House Republicans urge Kansas voters to limit executive branch authority, agency regulations

TOPEKA — Republican Representatives are eager Wednesday to approve a constitutional amendment that could give lawmakers new powers over the executive branch if it receives Senate and public approval.

If passed by two-thirds of the House and Senate and approved by a vote of the people of Kansas, The resolution proposed would amend Section 1 of the Kansas state constitution. By adding a new section to the constitution, the measure gives the legislature new authority to make and revoke new rules within state agencies under the executive branch.

Throughout the debate, House Republicans dismissed concerns about the effect of the separation of powers provisions and the amendment to place other issues such as Medicaid expansion and marijuana legalization on the ballot.

“We have been given broad authority not only to enforce the law, but also to create it,” said Rep. Barbra Wasinger, R-Hays. “This amendment endorses that legislative oversight and allows us to be responsible for creating the laws.”

The measure received preliminary approval 77-42 with five Republicans – Rep. Dave Baker, of Council Grove; Rep. Owen Donohoe of Shawnee; Rep. Boyd Orr, of Fowler; Rep. Mark Schreiber, Emporia; and Representative John Wheeler, of Garden City – voting against. The measure will need 84 votes tomorrow to pass.

If passed by the House and Senate, the constitutional amendment would be on the ballot in the 2022 general election.

Republicans are primarily motivated by a recent decision by the Kansas Department of Labor to add or change six regulations regarding workers’ compensation. The decision drew frustrations from several business groups and lawmakers at a hearing in November who believed that regulations interfered with law and legislative authority.

Currently, the legislature can only pass a competing resolution expressing a concern or requesting the repeal of a by-law. The Rules and Regulations Committee provides comments and recommendations on the proposals of these bodies.

However, Rep. Boog Highberger, a Democrat from Lawrence, said the systems in place are already working to deal with any overstepping of regulations by executive branch agencies.

“I think it’s clear that if there’s a problem with the system, it gets sent to the attorney general’s office and the problem needs to be fixed there,” Highberger said. “I’ve been involved in the process during my tenure in state government over the years. It really works, and there are a lot of checks and balances, a lot of checks and balances.

House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins told House Republicans he was “really passionate” about securing the abilities mandated in the resolution allowing the Legislature to rescind the authority of the ‘executive. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

A 1984 Kansas Supreme Court decision ruled that an earlier measure allowing the Legislature to suspend or revoke the administrative rule was unconstitutional because it violated the separation of powers.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office approved the legality of this new resolution in July, after the State Budget Office and the Administration Department signed off in January.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman told House Republicans in a meeting before the House session on Wednesday that Schmidt had proposed the idea of ​​”fundamentally eliminating the fourth branch of government,” a reference to the employees of state agencies who determine how to enforce laws passed by the legislature. Schmidt, a Republican, is running against Democratic Governor Laura Kelly in this year’s election.

Ryckman asked House Republicans if they wanted “these people” to make decisions like closing churches, shutting down businesses and giving foreign fraudsters money from the unemployment fund, or allowing the Legislature to ‘to have the last word.

“It doesn’t matter who the governor is,” Ryckman said. “The bureaucrats have been here longer than us. They will stay here longer than us.

The proposed constitutional amendment would not apply to the examples provided by Ryckman. The governor closed churches and closed businesses in April 2020 through executive orders in response to COVID-19. Fake unemployment claims were filed in every state.

Majority Leader Dan Hawkins said to Republican representatives before the debate that he is “really passionate” about obtaining the ability to usurp executive authority.

He said the committee that oversees rules and regulations can voice complaints, but state agency bureaucrats rarely listen. The committee does not have the power to prevent the entry into force of new rules and regulations.

“It makes no difference what the governor is,” Hawkins said. “These bureaucrats stick around year after year, and they literally change the course of any law they want.”

Representative John Carmichael was among those who proposed amendments and then saw them defeated. House Democrats argued the measure was highly partisan and hypocritical, pointing to steps taken by Republicans to refuse amendments that put other issues on the ballot. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, said if the amendment was so urgently needed, the measure should be on the August 2022 ballot, alongside the Value Them Both amendment.

When an amendment to do just that failed, Carmichael asked to delay the vote until after the gubernatorial election.

“In the event that Derek Schmidt should be our governor, people can decide whether or not they want to do to Derek Schmidt what it’s supposed to do to Laura Kelly, because it’s bad legislation,” Carmichael told Democrats. of the House at a meeting before the debate. .

Other amendments Democrats proposed during deliberation also fell through, including a revision allowing the governor to veto a removal, subject to a supermajority vote by the legislature to override.

House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer and Rep. Jason Probst, who earlier this year proposed constitutional amendments to expand Medicaid and legalize marijuana, again proposed letting Kansas voters decide those issues. burning.

The Rules Committee deemed the amendments irrelevant to the resolution, quickly rejecting them.

“There are other things that I think people kind of care about,” said Probst, a Hutchinson Democrat. “We have demonstrated to an excessive degree this year that we appreciate the opportunity to allow Kansans to vote on things.”

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