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Archive for Monday, March 1, 2004

Legislators’ lateness annoys colleagues

March 1, 2004

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— Senators agree that sometimes they can't make it to meetings on time. They even have a phrase -- "on Senate time" -- to describe any meeting that starts late.

But the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee says showing up late shouldn't be an everyday occurrence for members of that panel.

Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, says perpetual tardiness shows a lack of etiquette and detracts from the work.

Vratil was so frustrated recently that he took an unusual -- and perhaps unprecedented -- step. After five members of the panel were at least 10 minutes late for a meeting, Vratil ordered the committee's secretary to start recording latecomers' arrival times. Those times are now part of the panel's official record.

Sen. Kay O'Connor, R-Olathe, arrived for the 9:30 a.m. meeting at 9:53 a.m. She apologized and explained she was delayed by a phone call from a constituent.

"I understand people on committees have other commitments," Vratil said later in an interview. "I try to be understanding because it happens to me, too.

"My concern is when people are 15 and 20 minutes late every day," he added. "You don't have unexpected occurrences every day."

But Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, doesn't see being late as such a big deal. He admits that he's probably the most consistently tardy legislator, but that doesn't mean he's not getting things done.

"I've never been procedurally correct," Haley said in an interview. "Mine is a lifestyle of procrastination. But it's also a lifestyle of productivity."

Besides, said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, there are a lot of demands on the time of the 10 Democrats in the 40-member Senate.

There must be at least one Democrat on each of the chamber's 15 standing committees, so that the members of the minority party are sometimes late because they have heavy committee schedules.

Haley is often the last Judiciary Committee member to arrive. On the day O'Connor was late, Haley walked in at 9:57 a.m. but was unapologetic.

"Being productive while you're here is more important than being there on time," Haley said later. "I believe the reason I was elected and how I keep getting re-elected is that, unlike people who attend meetings beginning to end and have nothing to say, I am probably one of the more active legislators here."

Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, disagrees. Donovan -- who did arrive on time for the Judiciary Committee in question -- believes promptness matters regardless of whether a senator has something to say.

Being late, Donovan said, "sends a really, really bad message that you don't take your job seriously."

"Other people wonder why they should carry all the load," Donovan said. "It shows very little regard for fellow members."

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