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Light day in House lets freshman lawmakers get some stage time

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The Kansas House worked through a handful of mostly noncontroversial bills Monday, giving a few freshman legislators a chance to learn some of the ropes.

Whenever a bill comes out of committee, someone from that committee is assigned the task of "carrying" the bill onto the floor. That means he or she gets up to the podium, explains the details of the bill, stands for questions and responds to arguments against its passage.

For major bills, that task usually falls to the committee chairman or vice chairman, or the person on the panel with the most knowledge of the subject.

But the bills worked on the floor of the House Monday didn't involve subjects that were terribly controversial, and so as a form of initiation into the legislative process, a few freshmen were given that task, and the opportunity to gain a little experience.

The one that proved most controversial was a bill dealing with elections and advance balloting. Rep. Vic Miller, D-Topeka, had personally pushed for the bill, which would ensure that if someone mails in an advance ballot before Election Day, but it doesn't arrive at the county election office until after the deadline, it will still be counted in the final canvass.

Miller actually served in the Legislature during the 1980s, during Democratic Gov. John Carlin's administration, but he freely admitted he couldn't remember the last time he'd carried a bill on the floor.

The debate became complicated when Rep. Brett Parker, D-Overland Park, offered an amendment that would also allow people to drop off their advance ballot at a polling place on Election Day. Although many advance voters try to do that, he said, it's technically not allowed because advance ballots are supposed to be at the county office before polls close at 7 p.m., and poll workers don't return in-person ballots until after that time.

Parker's amendment passed, 67-57, but other lawmakers said afterward that it would have to be cleaned up in the Senate because the amendment doesn't specify whether the ballot can be dropped off at the voter's own polling place or any other polling place in the county, or even the state.

Rep. Elizabeth Bishop, D-Wichita, carried a bill authorizing the formation of "public benefit corporations" in Kansas. Those are corporations that include, as part of their overall business plan, a commitment to providing some social or environmental benefit. It would have the effect of shielding those corporations from shareholder lawsuits if they pursue activities that do not maximize profits or stock value.

Examples, she said, include Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, Toms Shoes and the outdoor clothing maker Patagonia.

"Can you tell?" Bishop asked, when another lawmaker asked if it was her first time carrying a bill.

"Would you like any amendments to the bill?" asked Rep. Tom Cox, R-Shawnee, another freshman House member. "I'd rather not," Bishop replied. "OK then, never mind," Cox said.

Rep. Eric Smith, R-Burlington, carried a bill giving county commissions more autonomy in setting their own meeting dates. And Rep. KC Ohaebosim (pronounced "o-HA-bo-sim"), D-Wichita, carried a bill clarifying that bicyclists need to have a rear reflector or a rear light on their bicycles, but not both, when riding at night.

Rep. Shannon Francis, R-Liberal, who is actually in his second term in the House, carried a bill allowing water districts to register their official vehicles once every five years, instead of every year, which is how the state treats vehicles from city or county utility departments.

All of the bills advanced toward final action on uncontested voice votes. Final votes are scheduled for Tuesday.

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