Lawyers Who Want New Rules In The Kansas House Have Their Names Put On The Bills


For years, it was hard for people who were voting for lawmakers in Kansas to figure out where bills came from. Almost 85% of proposals come from committees, so it might take asking several lawmakers or, more recently, watching YouTube videos of meetings to find the group or lobbyist that is behind it.

The Kansas House is making it easy for people in the state to find out what their members want this year, though. Each bill now has a number and an official sponsor. It also says who asked for it, whether it was a politician at someone else’s request or a lobbyist for a specific client. In January, the change began.

It’s not like any other state assembly to do that. At least a few states require lobbyists to list the bills that affect them in reports that anyone can see. However, the Council of State Governments is unaware of any other state legislature chamber that lists lobbyists and groups on its bills. Not even the Kansas Senate.

“I’m thrilled to see it,” said Heather Ferguson, who is from Kansas and runs the operations for the Common Cause group that works to make the government more open. “It helps the people trust their elected officials, their institutions, and the legislative process in general again.”

House Bill 2527 would change the rules about how the state sets electric rates. It was asked for by a lobbyist for Evergy, which is the biggest electricity company in Kansas. A lobbyist for the Kansas Farm Bureau put forward HB 2691. This bill would say that utilities that want to take over a whole piece of private land for projects like power lines would have to pay the owners 50% more than the land’s fair market value.

Some offices and halls under the copper dome of the Kansas Statehouse have had a less positive reaction to the new practice than Ferguson did, but lobbyists won’t say anything bad about it in public. Government affairs officer for the Kansas Chamber of Commerce Eric Stafford said it doesn’t matter “as long as it’s consistent.”

The Kansas Senate does not have to follow the extra statement because it is written in the House Rules (No. 7.01).

Senator Ty Masterson, a Republican from Wichita, said, “I haven’t thought about it, but it doesn’t scare me.” in fact. He did say, though, that “people tend to know that anyway” when it comes to who is behind a bill.

According to Common Cause, at least seven states—Colorado, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Utah—have rules that require agents to tell clients what specific laws they are watching. Lobbyists in Kansas have to report how much they spend six times a year, but they don’t have to list each measure.

A California businessman named John Cox, who later ran for governor as a Republican put forward a ballot proposal in 2015 that would have made it mandatory for elected officials to wear stickers or badges “displaying the names of their 10 highest campaign contributors” during public legislative meetings. Efforts to get it on the ballot failed.

Some members like how open the House is becoming and seem ready to take it even further.

For example, Rep. Stephanie Sawyer Clayton, a Democrat from the Kansas City area, said “Bring it on” when she heard about the California proposal in 2015. She did say, though, that lawmakers might end up looking like servers at TGI Fridays.

Her top donors are mostly great groups and even better people, so she said, “I will wear those pieces of flair all day.” “That’s fine with me.”

In 2021, the Kansas House changed its rules to require more information on its bills. However, leaders and staff in the House said it took the Legislature’s technology staff three years to figure out the details. Democratic state Rep. Boog Highberger, who pushed for the change as a member of the House Rules Committee, sees it as an important, if small, step toward making the government more open.

Rep. Adam Thomas, a Republican from the Kansas City area, said that more openness is good and that lawmakers can expect a lot of questions if their name is on a bill, even if an interest group’s name is not there as well.

Thomas said, “Now we need to really know what a bill does, what it means, and what it means for us.” The change was made without any debate, and a lot of people from both parties backed the rules.

Individual politicians back most bills in many states, and that’s how the Kansas Legislature always did things. In Kansas fifty years ago, individual lawmakers were in charge of almost 70% of bills and votes. After decades of committees supporting more and more bills, the number was a little more than 15% this year.

In a 2017 article on Kansas state government, The Kansas City Star said that the process of passing laws in the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature was “among the least transparent in the country.” They gave because these so-called “anonymous” bills were allowed. Still, some people say that the public doesn’t always know what’s going on with important bills until it’s too late to stop them from passing.

On the other hand, David Adkins, a former Kansas lawmaker who is now the head of the Council on State Governments, said that lawmakers may have switched from individual sponsors to committees sponsoring bills because it seemed to give them the same level of authority. It could have been a way to make it easier for them to get rid of bills during their 90-day term every year.

He also said that a list of the groups or lobbyists who asked for a bill might do the same thing, letting politicians decide how to vote without having to read the text.

Adkins said, “Time is your worst enemy at the top of the funnel.” He was in the Legislature from 1993 to 2004.

But Adkins was also afraid that the House’s actions, which were meant to rebuild trust, might make people think of legislation as “transactional.”

He said, “In some ways, one could argue that it makes legislation look like a NASCAR car, with big sponsorship stickers on the car.”

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