Notes from Sine Die

Note: These notes are largely unedited – for brevity or errors. Between my effort to quickly take down notes, and lack of sleep, these may contain some inaccuracies, though I think it’s largely accurate. A shorter edited version appeared in The Hutchinson News on May 24. The version here includes links to some of the legislation mentioned.

I found myself in an unusual, even unique position this week as I prepared to write this column. On Thursday, the legislature returned for a final day of session – known as Sine Die. Normally, it’s a do-nothing day to mark the end of the session. But a global pandemic brought an abrupt end in March to normal legislative functions. The following weeks brought emergency declarations from the governor, and subsequently, calls that those orders reached too far and the need for legislation to give the legislature more oversight. I knew that the day would be unusual, so that, combined with not knowing exactly what to write, I decided I’d offer a blow by blow of the day’s activities. 

8 a.m. – Roll call, followed by a motion to suspend a joint rule on debating bills outside the normal session. 

8 a.m. to 9:40 a.m. – We took procedural votes on three bills. These were bills passed by the House and changed in the Senate, so the motion was to not agree to the changes and send the bill to conference committee. Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch said the bills will be used as “vehicles” in which other legislation can be placed. 

9:40 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. – Waiting on the Senate to finish debate. Listened in to some of the debate. 

12:30 p.m – After waiting with no word on when we might return to the floor, I went to my house in Topeka to grab lunch. 

2:15 p.m – We tried this remote voting system, which was clunky and unwieldy. I got a message that the respective caucuses would meet to discuss bills passed earlier out of the Senate.  While we were attempting to get everyone in on Zoom to meet, we all heard some activity on the House Youtube stream. It seemed that members of conference committees would be changed. 

2:20  – Zoom froze up, so we had to wait to get everyone together. 

2:25 – We talked about HB2466 which is a tax bill. But no one had much information on it. We are all unsure what’s been done in the Senate today. It’s all very confusing, and it’s clear that everyone is struggling to keep up with so much legislation that is changing from its original form. 

2:30 – A note popped up that the Republicans are heading to the floor. So we had to cut our meeting short and head back to the House Chambers. We talked briefly about HB2137, which is an extension of KORA exemptions, and another piece of legislation that lifts a requirement that scrap metal dealers no longer have to take a photo of the vehicle that brings scrap metal to the yard. Talked about 2585 – utilities bill, about Evergy wants to have economic development break. Also has SB126, which is a utilities income tax. Today utilities don’t really pay income tax, they hold money in escrow. What this would do, allow them to hold money until next rate case, KCC could allow company to use that money to give back in way of credits. This benefits industrial and commercial users, not residential. 

2:30 p.m. to 3:45 – We had debate and action on three bills. The first was a motion to non-concur with senate changes to HB2466, which is a tax bill we wanted to send to conference committee. The second was a motion to concur with changes to HB2137. This bill had two parts that really don’t belong together. The first is a standard extension of exemption to the Kansas Open Records Act. This is normally done every few years, without controversy. But another bill was dumped in that removes a requirement that operators of salvage yards take photos of the vehicles that deliver scrap metal. This seemingly came out of nowhere, and was not debated by the House. The third was a motion to concur with HB2585. This bill drew a lot of debate. Originally this bill more clearly defined how we’d manage electric vehicle charging stations – with an amendment the House overwhelmingly supported to create procedures for siting urban transmission lines. This was brought by Rep. Gail Finney, whose constituents in Wichita had large, unsightly utility poles placed in their front yards. However, in the Senate, the entire content of this bill was gutted and replaced with two Senate bills that eliminate income tax for investor owned utilities, like Evergy and allowed some rate adjustments for economic development. These bills were never debated in the House, and many members I talked to did not have a full understanding of the legislation. There is concern that it will largely benefit large industrial and commercial users and shift costs over to residential users like you and me. But, frankly, we don’t really know how this legislation will play out, because few people outside of the Utilities committee have any functional knowledge of the bill. 

3:45 – 6:30 (I think) Stand at ease while the Tax, Commerce, and Judiciary conference committees meet. During that process, a lot of different bills were put together into one. 

