Wednesday, December 18, 2013

State Rep John Rubin's Bills for More Transparency in State Government

Our Shawnee Representative in the Kansas House, John Rubin, has long been an ardent advocate of full governmental transparency and accountability.  He believes that responsible governance demands that elected officials always strive to fully inform themselves on the issues and all aspects of legislation on which they vote, to cast informed votes, and always to disclose to their constituents how they voted on the public policies that affect the lives of Kansans.

For these reasons, Rep. Rubin is now fighting to change longstanding Kansas legislative practices of bundling multiple bills in a single conference committee report for one vote under the Joint Rules, and of not recording votes on bills, resolutions and amendments in the Committee of the Whole on General Orders under the House Rules, practices he believes are undemocratic.   He has drafted resolutions amending the Kansas Legislature's Joint Rules and House Rules to correct these undemocratic legislative practices, and plans to prefile them the week before the 2014 legislative session starts.  

The first is a Concurrent Resolution amending the Joint Rules to provide that a conference committee report may contain only the bill being conferenced and all or part of one other bill that has passed either Chamber during the current term.  Existing practice allows for an unlimited number of additional bills or parts of bills  to be added to a conference committee report (CCR).   Often, legislators have little if any opportunity to fully inform himself or herself of the contents, consequences or effects of the many additional bills in a CCR, particularly if the added bills did not originate in and were not debated in their Chamber, and particularly under the pressing time constraints experienced late in session, when most of these CCRs are considered.  Accordingly, the likelihood that most members are even marginally well informed on the votes they are asked to cast on these multi-bundled CCRs is slim.  Worse, it is highly likely than in any CCR with six, eight or more such bills, a member may fully support some of the bundled bills because they square with the member’s principles and are, in his or her view, good public policy, and may oppose others because they are not.  In short, current practice virtually ensures that members often cast uninformed and unprincipled votes on much of the public policy contained in multi-bundled CCRs.  Rep. Rubin believes that is no way to govern.  His Concurrent Resolution will correct these irresponsible and undemocratic  practices.

The second Rubin proposal is a House Resolution amending the House Rules to require that all House floor votes, whether in the Committee of the Whole on General Orders or on Final Action, shall be recorded votes.  Current practice on General Orders in the Kansas House is that all votes on bills, resolutions and amendments are voice votes, or, on a division call,  unrecorded electronic votes, absent a show of 15 hands requiring a recorded vote.  Make no mistake – those “unrecorded” electronic division votes are in fact being recorded outside the chamber and in the House Gallery, by handwritten notes, camera phones directed to the closed circuit television screen, and otherwise,  by government officials, lobbyists, and other political insiders vested in the outcomes of these votes.  Rep. Rubin believes that citizens should have the same access to these vote results that political insiders do.  Moreover, all Kansans are, in  his view, entitled to know how legislators vote on every public policy question put to them – in bills, amendments and resolutions – not just on Final Action, but preliminarily on General Orders as well.  In his view, legislators' oath of office and their responsibility to be transparent in their votes and accountable to the people of Kansas for them require no less.

I applaud Rep. Rubin for his noteworthy efforts to enhance public transparency and accountability in the Kansas Legislature. 

Let John know that you support his efforts, of if you'd like more info:

If your Shawnee State rep is Charles Macheers, Brett Hildabrand, or Kelly Meigs, email them and ask them to support John's bills: