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In Kansas, maligned ‘gut and go’ tactic gets laws enacted

March 2, 2018

In this Thursday, March 1, 2018 photo, Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward, left, D-Wichita, confers with Rep. Jason Probst, D-Hutchinson, after the House's session at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Probst is sponsoring a bill to ban a legislative practice known as the "gut and go" in which a bill's contents are stripped out and replaced with the contents of another bill. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas legislators know that the “gut and go” move they use to pass major bills each year sounds sketchy and makes it harder for people outside the Statehouse to follow what’s going on under the dome.

Yet the Legislature is addicted to the move — stripping out a bill’s contents and replacing it with details from another bill, often on a different subject. Many of its leaders argue the tactic is crucial to allowing lawmakers to finish their work on time when they’re supposed to remain in session only 90 days a year.

Lawmakers in both parties have said making government more open is a top priority this year, and the “gut and go” is getting more attention than usual. A House bill would ban the practice.

“That feels like it’s designed to hide the legislation until, all of a sudden, it’s law,” said freshman Rep. Jason Probst, a Hutchinson Democrat and former newspaper editor who is the bill’s leading sponsor.

But it’s not clear that Probst’s bill is going anywhere because the “gut and go” is an all-purpose tactic, used in all lawmaking stages. Nearly a quarter of the more than 100 bills enacted into law in Kansas last year started life as legislation with a different subject, according to data compiled by legislative researchers.

In some states, such as Mississippi, legislative rules forbid something like the “gut and go.” In Missouri, a provision in the state constitution prohibits it.

But other states allow such tactics: “Gut and stuff” in Oregon, “hog-housing” in the Dakotas and “radiator capping” in Idaho, as in stripping an engine of everything except the cap.

In Kansas, backers of a bill stalled in committee use the move to tack its language onto another measure during House or Senate debate. House and Senate negotiators horse-trade bills that have passed only one chamber to get an agreement on something else and roll it all into a single package. In an emergency, chamber leaders can pick an existing bill, have it rewritten and pass it in days.

Deadlines, public hearings and sometimes contentious debates can be avoided. The contents of a bill can be swapped out multiple times.

“If they’re going to outlaw gut and gos, then we need a much longer session,” said Senate President Susan Wagle, a conservative Wichita Republican.

It doesn’t just happen with controversial bills. The House last year passed a bill designed to make it easier for local port authorities to sell property for economic development projects. A Senate committee converted it into a gambling bill and dropped the original contents into another “vehicle.”

“It seemed like it was going to pass and then, boom, it disappeared,” said Steve Jack, executive director of the Leavenworth County Development Corporation. “Even for people who are as engaged as we are, or a legislator, it can be confusing.”

Lawmakers relied on the “gut and go” last year to pass a new formula for funding public schools, pouring their final plan into a bill that previously would have rewritten insurance regulations.

They may have to do something similar again this year. The Kansas Supreme Court struck down the education funding law, declaring it didn’t provide enough money for schools. Legislators must have a response by April 30, and no proposal has been discussed yet.

“The gut and go is very valuable tool,” said House Majority Leader Don Hineman, a moderate Dighton Republican. “If we are going to eliminate the gut and go, then we have to replace it with something that allows the system to continue to work.”

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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