6:30 – 10:30 – We took up several motions to agree to disagree, on HB2054, which is a bill on credit unions that was gutted to be a vehicle for the mega-Covid response bill, including changes to the Emergency Management Act. I tried to look up the bill, and at this point, it still has the original language. Only a handful of people have seen the legislation at this point, or had any insight into the various elements of the bill. Note: Conference committees are comprised of the leadership teams of the respective committees from the House and Senate, meaning there are together four Republicans and two Democrats. When they can’t reach an agreement, they make a motion to agree to disagree, and basically write the minority party out of the conversation to allow the bill to move forward. We also voted on an agree to disagree motion for HB2702, which is a bill that makes a number of changes related to property taxes. Some good – like giving counties the flexibility to waive late fees and penalties. But others are more onerous, like requiring local government to do a lot of public hearing and notices. But it’s all together in one bill. 

Then came the motion to suspend the midnight rule. Normally, we don’t debate on bills after midnight, unless we suspend the rule. We had more than an hour’s debate on this, before the motion passed 66-53. Since then, we’ve been waiting for more than an hour to learn what conference committee reports we’ll be voting on. It has been common strategy among leadership in the past decade or so to make legislators stay late into the night as a way to wear people down. It used to be more widely abused, but after the late Rep. Bob Bethel died in a car accident driving home after one of those late night sessions, the rule was put in place. 

10:30 – 11:30 pm – I didn’t eat dinner, so I grabbed a tuna sandwich from the Capitol snack bar. Then I visited with a few legislators while we waited for news. 

11:40 p.m. – We got word that some CCRs were ready for us to review. We have 30 minutes to go through these before a vote takes place. HB2510 contains at least five different provisions, touching on ACT exams, dual enrollment for high school students, giving healing arts schools to provide services, create a foster care report card, establish the Kansas Promise Scholarship, and allow K-State to sell land in Saline County – the last was just introduced in conference committee. It hasn’t had a hearing or been debated at all. We also got a CCR on HB2702, the property tax bill.

12:00 – Back on the House floor for motions to concur with senate changes to house bills. 2034 and 2619. Then conference committe report on 2702. This ups public notice and meeting requirements, and it was raised during debate that we should delay this a year to hear from cities and counties. They’ll have to implement this – it will likely be expensive and take more staff time – during a time when they’re going to be strapped with falling revenue. But again, it’s tied to giving counties the authority to waive penalties and interest on property taxes, and extend tax payment deadlines. Those are good things, but they are again tied to things that are unpredictable. 

1:05 a.m – We stand at ease, waiting on the Senate to put its legislation into House bills. Under this process, we don’t have the chance to change these bills. It’s a straight up or down vote. 

2 a.m – We have been in recess. Word just came down that the Senate will begin debate on the Emergency Powers bill at 3 a.m. 

2:20 a.m. we hear motion to adopt CCR on 2510, the Kansas Promise Scholarship Act. 

2:35 a.m. – HB2246, deals with bonding authority and provider tax for hospitals. Passes

2:45-3:30 – wait for Senate. End up suspending the joint rule 4k. Vote on HB 2018

3:50 a.m – Since Sine Die is normally ceremonial, people who are retiring offer eloquent speeches about their time here. But since it looks like we’ll be here after 5 a.m. we decided to do that while we’re waiting for the last CCR to hit the floor. 

4:15 a.m. – 6:45 a.m. or so – We are waiting on the Senate. I ended up sleeping for about an hour. 

6:45 a.m. – Back on the floor to take up HB2054. This is the bill that we were told a day ago was the main purpose of us being here – to make adjustments to the emergency management act and provide additional legislative oversight on the governor’s executive orders. The bill is over 70 pages long, and most members in the House chamber haven’t spent more than a few moments reviewing the bill. This is broad and far reaching legislation that will affect governors for generations. Rep. Mark Samsel made a motion to adjourn, but it failed. He cited concerns about trying to tackle such important legislation with such haste, after the people making these decisions had been awake for the better part of 24 hours. At 7:54 p.m. the bill passed. 

1 Comment

  • Posted May 27, 2020
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    Kelley Lester

    Thanks for the snapshot of our state government at work. Sure seems the process doesn’t allow for good decision making or fairness…

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