercising this power responsibly, with enough opportunity for public and legislative input?

The state constitution allows such orders to transfer, abolish, consolidate or coordinate agencies and functions with the executive branch. And what Brownback seeks to do via such orders may serve Kansas well, as he tries to reorganize and streamline state government. But they deserve public debate.

One of Brownback’s orders, signed last week in Cottonwood Falls, will move the state Division of Travel and Tourism and its 13 employees to the Department of Wildlife and Parks, tacking “tourism” onto the agency’s name. That will serve Brownback’s laudable goal of making Kansas more of a destination for those who want to hunt and fish. But what will it do for the state’s urban tourist attractions?

Brownback also has issued executive reorganization orders to abolish the parole board and transfer its duties to the Department of Corrections, and move the Kansas Commission on Disability Concerns from the Department of Commerce to the Governor’s Office. More EROs are expected, likely targeting the Kansas Arts Commission for privatization and absorbing the Kansas Health Policy Authority into another department.

Under House and Senate rules, legislative committees are assigned to consider EROS. State lawmakers need to exercise their constitutional authority to scrutinize Brownback’s three orders so far and any others (he must issue them during the first 30 calendar days of a legislative session). Either chamber can pass a resolution disapproving an order within 60 days of receiving it. Otherwise, the orders become effective July 1.

Legislators may be reluctant to show disunity by challenging Brownback’s EROs, but their role is to provide more than a rubber stamp. Since then-Gov. Robert Docking began using this power in 1973, the Legislature has disapproved 14 of 33 EROs, including 4 of the 8 issued over the past 15 years, according to the Kansas Legislative Research Department. Republican Gov. Bill Graves only got one ERO past the GOP-led Legislature, related to emergency planning. In 2005, the House blocked Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ order establishing a health policy authority, favoring an alternate GOP plan.

Lawmakers have a responsibility to review Brownback’s executive reorganization orders and decide whether they’re right for Kansas.