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Archive for Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Leadership considering shorter session

13-day wrap-up poses question of organizing more efficient schedule

May 16, 2001

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— House and Senate leaders may consider cutting off legislative pay after 90 days and rearranging the dates lawmakers meet as ways to ensure future legislative sessions end in a timely fashion.

This year's 13-day wrap-up session was the longest ever, thanks to a $206 million budget hole that prevented legislators from finishing their work in the scheduled four days. The longest previous wrap-up was 12 days, in 1991.

Legislators met for a total of 98 calendar days this year.

Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, told The Hutchinson News he would like to stop paying legislators after 90 days, though some senators were quick to criticize the plan as discriminatory.

"His proposal seems to me to be elitist," Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said.

Hensley released a plan Monday to give legislators about three weeks to finish business and more time to deal with adjustments made in April to the state's official revenue forecast.

"We need to fundamentally change how we do business," said Hensley, D-Topeka. "We can no longer operate under a consensus estimating time line that in this year dropped a $206 million bomb on April 4th."

During the first week of April, the Consensus Estimating Group meets and adjusts its predictions of how much money the state is likely to collect from its revenue sources, such as sales tax. State officials, legislative staff and university economists make up the group.

This year, legislators committed to spending $206 million more than was available for the next state budget after the April adjustments. Reconciling spending with expected revenues made the wrap-up session difficult and left most budget wrangling to three Senate and three House negotiators.

"I also believe making this change would allow more time and opportunity for more legislators to be involved in that process," Hensley said.

His plan would have the legislators take a 15-day break in mid-March instead of early April. Legislators would then return in early April and have 21 scheduled days most of them after new revenue estimates are available to finish business.

The Legislative Coordinating Council, made up of House and Senate leaders, could consider Hensley's plan when it meets May 31. The plan requires a change to the joint rules, which the council recommends and both chambers must approve.

House Speaker Kent Glasscock said he commends Hensley for making a suggestion.

However, Glasscock, R-Manhattan, said the plan needs careful consideration because it also would move forward legislative deadlines for introducing and passing bills.

Legislators also may need to decide whether this year's lengthy session is an anomaly.

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