Kansas lawmakers question transparency of committee meetings

TOPEKA (KSNT) — At the Statehouse Tuesday, much of the talk was of a quick committee vote Monday that took another $270 million chunk of the state transportation budget to help cover the budget shortfall.

While some legislators are concerned about the decision itself, others aren’t happy with the way it was made; in a last minute meeting called by the committee chairman with an un-recorded voice vote.

One lawmaker has been critical of voice votes for years and says Kansans should be too.

The fate of any piece of legislation is often determined in committee hearings.

If a majority of the members like the bill,  it advances, but some legislators say the problem is that the votes to advance or kill a bill are done by voice vote.

No vote goes on an official record.

“It’s a transparency consideration. I firmly believe that our constituents should know how we vote on every measure,” said Rep. John Rubin, (R) of Shawnee.

That’s why he’s been pushing for years to have all votes recorded both in committee and on the house floor.

“I think the people and the taxpayers pay a great deal of money to have the government function up here and because they’re paying for it, they have the right to see it, in all of its glory. The good and the bad,” said Rep. Stephanie Clayton, (R) of Overland Park.

But others say those unrecorded votes in committee save time and allow lawmakers the opportunity to change their minds.

“The votes that count are the votes that create law, which is the last final action vote,” said Rep. John Barker, (R) of Abilene.

That’s not good enough says Rubin, who adds it’s a matter of accountability.

“Sometimes they don’t get to final action, and therefore you wouldn’t know how your representative necessarily voted if it never gets to final action,” said Rep. Rubin.

Letting the public know exactly how and why a bill doesn’t get passed is his main goal.

Representative Rubin pushed to include an amendment to the House Rules that would record all votes beginning this year, but it didn’t pass. It will be another two years before the rules are revised again and Rubin says he plans to continue pushing for the change.
Representative Clayton, is also a sponsor of the ‘Kansas Transparency Act,’ a bill that would allow audio broadcasts of committee meetings.
She believes this would help resolve many of the same issues Rubin is concerned with.

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