The stink in the Kansas Legislature and statehouse

A friend sent this short commentary along with analysis by former Kansas Senator Kay O’Connor of Olathe. As I have written, in a free society people should be able to gamble. Relying on gambling for economic development of our state, however, is a losing proposition. With the problems gambling brings — and even casino supporters concede there are problems — and the small amount of revenue it may actually generate, we may someday wish that the normal legislative process had been followed.

A former legislator Kay O’Connor describes the gambling bill’s legislative progress. Kansas could soon be the first state in the U.S. to have “state owned and operated casinos.” I can’t wait to see the civil service exam for “Cocktail waitress II” or “Pit boss I”.

THE STINK CONTINUES

In the Topeka, Kansas, legislature there is something called “process.” This process is highly respected by all good legislators. Properly followed process assures that any legislation has multiple opportunities for public input and legislative actions.

The Kansas state owned casino bill that Governor Sebelius recently signed into law, is a glaring example of process denied.

First, I will try to simplify an understanding of the process so that a layman can follow not only how it works, but also how important it is to assure good government.

1. A bill is introduced in either the Senate or House of Representatives. (There are many ways that this can happen, but that is a discussion for another day)
2. The bill is given a number and assigned to a committee in the House of origin.
3. With interest in the bill the committee chair schedules a PUBLIC hearing. (Proponents and opponents may speak to the bill.)
4. If interest continues, the bill is worked and may be amended.
5. With sufficient support the bill is sent to the full House. (40 Senators or 125 House of Representatives, depending upon which House the bill started in)
6. If interest continues, the bill is heard again by the full House with opportunities to amend. (No PUBLIC comment allowed.)
7. With support the bill is sent to the opposite/second House and assigned to a committee, where the same “process” is repeated.
8. After this series of steps is completed in the second House, and if there were amendments to the bill, it is often sent to a conference committee of 3 House and 3 Senate members for possible further amendments and is sent back to both Houses to be voted on again.
9. With support it is then sent to the governor for signature.

In the case of the State owned casino gambling bill, nearly all of the above process was skipped. Most especially denied was any PUBLIC input time.

SB 66 (originally only the lottery extension bill) went through the normal process until it reached the floor of the opposite/second House. According to the above this would be after steps 1 through 7 in the first House and continuing in the second House at step number 6. After a 12-hour debate the lottery-extension-only bill emerged with the 90 pages State owned casinos bill amended into the lottery bill. Thus, the State owned casinos bill had NO PUBLIC HEARING and only a privileged few legislators had even seen it before that day.

With this maneuver the State owned casinos bill was allowed NO PUBLIC INPUT. In a calculated risk, opponents of the State owed casinos tried a maneuver to kill the bill before it got to conference committee. Allowing it to go to conference committee would still have denied public input.

Sometimes “process” is purposely denied when there are non-controversial amendments or they may be controversial but short, simple and easy to understand amendments. In my fourteen years in the legislature the “process” was always respected, especially with long, complicated and/or controversial bills. This respect for process came from both parties and all shades in between.

Because process was denied, we now have a long and complicated bill signed into law that is probably unconstitutional and will surely result in years of lawsuits, gives Kansas a paltry 22% share of the proceeds (over 50% is more common), and gives Kansas the distinction of being the first State in the Union to own casinos with the too likely possibility of criminal elements getting more involved in Kansas government to protect their interests.

Whatever your position on the gambling issue, this is no way to make laws.

Because of my knowledge of the process and the legislature, it is my considered belief that this fiasco was engineered by Democrat Governor [Kathleen] Sebelius, her contributors in the gambling industry, and gambling-interest attorney and Republican Senator John Vratil from Leawood. Do I have proof positive? No, but the stink is all around.

1 Comment

  • could you provide me with all of the legislative history on senate bill 66 that authorized state owned casinos via KELA?….i read your article on “The stink in the kansas legislature and statehouse” and was stunned….please provide as much info as possible to shed light on this….i would appreciate any input…..thank you herb

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