Kansas House passes bill on special elections for Congress as Pompeo stands for confirmation for CIA

CIA Director-designate Rep. Michael Pompeo, R-Kan. talks to former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole right, during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. before the Senate Intelligence Committee. At left is Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

? The Kansas House quickly passed a bill Thursday to clean up language in current statutes regarding special elections to fill a vacancy in a U.S. House seat from Kansas.

Lawmakers are rushing to get the bill through both chambers and onto Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk, anticipating that U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, of Wichita, will be confirmed as the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The vote, in fact, occurred at nearly the same time that Pompeo appeared before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence which will vote on whether to recommend his confirmation.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said during Thursday’s hearing that he intends to act quickly on the nomination. Many expect Pompeo to be confirmed in time to take over as soon as Trump is inaugurated on Jan. 20.

Pompeo, a Republican, was just elected to his third term in the House representing the 4th District, which includes Wichita and much of south-central Kansas.

Kansas has not had a vacancy in one of its U.S. House seats since 1950, and the statute that governs how special elections are conducted was written in 1969. Since then, however, federal election laws have changed and there is now a requirement that ballots be mailed to military and other federal service employees at least 45 days before the election.

Under current law, there are fewer than 45 days between the time parties are allowed to nominate candidates and the day of the election.

House Bill 2017 would move various deadlines in the schedule to make sure local election officials have enough time to print ballots with all the candidates’ names and mail them out to military personnel as well as other people requesting advance ballots.

The bill also lowers the threshold for the number of signatures an independent candidate needs to get on the ballot for a special election, requiring only 3,000 signatures of registered voters in the district instead of the nearly 17,000 that would be required under current law.

House members added another amendment Thursday clarifying that potential independent candidates cannot begin circulating petitions until the governor issues a proclamation setting the date for a special election.

The House passed the bill, 122-1, sending it to the Senate. Some House members remarked that they could not remember the last time a bill moved through a committee and passed out of the House in the first week of a session.

U.S. House seats in Kansas are the only elected offices that require a special election to be filled. Vacant U.S. Senate seats and other statewide elected offices are filled by a governor’s appointment. Vacancies in legislative seats are filled by an election of party precinct officials from the district where the vacancy occurs and the political party that last won the election.

The last time a U.S. Senate vacancy occurred was in 1996 when Sen. Bob Dole resigned in order to focus on his presidential campaign. Then-Gov. Bill Graves appointed his lieutenant governor, Shiela Frahm, to fill the seat. But Graves also called a special election for that November to elect someone to serve out the remaining two years of Dole’s term.

Sam Brownback, then a House member from the 2nd District, defeated Frahm in the Republican primary of that race, then went on to win the general election.

Pompeo was introduced at the hearing by U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, a former chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Also at the table with him was Dole.

There was some drama early in the hearing when power went out in the Hart Senate Office Building, forcing a delay in the proceedings. The outage occurred just as the committee’s vice chairman, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., was giving opening remarks and referenced an intelligence report suggesting Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Power was eventually restored and the hearing continued without further interruption.

Pompeo’s nomination has drawn criticism from human rights groups because of previous statements that both he and President-elect Donald Trump have made regarding the use of waterboarding and other interrogation techniques that many consider to be torture.

One such group is the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which ran an ad in the Wichita Eagle urging Pompeo to “follow U.S. law and obey Christian morality by rejecting torture.”

Pompeo vowed during his hearing Thursday not to renew torture if he is picked as CIA director.