‘Gut and go,’ other legislative practices scrutinized in Kansas during 2018 session

To advocates of greater transparency in government, the phrase “gut and go” is a legislative nightmare that happens when one chamber takes a bill already passed by the other, strips and replaces the language with an unrelated measure, and then advances it with little or no debate.

While practiced in multiple other states (it is sometimes referred to differently — for example, “hoghousing” in South Dakota), “gut and go” has received particular attention in Kansas this year, part of a broader debate occurring in Topeka over transparency in government.

The Kansas City Star spurred this discussion last fall when it reported on various practices that have evolved in the Legislature over many years — for example, the rise of “gut and go,” the introduction of bills by committees rather than an identified sponsor, and legislators not being required to have their votes recorded in committee minutes. The newspaper concluded in a subsequent editorial that these practices contributed to Kansas government being “one of the most secretive in the nation.”
In January, House Speaker Ron Ryckman kicked off the 2018 session by ordering committee chairs to stop allowing bills that don’t identify sponsors, and to make clear if a bill is introduced on someone’s behalf. Rep. Stephanie Clayton is among the legislators who pushed this year for more permanent changes. She served as lead sponsor of a bipartisan bill (HB 2548) that would require measures introduced by a committee to list the person, lobbyist or organization requesting the legislation.
According to Clayton, the main feature of the bill is that it would make listing the requestor on committee bills, in minutes and elsewhere, statutory. “Gut and go” was targeted in a second measure, HB 2699, which would prohibit amendments that “strike all of the material in [a] bill subsequent to the enacting clause and insert new material.”
Neither of these bills had made it out of committee as of March.
Some lawmakers defend “gut and go” as a necessary tool for getting the work of the legislative branch done in a timely fashion, especially in states with part-time lawmakers who only meet during the first few months of the year.
In other states, the practice is prohibited or has been limited. Under Missouri’s Constitution, for example, “no bill shall be so amended in its passage through either house as to change its original purpose,” and two years ago, voters in California adopted Proposition 54. While not eliminating “gut and go,” the approved proposition requires that every bill be published in print and online at least 72 hours before each house can vote on it (with exceptions for public emergencies). In addition, the California Legislature must make audio-visual recordings of its public proceedings and publish them online within 24 hours.
“It’s led to a more transparent process,” Nicholas Heidorn, policy and legislation counsel for California Common Cause, says of Proposition 54 and its various provisions.
Meanwhile, in Kansas, some other transparency measures did advance this year. SB 394 expands the state’s lobbying law (and its reporting and registration requirements) to cover people trying to influence the executive and judicial branches.
And in early February, Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer signed executive orders directing all executive branch employees to use their official email accounts when conducting public business and all agencies to provide copies of public records (less than 100 pages in length) at no charge to the public. Another order will establish a centralized website with meeting minutes and upcoming dates.
“Kansas government must be more transparent,” Colyer said earlier this year in an address to the House and Senate. “The Kansas Constitution says, ‘All political power is inherent in the people.'"

Capital Closeup is an ongoing series of articles focusing on institutional issues in state governments and legislatures.

Stateline Midwest: April 20182.22 MB