Republican lawmakers on Tuesday reacted tepidly to Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive order creating the office of child advocate, questioning whether the governor is properly reorganizing state government without oversight.
Republican state Sen. Richard Hilderbrand said he wants to know whether the governor’s executive order creating the office of child advocate should have been carried out through an executive reorganization order that requires legislative approval.
“I have never been a fan of pen-and-paper legislation by edict,” said the Galena lawmaker, who chairs the newly formed Joint Committee on Child Welfare Oversight.
“When I go home, the individuals that I talk to – the majority of the people that talk to me – are tired of pen-and-paper legislation and dictation from an individual person,” Hilderbrand said.
While agreeing that the office of child advocate is needed, Hilderbrand said he found it “troublesome” that the governor announced the executive order less than 24 hours before the child welfare committee was set to meet.
He said one of the tasks of the oversight committee was to look at the creation of a child advocacy office, something the Legislature failed to accomplish last year.
Hilderbrand said he plans to ask legislative researchers and staff attorneys to determine whether the governor should have issued an executive reorganization order in the announced restructuring.
The Legislature has the power to reject an executive reorganization order, while an executive order would remain in place for at least as long as Kelly is governor.
Republican state Rep. Susan Humphries of Wichita supported legislation creating the child advocacy office last session, but questioned how the governor went about issuing the executive order.
“It does seem to be a bit of a reorganization,” Humphries said.
“It’s not that I disagree with what it says,” Humphries said. “Was it done properly?”
“We agree that it’s important, but by doing it this way it circumvents consideration,” Humphries said.
The governor’s office declined to comment.
Kelly signed two executive orders Monday, including one that created the Division of Child Advocate, something that has languished in the Legislature for years.
She also signed an executive order creating the Office of Public Advocates, which will house the child advocate, the long-term care ombudsman and the KanCare ombudsman.
The order would move the KanCare ombudsman from the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services to the Public Advocates Office.
Child welfare advocates praised the governor’s executive order as a breakthrough for caring for children and families in the state welfare system.
For the first time, they would have a single place where they could go for help so they wouldn’t get lost in a sea of social service bureaucracy.
Last year, the Legislature considered two bills that would have created an office of child advocacy, but both failed to gain passage.
One of those bills died in the House after it was recommended by a committee.
The Senate passed similar legislation, but critics said it vested too much control in an elected state official and gave the attorney general too much authority over the office.
Under the Senate bill, the attorney general would have hired the child advocate, who would have been confirmed by the Senate.
The joint legislative child welfare oversight committee would have vetted the candidates for the child advocate position and recommended three to the attorney general to choose from for the position.
The term of the child advocate under the Senate bill would have expired on Jan. 15 of each even-numbered year, beginning in 2022.
The executive order issued on Monday calls for the governor to appoint the child advocate for a five-year term.
The person could not be fired by the governor or the Legislature, although they could be ousted through a rigorous procedure set out in law.
Democrats on the Welfare Oversight Committee backed the governor’s efforts.
“I’d like to applaud the governor,” said Democratic state Rep. Jarrod Ousley of Merriam who has pushed for the legislation in recent years.
“Everybody is in agreement here that we needed this office and that this office is going to be good for the kids,” Ousley said.
“I applaud the governor’s office for taking the reins and establishing this office now and not wasting any more time letting it get caught up in politics,” he said.
Democratic state Sen. Cindy Holscher of Overland Park said lawmakers should celebrate an action that will help children.
“We’ve been waiting, the kids have been waiting, advocates have been waiting for years for something like this to be established,” Holscher said.
“This is just a great move for the childen of Kansas,” she said. “I would hope that we as individuals would feel good about that.
“There is framework put in place to advocate for our children and help protect them. I don’t want us to lose sight of that.”