Gov. Laura Kelly's proposal to refinance the state pension system cleared a House panel Wednesday when the chairman called for an unscheduled vote in the closing minutes of a hearing, clearing the way for the full chamber to kill the fast-tracked legislation.
GOP leaders have denounced Gov. Laura Kelly's plan to reduce annual contributions to the Kansas Public Employee Retirement System by extending payments on unfunded liability by 20 years, adding $7 billion in debt.
By endorsing the plan at the committee level, the full chamber can make a procedural move to kill the bill for good on the House floor. The calendar indicates action will happen Thursday, just two days ahead of the Kansas Republican Party's annual convention.
Before hearing testimony from supporters and opponents to the governor's plan for reamortization, Republican leadership removed two freshmen legislators from the Financial Institutions and Pensions Committee. For one day only, House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, and Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, would take their place.
Then, with about 2 minutes remaining, Barker motioned to suspended committee rules and pass "the governor's cornerstone" to her budget without making a recommendation or allowing committee members discuss the issue.
It was important, Barker said, "to let the full body, our 125 members, debate this issue. I think we owe that to her. Every member should be able to weigh in on it."
He suggested lawmakers make deep reflections and contact constituents before a vote that would take place an appropriate time. Hours later, the House schedule showed it could be considered on Thursday.
Rep. Rui Xu, a Democrat from Westwood who sits on the committee, said it was all over before he realized it.
The process lacked transparency, Xu said, and underscores the need to record committee votes.
"The governor's budget, whether you think reamortization is the best or right idea, was at least put forward in good faith," said Rep. Rui Xu, D-Westwood. "Debates should happen in good faith, but instead we get this incredibly cynical process to fast-track everything. And I think that's really sad for the voters of Kansas."
Xu said he imagines the action was taken because GOP leaders know they have the votes to kill a key element of the governor's budget — a clear Republican victory right before their convention.
The two committee members who were replaced for the day were Rep. Bill Rhiley, R-Wellington, and Rep. John Toplikar, an Olathe Republican who still attended.