Connecting state and local government leaders
The Kansas measure, which will be on the November ballot, would amend the state constitution to give the legislature veto power over everything from police certification to banking regulations to the sale of wild mushrooms.
Republicans in the Kansas legislature have been locked in a power struggle with Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly since she was swept into office in 2018. Now, Republican leaders are joining with business groups to press for a constitutional amendment that would give them greater control over Kelly's regulatory powers.
The measure, which will be on the November ballot, has the support of Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the Republican nominee for governor.
It would amend the state constitution to give the legislature veto power over the rules and regulations issued by executive branch agencies, which govern everything from police certification to banking regulations to rules governing the sale of wild mushrooms to the licensing of tattoo artists.
Supporters, including a coalition of Kansas business groups, say the amendment would reset the balance of power between two branches of government and reign in the growing power of unelected bureaucrats who hand down rules that harm businesses.
“The regulatory state in Kansas needs to be rebalanced,’’ said Elizabeth Patton, state director for Americans for Prosperity Kansas, a pro-business libertarian advocacy group. “This amendment is really about resetting the balance of power between the legislature and executive agencies.”
At a legislative committee hearing last year, Patton said the regulatory state has swelled over the past few decades. “In order to restore the checks and balances that ensure a representative government for all Americans and to reduce burdensome regulatory accumulation, legislatures must reclaim their authority over the lawmaking process. Legislative accountability helps to reduce unnecessary, outdated, duplicative and particularly costly regulations,’’ she said.
Schmidt is one of the Kansas measure’s most vocal supporters. A handful of other states have enacted similar measures.
“When it comes to lawmaking, the buck is supposed to stop with the people’s elected representatives in the legislature,’’ he said in a statement issued in May. “But the reality of the modern regulatory state is that the legislature often passes the buck by granting broad power to regulatory agencies and then has no meaningful recourse when an agency uses that power to create an ill-advised rule or regulation."
Throughout the pandemic, Republicans in Kansas battled Kelly over her emergency orders. But the measure was in the works before the Covid-19 crisis struck, and would impact both Democratic and Republican governors.
Democrats, including Kelly, generally oppose the amendment, saying it’s unnecessary.
State Rep. John Carmichael, a Democrat from Wichita, said the proposal signifies a power grab by Republican legislators. “They would like to increase the legislature's power over the executive [branch],’’ he said. “It doesn't matter whether it’s a Republican governor or a Democratic governor. We have a super majority of Republicans in the legislature and they have the votes to override the governor but what they want now is the power to stop state agencies from promulgating regulations."
Democrats say the proposal is part of a larger Republican effort to undo regulations aimed at preserving the environment, protecting workers rights and other measures. It has the support of the state Chamber of Commerce as well as industry groups including the Kansas Livestock Association and the Kansas Bankers Association.
“It fits into a generally Republican mantra of ‘governmental regulations are crushing businesses’ and ‘businesses are fleeing Kansas because of overregulation by government bureaucrats,’’’ Carmichael said. “That’s the song they sing but it really hasn’t been born out."
But proponents say the measure is nonpartisan. “This is about making sure there’s a greater opportunity for legislators to be at the table, because that’s their job,’’ Patton said.
Currently, lawmakers can only undo administrative regulations by passing new legislation, a cumbersome process that would likely be undercut by a gubernatorial veto. But the amendment, if approved, would allow the legislature to eliminate such regulations by a simple majority vote.
Regulations and other agency rules already undergo a thorough review by various executive and legislative panels, Carmichael said.
The ballot measure will mark the second time this year Kansas voters will be asked to amend the state constitution to grant more power to the legislature: Earlier this month, an amendment that would have given the legislature the authority to ban abortion was soundly rejected by the state’s voters.
Daniela Altimari is a reporter for Route Fifty.