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Archive for Thursday, June 28, 2001

Senator looks to cut down wrap-up work

June 28, 2001

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— In the last days of the legislative session, some lawmakers snoozed in their chairs, while others played cards.

In other words, there was a lot of hurry-up-and-wait during the longest wrap-up session in state history that ended May 8 after 13 days.

Now legislative leaders, sensing public anger at the length of time it took for them to finish, are talking about establishing new rules to make sure there is not a repeat performance.

"We need to get serious about not doing this again," said Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson.

Wrap-up sessions generally last three to five days and initially were instituted when lawmakers wanted a chance to override gubernatorial vetoes. They begin in late April after a two-week recess.

But now the wrap-up sessions have become major policy-making sessions when lawmakers fight over issues they couldn't reach agreement on earlier.

Kerr said he would like to get away from such a scenario, possibly by instituting a rule that the Legislature set an earlier deadline to pass a school-finance bill.

"We are going to have to have some internal deadlines," Kerr said.

He noted that the House didn't vote on a school-finance measure until the final moments of the wrap-up session.

But House Speaker Kent Glasscock, R-Manhattan, said lawmakers need to know how much can be spent on public schools before voting on a school-finance measure. The state appropriation bill also is generally one of the last pieces of legislation to be considered by the Legislature.

Glasscock said the best way to keep sessions shorter is to pass two-year budgets so that off-year sessions can be spent making adjustments to a budget that already has been signed into law.

Both leaders agree that the past session was unusually tough. Lawmakers received word on April 4 that they had to patch a $205 million revenue shortfall because of lower tax-receipt projections and higher social service caseloads.

And next year's budget will be just as difficult, they said. Add to that equation lawmakers redrawing political boundaries as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process, and there may be another marathon session.

Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka has suggested moving the two-week recess to March, which would give lawmakers more time in April to handle any budget problems caused by the early April estimate of the state's revenue picture.

"After the longest veto session in history, we need to fundamentally change how we do business in a legislative session," Hensley said.

Giving lawmakers more time to adjust the budget following the revenue estimate also would allow more lawmakers to participate in that exercise, he said.

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