Constitutional amendment on rules falls short in House vote


A proposed constitutional amendment giving the Legislature the power to reject rules and regulations adopted by executive branch agencies failed to gain enough votes in the House to win passage on Thursday.

The proposal failed to get the 84 votes, or two-thirds majority, it needed to put the amendment on the ballot this fall. It is expected to return.

The House voted 80-33 for the amendment, with four Republicans absent and not voting and three others defecting.

Two Democrats, state Reps. Jason Probst of Hutchinson and Vic Miller of Topeka, voted for the amendment.

Moderate Republican Reps. Dave Baker of Council Grove, Boyd Orr of Fowler and John Wheeler of Garden City voted against the amendment.

They have voted against the amendment twice.

House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch is a supporter of the amendment but voted against it so he could bring the measure back again for consideration.

“There should be 125 votes for this,” House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. said after the vote early Thursday afternoon.

“This is about letting legislators who pass laws have the ability to make sure that bureaucrats don’t change it,” Ryckman said.

“I thought this would be something simple. It is,” he said. “We’ll learn from this.”

The 80 votes for the bill was an improvement over the 77 it received on Wednesday when the amendment received first-round approval and only needed 63 votes.

The amendment, which would have to be ratified by Kansas voters at this year’s general election – would allow an administrative rule to be overturned with a majority vote of the House and the Senate.

Republicans rejected any idea that the amendment was directed at Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, although the idea was promoted last year by her rival for reelection, Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt.

“It has absolutely nothing at all with what governor is in office,” said House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins. “It has to do with the bureaucrats that are here year after year after year and never leave.

“And those bureaucrats are the ones who actually promulgate all of those rules and regulations, and they get very artful at it,” he said.

“They get very artful at doing what they want to do,” he said. “Sometimes they do exactly what they’re supposed to do, and sometimes they don’t.”

Democratic state Rep. John Carmichael of Wichita said the amendment upsets the balance of power between the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch of government.

“This constitutional amendment turns that balance on its head as it relates to administrative rules and regulations,” Carmichael said.

“I am sure there are many in this chamber today that would view this constitutional amendment very, very differently if Derek Schmidt was governor of Kansas,” he said.

“What we are doing here is inserting ourselves into the traditional role of the governor, but not only the governor, but independent state agencies.”

The constitutional amendment, he said, is an invitation to lawmakers to get involved in the minutiae of making administrative decisions based upon “fables, war stories, what we heard or what some lobbyist who grabbed us by the collar the night before and told us about the effect of the regulation.

“It’s not good government.”

The Legislature had the ability to veto rules and regulations adopted by the executive branch until 1984, but it was later ruled as unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

Finch said the issue shouldn’t be written off as “inside baseball” as characterized by one Democratic legislator.

Finch said the administrative layer of state government has emerged as essentially a fourth branch of government in its ability to adopt rules and regulations.

“This does not affect the executive branch’s ability to do its job. It doesn’t take power away from this or any other governor,” he said.

“In reality, it doesn’t matter who’s at Cedar Crest,” Finch said of the governor’s mansion.

“Many of the people who issue these rules and regulations have these jobs administration in, administration out and the rules and regulations keep coming.

“We’re not asking the voters to upset the apple cart to make this Legislature some super branch of government, merely to restore to the members of this body and our colleagues across the rotunda, the ability to say, ‘Yes, you got it right, these rules and regs properly and concisely give effect to the law that we passed,’ or ‘No, you didn’t.’”