GOP leader keeps Kansas Senate from debating bills while rules dispute with House is unsettled



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TOPEKA, Kansas — A dispute over a common but much-criticized tactic used by Kansas lawmakers to rush bills to passage has prompted the Senate's majority leader to stop scheduling debates on legislation in his chamber.

House and Senate negotiators met briefly Friday to work on the final version of the rules governing interactions between their chambers. Their only disagreement is over how much to restrict the bundling of multiple proposals into the final version of a single bill.

The practice is common in late April and early May, when legislators are wrapping up their annual 90-day session and the same senators and House members negotiate over multiple bills dealing with broad topics such as agriculture, insurance or taxes. Occasionally, they've bulked a dozen measures into the final version of a single bill and presented it for up-or-down votes in each chamber.

Critics contend the tactic leads to sloppy lawmaking and lessens the scrutiny each measure receives. The House approved a version of the joint rules allowing only two measures to be bundled into a single bill. The Senate's version contained no limit, but its negotiators suggested restricting bundling to four measures per bill, with an exception for tax legislation.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Majority Leader Terry Bruce, who controls the calendar, has kept his chamber from debating legislation since Feb. 5.

"I'd like to know what the rules of the game are before I start playing it," said Bruce, a Nickerson Republican.

House Speaker Ray Merrick, a Stilwell Republican, wouldn't criticize the Senate for holding off on work because of the rules dispute but added, "It's going to be nice to get it resolved."

The proposed limits on bundling had bipartisan support in the House, with individual members citing multiple examples of objectionable pairings of proposals.

Rep. Ed Trimmer, a Winfield Democrat and one of the House negotiators, pointed to a bill last year boosting aid to poor school districts to comply with a Kansas Supreme Court mandate in an education funding lawsuit. GOP conservatives insisted on tying it to several policy ideas, including the end of guaranteed tenure for public school teachers.

"I think it's going to be tough to resolve," Trimmer said of the rules dispute.


Online:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org


Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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