Kansas A.G., Republican lawmakers propose ‘legislative veto’ of state agency rules

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Republican legislative leaders say a proposed constitutional amendment would restore balance to "unchecked" government. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Kansas’ chief legal officer and Republican leaders in the Legislature introduced Tuesday a constitutional amendment allowing an avenue for legislators to block rules or regulations created by executive agencies.

The so-called “legislative veto” would authorize the Legislature to repeal any regulation stemming from the governor’s agencies, the secretary of state’s office or the attorney general’s office that has the “force and effect of law.”

This legislation comes after a year that presented several unprecedented legal and political scenarios, said Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt. He did not provide any specific examples of concerning regulations but said the resolution is a response to frequent complaints he has received.

Schmidt said the proposal would help establish a more adequate system of checks and balances within the government.

“Our system of government requires checks and balances,” Schmidt said. “This proposal would check the power of the ever-growing administrative state by making sure the final power to make law rests where it should — with the people’s elected representatives in the Legislature — and restore balance by requiring real accountability for rules, regulations and executive orders.”

The Republican attorney general was joined by Republican leadership from the House and Senate in supporting this increased oversight over Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and agencies under her purview. A bill establishing this oversight was adopted before 1984, but the Kansas Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.

Kansas is one of several states whose legislative veto laws have been struck down, but the laws remain in states that adopted the authority into their constitution. If the new measure is approved by two-thirds of both chambers, it would be placed on the 2022 general election ballot for voters to consider.

“Our government was built on the premise of three separate, but equal, branches,” said House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe. “But in recent years, a fourth branch of government has continued to grow unchecked. That is the unchecked power of unelected agencies to make binding rules and regulations outside the law.”

The amendment will be introduced in both chambers later Tuesday.

Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, said the proposed amendment would ensure a balance between “freedom of the individual” and “limited government.”

“This proposal accomplishes that by ensuring the ultimate power over rules and regulations rests with the people, expressed through their elected representatives in the Legislature,” Masterson said.

Sam Coleman, a spokesman for the governor, said this was just another example of Republican leadership using COVID-19 to strip the governor of her power.

“Instead of doing their constitutionally mandated work, today’s announcement is further proof that Republican leaders have no interest in doing the serious work of helping Kansas respond and recover from this crisis,” Coleman said. “They are only fixated on trying to stop the governor from doing her job.”

This proposed resolution is not the first controversial change to the constitution championed by Republican leadership this session. Last month, the Legislature passed a resolution placing a constitutional amendment clarifying Kansans do not have the right to an abortion on the 2022 August primary ballot.

Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, blasted Republican leadership for once again attempting to “play games” with the state constitution.

“Over the past year, legislative leaders have shown a keen understanding of the ways they can curb executive power under the existing constitution,” Sykes said. “This is partisan gamesmanship at its finest, and Kansans deserve better leadership at this critical time.”