Capitol Update: How the legislature used ‘gut and go’ process to pass block grant bill

To keep our readers better informed about the state government actions that impact our communities, we feature an update column each Monday from one of northeast Johnson County’s elected officials: Rep. Barbara Bollier, Rep. Stephanie Clayton, Rep. Jarrod Ousley, Rep. Melissa Rooker and Sen. Kay Wolf. Rep. Ousley submits this week’s update:

Our State has a bicameral legislature.  It consists of two chambers, the House and the Senate.  The House seats 125 Representatives, each elected to represent about 20,000 Kansans, to ensure their voices are heard.

rep_ousley_jarrod_1Bills are first introduced in the committee tasked with their subject.  After committee approval, they move to the house and senate floor for debate and the offering of amendments, and passage.  If a version of the bill is approved by both chambers, it then goes to a conference committee to work through any differing language or various amendments.  Once finalized, it is sent to the Governor.

However, certain procedures are now in use to avoid debate and amendments, and to silence dissent.

The Classroom Learning Assuring Student Success Act (the Class Act) passed the house on Friday, March 13, eliminating the school finance formula and replacing it with a two year block grant.  A specific procedural process, called the “gut and go” was used by the House to expedite its passage.  The House took an unrelated bill passed by the Senate, Senate Bill 7, gutted the contents of the bill, and inserted the contents of the Class Act.  Thus, despite the fact the Senate had never debated the contents of House Substitute for Senate Bill 7, when it returned to their chamber, the Senators were only allowed a vote on whether or not they concurred. There was no opportunity for amendments, no opportunity for debate, and no opportunity for voices of dissent to be heard, just concurrence or non-concurrence.  The Governor signed the legislation on March 25, 2015, in a ceremony closed to the press and public.

On Friday March 27, I was honored to join Game On for Kansas Schools’ members, including my wife, Heather, as we walked 60 miles from District 24 to Topeka, to advocate for fully funding public education in our State.  We walked to ensure the voices of parents, students and teachers are heard, despite attempts to silence them.

Similar tactics are now being used to silence dissent on our State’s budget.

On Wednesday, March 25, the Senate gutted and go’ed House Bill 2135, a five-page bill passed by the House addressing small claims against the State.  The Senate removed the previously passed five pages, and replaced them with the 490 page budget, creating Senate Substitute for HB 2135.  The Senate then passed this budget bill.

The House was adjourned on March 26 and 27.  When we returned on Monday, March 30, the House’s version of the budget, House Bill 2370, had been passed out of committee, but had not been debated on the floor, nor voted on by the whole.  Despite this, a conference committee was requested and appointed to work the budget bills, Sen. Sub for HB 2135 and HB 2370.  The committee consists of the Chair, Co-Chair, and ranking Democratic member of the House Appropriations committee (Reps. Rykman Jr., Schwartz, and Henry), and from the Senate Ways and Means committee (Sens. Masterson, Denning, and Kelly).

On Thursday, April 2, the majority in the House voted to “Agree to Disagree” on the conference committee’s report.  Typically, such a report would need to be concurred on and signed by all six members, including those in the minority.  However, because of the vote to Agree to Disagree, only four members, the Chairs and Co-Chairs need to sign on the conference committee report. Because the budget was gutted and go’ed into a previously passed House Bill, when it returns to the House for a vote, there will be no opportunity for dissent or debate or amendment, only concurrence or non-concurrence.

Thus, out of the 125 elected Representatives in the House, each of whom represents about 20,000 Kansans, only two are involved in crafting our State’s budget.  

Only two.

Every opportunity you have to make your voice heard is vital. Our upcoming SMSD School Board elections are on Tuesday, April 7.  Please join me in the voting booth.

As always, it is a privilege to serve you and represent the 24th District.