Archive for Sunday, April 24, 1994

COME OFF VARIETY OF SWINGS

April 24, 1994

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Douglas County legislatorsfind that it's easier to get bills passed by trying not to take too much credit for them.

On its surface, it seems like an effective measuring tool for legislators -- seeing how many bills they introduced became law.

But a bill batting average, like a batting average for a baseball player, gives only a partial picture as to how well a legislator plays the lawmaking game, says a Kansas University expert on Kansas politics.

For example, it doesn't include such variables as work ethic, persuasiveness, knowledge and integrity. And it leaves out fielding percentages -- how many bad bills did a legislator throw out at first?

"Truly good legislators are able to wield, acquire and use influence within the legislative process in ways that are not always visible," said Russell Getter, a KU associate professor of political science and government.

Nor does a bill batting average show how many laws a legislator got to home plate by other means. One way is by piggy-backing them to another bill. Or they can get a committee to introduce a bill for them.

Rep. Betty Jo Charlton, D-Lawrence, has served in the Kansas House since 1980. In that time, Charlton has learned the easiest way to get her ideas into the law books is by asking committees to introduce bills for her.

This legislative session, she said, three or four bills were passed by such means without any acknowledgement that they were her ideas.

"There's lots of reasons for not wanting to put your name on a lot of bills," Charlton said.

A committee is more willing to endorse its own bill, rather than an individual legislator's bill -- "particularly a female member of the minority party," she said.

Rep. Forrest Swall, D-Lawrence, who is serving in his second year in the Legislature, said the real key is to work with legislators from both parties to get a bill passed.

The most effective way to get a legislation through the process is to introduce a proposal through a committee, he said.

"The most effective legislators do not solo-sponsor very many bills," he said.

Swall said one of the best ways to judge legislators is by looking at their voting records to see their philosophical leanings, willingness to speak candidly about their views and consistency on voting.

Another way to judge legislators is to see how effective they are at opposing legislation they disagree with, he said.

For example, Swall said he spoke out on most of the crime-control bills that were proposed during the last session because he didn't think there was any evidence showing they would be effective.

Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, had one major bill approved this year that carried her name -- it's a statewide youth jobs creation bill designed to instill community pride among youths.

Ballard said her strategy was to work hard to explain to other legislators what the bill was about, get bipartisan co-sponsors and closely shepherd the bill through the process. Ballard said she also went to as many social gatherings with legislators so she could to talk with them about the bill.

"I also know when I have spent three months tracking down the information for the bill, I want to be the person sponsoring that bill," she said. "I think what helps it most is to have a good idea."

Sen. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, said senators also tend to try to get their major legislation approved by having bills sponsored by committees.

"There were quite a few bills that went through the process that I was a prime instigator for," Praeger said. "We in the Senate feel it goes through the House a little smoother if there aren't senators' names attached."

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