Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt was not concerned about separation of powers in testimony supporting a constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature further oversight of executive branch agencies. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — An effort in the Kansas Legislature to extend its authority to oversee and amend regulations instituted by state agencies under the executive branch continued Wednesday in the Senate.
The resolution, which cleared the House last month, would allow Kansans to vote whether to amend the state constitution by adding legislative oversight of administrative rules and regulations, sometimes called a legislative veto. Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican candidate for governor, proposed the amendment alongside Republican leadership early last year.
Supporters of the measure dismissed concerns about separation of powers, instead focusing on what they saw as bad rules from executive branch agencies. In written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Schmidt said legislative proposals to reform regulations fall short.
“The Legislature ultimately lacks the authority to suspend or revoke executive branch rules and regulations,” Schmidt said. “Adoption of the amendment by the voters would return lawmaking authority to the lawmaking branch of government, the branch closest to the people.”
The increased push from Kansas House Republicans came after a decision by the Kansas Department of Labor to add or amend six regulations regarding workers’ compensation. The House fell short of the required two-thirds majority vote at first but passed the bill a few days later after a motion to reconsider.
Currently, the Legislature can only adopt a concurrent resolution expressing concern or requesting a regulation be amended or removed.
A 1984 Kansas Supreme Court ruling held that a previous measure allowing the Legislature to suspend or revoke administrative rule was unconstitutional because it violated the separation of powers.
Schmidt’s office signed off on the legality of this new resolution in July, after the state’s budget office and Department of Administration signed off in January.
Several business groups testified in favor of the constitutional amendment because they believe it will be a net positive for the state’s bottom line.
“I think this and Senate Bill 34 is a good combination that will provide very strong regulatory reform and a strong regulatory climate for the state of Kansas,” said Eric Stafford, of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce. “Senate Bill 34 that passed provides a periodic look back and fast track repeal option for state agencies so we’re constantly reviewing rules and regulation.”
However, concerns expressed from opponents suggested the measure would violate the separation of powers doctrine and allow private interests to infiltrate the regulation process. That was the chief concern of Zack Pistora, a lobbyist for the Kansas Sierra Club, who said agencies do their best work insulated from political and outside pressures.
“It could distort our rules and regulations process by giving more ability for moneyed interests and corporations to persuade their backed elected leaders toward narrow favors,” Pistora said.
Others said the amendment was redundant as there were already processes to express displeasure with a rule or regulation legislatively or legally.
“If the legislature feels that the proposed rules do not meet the intent of the legislation, even the legislature can pass replacement law, which more clearly states the intent of the legislature,” said Cille King, of the League of Women Voters of Kansas.
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