TOPEKA - During an extended debate today over the adoption of new House Rules, House Republicans opposed several amendments to make Kansas government more transparent, fair and fiscally responsible.
Rules pushed through by House Republicans today will enable caucuses to shut the press and public out of their meetings. Democrats offered two amendments to protect government transparency and block this rule change. The first amendment would have stricken the closed caucus rule completely, requiring both Republicans and Democrats to continue practicing open government at all times. After Republicans overwhelmingly voted the measure down, a second amendment was offered to keep only Democratic caucuses open. This proposal was also defeated by Republicans.
“Everything we do in this building should be done in the light of day,” said House Democratic Leader Paul Davis, Lawrence. “If Republicans want to conduct their business in secret, that’s their prerogative. Democrats don’t believe this is a responsible practice.”
The second significant rule change enacted a “pay as you go” policy when amending appropriations bills. For the next two years, a simple majority on the House Appropriations Committee will have the authority to determine the size the state budget. Even if 113 members disagree with the recommendations of the House Appropriations Committee, the entire House body will have no opportunity amend the final dollar amount.
“This is not about government spending,” said Davis. “It’s about stifling debate in the People’s House. Twelve members of one committee now have complete sovereignty over the bottom line of the state budget. What happened today was an unprecedented power grab, make no mistake about it.”
Although the “paygo” provision passed overwhelmingly, Republicans were not willing to approve a similar amendment to apply to the other side of the budget formula: revenue. Rep. Stan Frownfelter, Kansas City, offered an amendment that would have required anyone offering a tax cut, credit, or exemption keep it revenue neutral by offering a corresponding cut elsewhere in the budget.
“If this is really about getting our fiscal house in order, let’s be genuine about it,” said Frownfelter. “The current budget crisis was not brought on solely by overspending. We’ve also passed over $11 billion in tax cuts, credits, and exemptions since 1995. If we’re trying to fix a structural problem, let’s be serious and fix both sides of it.”
Frownfelter’s amendment failed 33-74, as did every other amendment offered by today by Democrats.
“It is extremely unfortunate that the first significant action of the session – over something that has historically been benign - was turned into such a partisan power play,” said Davis.
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