Opinion: How are you voting on the legislative veto?

Kansans will soon vote on Constitutional Amendment 1 (also called HCR 5014), which creates a “legislative veto.” At stake is an important but dull topic to most: checks and balances.

Civics 101 time.

Legislatures make laws, often using vague language. Governors and the state agencies they direct (the executive branch) create concrete rules and regulations to implement those vague laws. Government agencies are the “bureaucracy,” and most government workers (e.g., police, child welfare workers, food inspectors, teachers or soldiers) are “bureaucrats.”

You probably remember checks and balances. Governors can veto bills that the Legislature passes, but a supermajority of legislators can override that veto and make that bill law. And, if the executive branch develops rules or regulations that the Legislature dislikes, then the Legislature can pass a bill overturning those and override a governor’s veto of that bill.

That’s how Kansas works now.

Amendment 1 changes that process to give the Legislature relatively more power over a governor, altering traditional checks and balances. It allows the legislature to “veto” executive branch rules or regulations by a simple majority vote. No supermajority required. No gubernatorial veto.

Kansas adopted a legislative veto in 1939. However, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 1984 as a violation of separation of powers and checks and balances. Amendment 1 overturns that ruling.

There isn’t much campaigning around Amendment 1. One pro-amendment special interest group is targeting voters with emotional mailers about “red tape” and unchecked bureaucrats, plus some questionably honest arguments about the Kansas Legislature’s actual power. That’s sadly standard practice in the politics industry, especially in political advertising.

A legislative veto sounds harmless, but there are some real concerns.

First, it upends traditional checks and balances. The legislature currently has the power to stop rules and regulations by passing a law. However, if you prefer the Legislature to have more power than it does now, then you might like a change.

Second, it might become another tool for partisan and ideological warfare. In Kansas, that realistically means a very conservative Republican Legislature vetoing actions by a Democratic governor like Laura Kelly. Partisan readers probably see the stakes here for their party teams.

Third, the Legislature could cripple the ability of a governor to implement laws. Legislatures cannot implement laws themselves. If the Legislature becomes super activist in using a legislative veto, then how much will laws actually get enforced?

Fourth, it puts more burden on the part-time Legislature to solve problems. Legislatures are often better at saying “no” than saying “yes” to difficult policy solutions. Think of all the problems that fester while legislatures don’t act. If a Legislature vetoes executive branch action to address problems, then who in government is solving problems?

Fifth, it might empower special interests that dominate the Legislature. For example, if interests that are strongly opposed to environmental regulation have a stranglehold over the Legislature, then they have an easier path to stopping government regulations around things like clean drinking water or ground contaminants.

Ultimately, Amendment 1 is about how much you trust the Kansas Legislature. If you want a more powerful Legislature, then voting “yes” on the amendment may be for you. However, if you trust the Legislature less and prefer more traditional checks and balances, then voting “no” might suit you better. It’s your choice, Kansas.

— Patrick R. Miller is an associate professor of political science at the University of Kansas.


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